I finally did something to make me feel completely woman: I ran my first half-marathon. I ran in the Providence Rhodes Races last Sunday, and I dressed carefully for my debut: strategically broken-in Nike Air Pegasus with “JOONY SCHECTER” embroidered on the tongues; 70s-style Adidas running shorts that flap out silkily like a half-slip; and my vintage Hole Live Through This t-shirt. Actually, the choice of the Hole t-shirt was a bit of thoughtful impulsiveness. Up until the night before the race, I had planned on wearing one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac Rumors shirt from the 70s, whose cotton was thinned out, as aerodynamic as any athletic microweave polyester. But suddenly, as I was going to bed, I thought: HOLE.
And so I got up the next morning and switched. This wasn’t a practical consideration. The Hole shirt, as thin as it is, is much larger than the Fleetwood Mac shirt, and would weigh more heavily on a running body. But I didn’t care. I’d bear the weight because I had to represent the team I was running for, which was that of grunge femininity: I’m Miss World. More than that, somewhere deep inside, I had an intuition that running the half-marathon was going to be a bodily operation that was going to give me the Hole, a physical, visceral feeling of the vulva in my brain. I took the photograph above the morning of the race, in the pose I’d carry in my brain even through the fierce desperation of swinging arms and pumping legs it’d take to power through the last couple miles of the race: GIRL.
I finished the 13.1 mile race. I was going to be happy if I finished under two hours, and joyful if I finished it in 1 hour 45 minutes. I was in ecstasy. I finished in 1 hour, 39 minutes, 26 seconds. Of course I was grateful that I had finished the race ahead of my goal, but I was ecstatic because “1:39:26” felt like a christening of my body as woman. The results page lists my name, age, sex, and finish time. But I feel like “1:39:26” should be placed under the heading “Sex.”
Running the race made me feel voluptuous. Not sexual: voluptuous. I’m not talking about being flooded by endorphins I didn’t know I had, nor the cheap dirty chuckling I got out of the pain in my inner thighs and butt the day after. Not sexual: voluptuous. The pain I was feeling in the lower half of my body was not really pain, but a signal of change. If it was pain I was feeling I didn’t know it, because what was more visceral was how exaggerated my legs and butt felt—and now feel—in relation to the rest of my body.
My legs have been feeling fat lately. The seams on my Bettie Page-y APC “Petite Standard” jeans (100 percent cotton, no elastin or polyester in the denim) have been stretched out close to popping. This was cause for alarm at first: MY LEGS ARE GETTING FAT!! But then I began to give into the fat leg feeling. Because isn’t that what voluptuousness is about? Converting an overextended, hyperbolized asymmetry into a sensuality of feeling and being? Pin-up girls with outsized breasts and hips; plus-size models with rolling thighs: “voluptuous” is the word that articulates their bodily asymmetry rendered in fat as sensual beauty. But why should useless corpulence—the fat of breasts and hips and thighs that don’t lift or carry anything—corner the market on voluptuousness? Why, for instance, aren’t ballet dancers, with their outsized equine flanks, never thought of as “voluptuous”? Because they use those thick legs to vault themselves into the air: their asymmetry is functional. Paul Newman once described Elizabeth Taylor as a “functioning voluptuary,” and I take inspiration from that, although in a different context. If these legs carry me through 13.1 miles are the very legs that feel fat, why can’t its very functionality make me voluptuous? I think it does.
I don’t gaze at myself naked very often. The last time I really made a habit of looking at my body in flesh was in my early twenties, when I was obsessed with building muscle to get a specifically masculine look in gender and sensuality: to get not just a hard body, but a hard and symmetrical body, in which the well-developed pecs and biceps and delts balanced out those of the thighs and calves. I stripped and looked at myself this week and I saw total asymmetry. My legs felt like they were huge tree trunks attached to teensy-weensy twig s of torso and arms. But quite unexpectedly, I was pleased. I liked the off-balanced picture I saw. I look in the mirror naked and this is what I see:
I was a skinny gal. Now I am a grown-ass woman with big fat legs. Of course my legs are not “big fat legs” in the strictly cellular sense. But thinking of my runner’s legs as big and fat, as the stilts of a functioning voluptuary, I am finally rejecting the remnants of the boy’s sense of body that equates perfect symmetry with beauty and sensuality. I have big fat legs, and for once, I like that, the feeling of bottom-heaviness. It’s my own version of a D-cup: when my claves force the seams of my jeans to stretch and burst, it’s my version of my cups running over. Looking in the mirror at my naked body, I feel kind of like a bulimic because I’m seeing that which is not there. But it is a kind of renegade, reverse-bulimia: looking in the mirror, seeing fatness that is only in your mind, but instead of hating it, just loooooving it.