For as long as I can remember, my body has been subject to the (often loud, always unsolicited) opinions of others. Don’t show so much skin. Get a more supportive bra. Have less body hair. And on and on. And for as long as I can remember, I have also wanted to portray a public persona that said, “Fuck all that noise.” As a budding young feminist, I protested dress codes, I cut my hair, and I refused to be made to feel less because of my sex. From the earliest days of puberty, the message was very clear: be perfect, and never let on how you got that way. Basically, be Spanx in the streets, and Victoria’s Secret in the sheets, and do both at the same time, and never talk about any of it.
Which is why I was excited when we were approached by Dear Kate, a new line of underwear that’s designed specifically for women’s bodies and all that they entail. I can’t believe it’s taken this long for our culture to realize that most lingerie isn’t designed for the rigors of everyday life (aka sweat, discharge, and everything else we’re not supposed to talk about), but Dear Kate totally knocks it out of the park. Their stuff (available up to size 3x) is cute, comfortable, supportive, and somehow manages to not show any panty lines (I may or may not be wearing these right now). But the real draw is that they they have a special lining that absorbs up to three teaspoons of moisture in case of sweat, discharge, leakage, or whatever else our bodies throw at us—in other words, everyday life as a woman. And since the lining is made of 100% fabric and no plastic, it’s totally breathable and machine washable, too. Because I got no time for hand washing. (And P.S. Dear Kate is offering 30% off to all APW readers today when you use the code APW30 at checkout, and I’m telling you, you should get some.) Basically, they are the underwear I’ve been waiting for my whole life.
body as frienemy
So when Dear Kate asked if we wanted to talk about bodies, I was like yes, OMG, please, it’s about time. I still remember the first time I felt prolonged shame about my body and its various functions. I was thirteen and had achieved peak middle school status: I was captain of my cheerleading squad and I had boobs. From the outside, it looked like God had giveth with both hands. But I was also profusely, grossly sweaty. Like… pit stains in everything I wore sweaty. The kind of sweaty the gym teacher pulls aside to give deodorant to. And like many a teenage girl, I did everything in my power to hide it. I refused to wear anything that might show a sweat stain, instead torturing myself with knit sweaters well into warm months. I banned the color white from my wardrobe. Sometimes I wouldn’t even raise my hand in class, if I thought it might betray my secret.
I hated feeling like I needed to be ashamed of my body for working the way it’s supposed to. And in the subsequent years, I have worked hard to figure out where my feminist values fit in with the expectations of women in this country. And it turns out, for me, where I take the most issue is what happens under the surface. While I love makeup, dye my hair, and wear sequins like they’re second skin, I hate the idea that our bodies in their natural state are inherently, well, gross. And that the only acceptable topic of conversations in and around our bodies are how much we weigh and a number for a good wax specialist.
Puberty, Round Two
But here’s the thing, for all the work that I’ve done to eliminate body shame as an adult, the aging process just sucks sometimes. This year I turned thirty, and then a month later found out I was pregnant, and now it’s like puberty 2.0 over here. My boobs are changing, my diet consists mostly of bagels and lemonade right now, and as a fun side effect, I pee a little every time I sneeze. And from everything I’ve been told, it’s only going to get weirder.
For years, I’ve told myself I’ll be the kind of woman who ages gracefully. Who doesn’t turn thirty and freak out. I thought it would be about wrinkles and grey hair and telling myself I’m good enough. But as Michael and I enter the next stage of our marriage together, I’m feeling like the aging process is awfully one-sided right now. Sure, he’s worried about losing his hair, but as I’ve watched friends go through childbirth and family members experience early menopause following a hysterectomy, I now realize that I have no freaking clue what lies ahead. Will my boobs always be this new size? Will my vagina ever be the same after I give birth? Am I always going to pee a little when I sneeze? Is being a woman just a constant state of adjusting and readjusting and learning to be okay with the new normal?
The answer is, I have no idea. It’s possible I’ll just be in the thick of it forever, managing expectations and trying to bolster my own confidence. But it really helps to see some of this starting to be normalized. I appreciate companies like Dear Kate that strive to make products that work with women’s bodies, instead of against them. And I’m grateful for the people who are willing to put their own bodies out there, like the woman who free-bled through her first marathon, or the reality TV star who shared postpartum pictures in which she’s only wearing mesh underwear.
Because you know what the worst part of middle school was? (Other than everything, because middle school.) The worst part wasn’t my body. It was the shame and secrecy. It was feeling like I needed to fix myself, or become invisible. So maybe that’s the next step. I can’t promise I will feel amazing about my body all the time as I enter my thirties and approach parenthood. But I can refuse to feel shameful, and I can refuse to hide.
So let’s talk about bodies, APW. What body stuff have you been too embarrassed to talk about? What do you wish we had more freedom to discuss? What’s surprised you as you’ve gotten older?
This post was sponsored by Dear Kate. Dear Kate is a new brand of underwear, designed with patent-pending fabric technology to be sweat proof, moisture wicking, and stain releasing, all while being totally breathable and comfy as hell. In short: they are redefining what it means to be “special occasion underwear.” Dear Kate undies and leggings (which are also A+) can absorb up to three teaspoons of moisture in the event of sweat, period leakage, or the occasional sneeze. And when I say they are cute, I mean I want to wear my turquoise Ada briefs every day and my galaxy leggings every night. Dear Kate is offering APW readers 30% off all orders placed before November 7, 2016 when you use the code APW30 at checkout. Click here to pick out your favorite Dear Kate style.