I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14
I am in the bathtub. I sing and play. I wash myself. There is a light brown spot on the back of my leg where the meat of my leg kisses the back of my knee. I scrub at the spot. I scrub and scrub. Until I realize the spot isn’t dirt. It is part of me. I can’t change it.
I am in junior high. I am pale and skinny. Knock-kneed and awkward. The other girls are getting boyfriends. The boys don’t notice me. If they do, it’s to tease how tall I am. How white. How skinny. My nose is big. My family gave me this nose like socks at Christmas. Later, I learn to make fun of my nose before others do. I call it a Mack truck nose so everyone will laugh with me and not at me.
I hate my one-piece bathing suit because it pulls uncomfortably and makes my hip bones stick out. But good girls wear one-piece suits – and tease girls with bony hips.
One day, Nostradamus predicted the world would end. That day, I forget my clothes to dress out for P.E. on purpose. I hate the way my legs look in shorts. And if the world ends, who cares if I have to walk laps outside in my favorite jeans and sweater? I walk and pray for Jesus to come now so I don’t have to dress out and show my knobby knees ever again.
I have filled out in all the places I am supposed to fill out. I get more attention from boys, but I am wary of them. After all, a few years ago I was knock-knees, Mack truck nose, brace face. I remember.
I can’t tan. I freckle a little. I burn. The other girls go to tanning beds before prom. My mom won’t let me. There is skin cancer in my family. I am white. White and bony like a skeleton. I am prone to fainting spells. The doctor tells me to drink milkshakes to gain weight. I think they are all going to my chest.
I am the lead in the spring musical at school with my best friends. I feel confident and strong. I love the dresses I wear onstage and how I look in them.
A month after the show, a lady recognizes me in the grocery store. She asks me if I was the lead in the play. Yes, I say with pride. You were good, she says, but so skinny. Don’t you eat? Believe me, I do, I laugh. I leave the grocery store and go get another milkshake.
I am about to graduate from college and go to seminary. I am still tall, still pale, still unhappy with my nose, but I can walk into any store and buy almost anything in my size and it looks good. I don’t realize at the time how good and wonderful this is. I have a lot of cheap bikinis. Even though I am white, I look good in them.
My hips aren’t so bony anymore. In conversation with one of my guy friends, I tell him how much I want to have children one day. He tells me I don’t have “child-bearing hips.” It bothers me because I’ve always hated my bony hips.
I work at a chain steakhouse restaurant. I hate my uniform. It is truly ugly. One night, a handsome guy (who meets my rule of being taller than me) sits in my section. He has the best blue eyes I’ve ever seen. He tells people later when we relate the story of how we met that he liked how I looked in my uniform.
I’ve just birthed a 9 lb. 1oz. baby boy. With the final push, the doctor let me reach down and pull this slimy, wailing love into the world with my own hands. (I briefly think of my guy friend who said the thing about child-bearing hips. Ha, ha!!) This little boy has relied solely on my body for nourishment for nine months. I ate tons of vegetables, drank gallons of milk, and consumed the more than occasional foot long chili cheese hotdog. For twelve months more, I will nurse him. He depends on me, on my body to survive.
When I take a shower for the first time after the birth, I look down at my body and I barely recognize myself. I will never have bony hips. Not bony anything. Not ever again.
My body has had two babies and nursed them. My body eats and exercises. My body hugs people who hurt. It watches too much TV and reads a lot of books. It laughs. It cries. It is wonderfully made.
My right foot has a bunion that makes shoe shopping a dread rather than a treat. Where I used to grab a pair of jeans from the clearance rack as I breezed through a store, I now take ten pairs to the dressing room. Which pair will be long enough? Which ones will cover up my belly?
My belly. In college, I wore the popular midriff bearing tops. Now, I laugh at the thought. My belly is stretched and fleshy. The nine pounders demolished it. I shop for tankinis, bathing suit bottoms with skirts, bathing suit tops with extra support. I nursed two boys for a year apiece. They literally drained the life from my chest.
I go to my family reunion. My grandpa has died. Cancer took him from us. But I see his nose everywhere. On uncles and aunts and cousins. It is my nose too. It spreads out all over my face when I smile. And I like to smile.
This white, white skin is my grandma’s skin. She was beautiful and pale. She loved to hold my hand. My soft, white hand.
I make a decision. I get out the tape measurer and measure the body I have. The one that was given to me. The one that I’ve earned with healthy eating and Zumba and chocolate cake and nine pound babies and belly laughs with my husband. Maybe it’s not the one I want or the one from my twenties when I didn’t realize how good I looked because I was always comparing my body to someone else’s. I realize that one day I’ll look back on this thirtysomething year old body and wish I’d realized how wonderful it was.
So, I order it: The green and white polka dot 1940’s style bikini. Maybe I have no business wearing it. Maybe I’ll toss a t-shirt over it in a panic whenever we take to the beach. But, I’m wearing it. I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. I’ll see you on the beach in my bikini. You can bring the milkshakes. This time, we’ll drink them just for fun.
Melanie Storie is a graduate of Catawba College and Campbell University Divinity School. While in seminary, Melanie married Matthew Storie, served as a youth and children’s minister, had a son (Aidan, 12), and finally graduated – while eight months pregnant with her second son (Owen, 9). Melanie has served churches in North Carolina and Virginia as Minister of Children. Recently, she served with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Alabama. Melanie currently lives in Independence, Virginia.