My Body in Six Pieces
“No one is ever going to want to hold your hands if you keep picking at them like that.”
“Tighten up that tummy.”
“Tighten up that tummy.”
“What’s wrong with your skin?”
“Your legs are disgusting.”
“Your test came back positive for HSV-1 and HSV-2.”
“How many weeks along are you?”
I hate shorts. When my legs are exposed, I am no longer visible. Strangers can see my vitiligo and they stare. I feel magnetic and powerless. My legs are a portrait of a story they will never bother to read.
I hate that I’ve always had a stomach that my mother would constantly remind me to suck in because it would be more flattering that way. I hate that I once spent $36 on a two-week program called ‘Flat Tummy Tea Cleanse” because of Khloe Kardashian. I hate that I’ve now been asked twice if I was having a baby because being a woman who doesn’t have a flat stomach implies these things.
I hate that I still pick at the dry skin on my hands and wonder if it’s true that no one will ever want to hold them.
I hate that the weight I carry is not measured in pounds or waistlines. It is something else entirely different, and mostly every woman knows this.
Sometimes I have to remember that hate is a strong word.
“I don’t want to be friends with you anymore,” she said. We were probably eleven or twelve years old. “Why not?” I asked from the side of the pool. She stood at the end of the diving board, lightly bouncing up and down. “Because you look like Michael Jackson.”
Vitiligo is a skin disease where patches of skin lose their pigment. Michael Jackson was 24 years old when his skin started to change. In 1993, he would famously address his skin condition on an episode of Oprah. The vitiligo began to show up on my legs when I was around 8 or 9 years old. By the time I was in middle school it covered the front of my legs, my feet, the back of my elbows, my hands, my forehead, my armpits, my vagina.
I used to tell myself I would never be sexually assaulted because I could always tell them I had vitiligo down there, or possibly poison ivy. I’ve lost count of how many times people have asked if I’ve had poison ivy. They’ve asked a lot of things. But most don’t ask anything at all, they just stare.
I don’t pay attention to their eyes anymore. If the color of my skin is part of my narrative, it was always going to be a part of the story I was meant to tell. As I have gotten older a majority of the vitiligo has gone away. There is no explanation for this. I don’t see it anymore.
“Lilly, you’ve perfected lying on your back and staying still without saying anything. This will come in handy someday.” My dentist said this to me seven years ago. I was 25 years old. This still upsets me for several reasons. One being that I told my mother what he said to me and she proceeded to tell me that he has been sued for sexual harassment before. He had been my dentist since I was a child. Second, this incident was brought up a year or two later and my father referred to this man as someone who “allegedly” said something inappropriate to me. Thirdly, WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN? ALSO, IT HASN’T!
“Lilly, I can’t tell if I like looking at you better from the front when I talk to you, or when I can look at you from behind.” A 75-year-old man said this to me on a busy Saturday morning at the coffee shop where I worked. “You should take it as a compliment,” he said as I had no idea how to react to anything he had just said. He would later bring me an autographed copy of a book he had written and I would tell him I left it at the shop and seemed to misplace it. He told me I hurt his feelings. I hurt HIS feelings.
Sexually Transmitted Disease
Three years ago, I received a phone call from my doctor saying my test came back positive for HSV-1 and HSV-2. This meant I had genital and oral herpes. This meant the entertainment industry thought I was a walking punchline. This briefly meant I forgot I was a human being.
“Dating isn’t over,” my friend I had slept with a couple weeks prior told me. His test had come back negative. Six months prior, I had had my first one night stand with a man I had met on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. I hadn’t been with anyone in two and a half years before that happened. But I’m tired of remembering these numbers.
There are some important numbers to keep in mind, however. One out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years old have herpes. Keep in mind how many times you notice a joke about herpes on your favorite television show or comedy special. Notice how these jokes are treating people with herpes like they’re social pariahs instead of human beings. Notice how no one is laughing.
Dating isn’t over, but it’s never felt like a reality. I can feel the conversation in the back of my throat. I can feel the weight of every woman who has a narrative different than what they expected it to be inside of my chest. Remember, when women speak things happen.
It was probably eight months after my STD diagnosis when I decided I was lovable again. I needed to find a way to get to know myself again. I wanted to understand and explore my body, which had recently been undergoing a battle of betrayal and confusion. I felt unlovable, undateable, unfuckable. I asked myself if I were a man would I feel this way?
Masturbation was something I never took seriously. I would give up quickly because it took too long and I never received the satisfaction that was promised. But because I thought having herpes meant no one would ever want to sleep with me again, I decided my only option was to get really good at taking care of myself.
The afternoon I gave myself four orgasms, I began to walk taller. I realized what I was capable of. I was unbreakable. As I began to understand my body, I felt my confidence begin to change. I began to understand what it was like to know what I wanted and how to get it. I felt whole again. I no longer felt unlovable, undateable, unfuckable. They say it’s important to love yourself before anyone else can. I am a woman. I understand.
I was drunk the first time I sent him a naked picture of my body. He lives in Iowa. His response back involved the use of the word ‘areola’ and I immediately regretted what I had done. But I followed through and would continue to send dirty pictures whenever I felt like it. (Read: whenever I was drunk, horny and lonely.)
There was a night I sent him a picture of my breasts and rather than the usual text response, I noticed he was trying to call. I declined. His text said he had been driving and had to pull over. We continued to sext, and I thought about him in his car on the side of the road as I laid naked on top of my comforter.
I stopped sending him pictures because he would only send me pictures of his face, or selfies of himself in the bathroom mirror still in his work clothes. I asked for more, but he would never comply. I didn’t think this was fair. I knew this had always been about me, about what I wanted and needed. I finally realized he would never be able to give me what I actually needed.