Growing up female at the tail end of the 20th century, I hear a lot about the way the media unfairly influences my vision of myself. I can’t help but hear the news reports and studies and talk shows about yet another girl who got lost in a glossy magazine, yet another young woman whose blind ambition to be beautiful ruined a life not yet begun. So many have fallen by the wayside looking at hollywood, looking at celebrities – and yet I’ve survived spending almost every day with people who challenge my physical self-esteem.
Allow me to explain: I dance. I have spent endless mornings and afternoons and nights with people who look like models, if not super models. my best friend is 5′ 6″ and weighs 110 pounds. I am the national average, physiologically, and yet I am an elephant in comparison to almost everyone I know.
I think it is a good thing that I began with a fairly high opinion of myself, otherwise, I don’t know how I would have handled spending the majority of my time in a room with beautiful girls, and a mirror on every wall.
I vividly remember one of the internally ugly beauties calling me “pillow stomach”. I must have been ten or eleven, and it hurt.
But oddly enough, I responded to the outside pressure not with change, but with consistency – I accepted the fact that I looked different as an outward sign that I was different. It’s lucky, I thought, that no one will mix me up with them, because we are not the same. I am smarter, I am stronger.
Maybe it’s human nature to define ourselves in the face of adversity, all I know is that the self-image of different and special stayed with me. And that is why Lucille Clifton’s “homage to my hips” feels like a credo.
“these are big hips.
they need space to move around in.
they don’t fit into little pretty places.
these hips are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back,
they have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.”
Reading it, I can’t help but smile. My hips don’t fit into little pretty places, and neither do I, mind, body, or spirit. And I can’t help but be thankful for that.
But sometimes it isn’t enough to be thankful for being different. Clifton’s last lines remind me that sometimes, one needs to feel a bit superior, too.
“these hips are mighty hips
these hips are magic hips i
have known them to put a
spell on a man and spin him like a top!”
Validation- it never hurts. “You know,” my boyfriend offered the other day, “You have very sexy hips.” I thought of Lucille Clifton’s homage, and I smiled. “Yes,” I replied simply. “I know.”