In the Flesh

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It was a gift to spend a few days on Cape Cod last week, inserting ourselves into my sister’s annual vacation. Dear son commented at one point, “I love it on Cape Cod. Everyone’s so friendly.” While this is not everyone’s description of the traffic-plagued Cape in summer, my young one was appreciative of all the unexpected side conversations–people stopping to say hello, ask about a favorite destination for dinner and dessert, or comment on the clouds slowly gathering off-shore. I have no idea if vacationing people are friendlier or not, but I do sense that people let their guard down when they are relaxed and beside the ocean. They are less likely to perform and more likely to simply live.

I noticed this in the bathing suit-clad women who frequented the beach near our cottage. One woman proudly carried her newborn and the roll of residual flesh that perched at the top of her bikini bottom. Older women with wrinkles and sags from years of beach living crawled along the sandy shore with grandchildren, oblivious to cleavage revealed or dirty knees. A girl I would place around ten spent hours perfecting her cartwheel, pausing after each attempt to deftly pull her bathing suit from where it had become wedged.

I’ve read a blog post or two inviting women to stop protecting the world from the sight of their thighs and begin enjoying summer, and perhaps these messages have worked. Maybe women really are more at ease in their own flesh and bones this year….or maybe I noticed their ease because I feel more of my own.

This ease is not merely physical. My body is a work in progress, and there are still days when I long to push a button and change this or that. (Though I am not a body-focused coach, I can happily recommend others who are!). This body has worn the strains and struggles of life’s lessons and losses–and a couple of births along the way. But something happened around the age of 40. I began to appreciate the gift of this flesh that holds me together–I began to love this body that contains my story and the stories of those I love.

I don’t know which came first–greater comfort in my physical skin or the determination to create a “life-skin” that fits me, my family, and my values. After working in recent years to make my choices fit others’ expectations, I began to look for commitments that don’t require quite as much maneuvering. I sought (and still seek) environments where my nature is embraced. I am a positive person–a kind person. I like to do work that instills hope and confidence and joy in people. I have realized over time that these gifts, however positive to me, are devalued or dismissed in some contexts; I can no longer perform or “act as if” in such settings.

This body–this personality–this accumulation of life wisdom is all I’ve got, and I am grateful to wear it in the open now. I no longer feel the need to conceal or cover-up. The places where I work, gather with friends, and invest my energy are places where I can be seen fully, in the flesh….arm flab, fleshy thighs, stomach rolls, and all. I move through all my days in response to more natural impulses and rhythms, just as my Cape Cod self aligns with tides and sunsets and time in the outdoor shower.

Climbing into the skin that is my life today took courage–and it took deciding to stop living a life that fits better on someone else. Perhaps you also crave the comfort and ease of life in your true, beautiful skin. If you would like encouragement (and hope and confidence and joy!) as you strive to create the life you can wear in the open, let me know. This is a journey best taken among friends.

© 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

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