I stepped out in the evening sun with my three daughters. It is a ritual I look forward to each evening, at least when the sun is out and the temperatures are warm. We amble along the sidewalk, covering about a hundred homes. We stop and stare at beautiful blooms. We enjoy the birdsong. We step over worms and frogs. We wave to familiar faces. We sometimes stop to chit-chat.
Some days, we talk. Daughters to mother. Mother to daughters.
Yesterday, I clutched my shiny new phone in my hand, eager to test the fancy cameras that rival high-end products. As my children posed and made funny faces I clicked away. Just when we were done, I clicked a selfie of mine.
The bright red of my simple tee stood out. I was taken aback by its brightness. It was unlike me. Long after we came home, I often pulled up that picture to see why it was captivating. It is unvarnished. There are no filters either internal or external. My hennaed hair is fading. My face has lines. My eyebrows are bushy. It is the face of a mid-forties woman at peace with her place in the world.
This morning, it hit me. The red in the picture is unlike what I have been all my life until now. All through my school, college, and working single life, I stuck to the blacks, the deep blues, dark browns, and olive greens. I wore colors that let me fade into the background. I wore clothes I floated in. Shapeless tunics that hid any contours I had. In my thirties, I still favored the dull shades over bright ones. I traded shapeless tunics for wide-legged pants and oversized tees. I brought dresses but they lay in my closet, untouched.
The scars of being fat, being rejected for being fat, being rejected for not being fair-skinned, being rejected for not living up to some random ideal, ran deep. The healing has been slow. The wounds healed, the scabs formed, it itched it often enough for me to reopen them.
In my mid-forties, all that is left is a faint outline. I have largely outgrown wanting to live up to some lofty goal. I am comfortable in my skin. I am content with who I am, what I have evolved into. I have my moments of feeling like a failure but they have more to do with the standards I set for myself rather than another person’s expectation of me.
I scanned my closet this morning. I found more burnt oranges, bright reds, light blues, and yellows. I found sleeveless tops, form-fitting tees, and snug pants. I found floral dresses with puff sleeves and wraparound dresses. Some of them are still untouched. This summer, I hope I will reach out for the bold colors, the dresses that flounce, and the rare pair of shorts.
This journey has been one of the mind. It has been three decades in the making. There is still a distance to go. When I tell my child today to not slouch, to square her shoulders, and look the world in the eye, I do so because I do. I no longer slump my torso trying to make myself insignificant. This journey was for me. It is also for my children.
So, here is the picture that is me. Pure. Unfiltered. Unvarnished. Unapologetic.