It was hard to picture her as a young woman. A decade had passed since we first got to know one another and although she didn't look old, she didn't look young either. If she hadn't told me, it was hard to tell how old she really was. She was quite a bit older than me, a divorced woman who never had children of her own. Maybe that was it. It seemed to me that women who never bore children had a certain youthfulness to them, probably because they didn't worry over their young ones or stay up late with a sick child or do all the important things that a parent did. Of course they had other commitments and responsibilities. It was just a different way of life, something that I could certainly attest to as I didn't have children of my own either. The only difference between us was that I didn't have any family close by. My friend had lived with her mother, looking after her in her old age, taking care of her until her death a few years ago as well as seeing to the maintenance of several properties.
I would sometimes hear stories of her younger days, about the young men that she dated. And I tried to picture her as a young woman, making her way in the world, getting to know eligible young men.
She talked about being slimmer during her younger days, wearing a two-piece swimsuit on the beach. Her body was very womanly and I imagined -- and had glimpsed in an old photograph or two -- that she was quite attractive during her youth with her shapely figure and blonde hair.
Some time ago, we spent an afternoon at the lake, and sat and talked a while by the sparkling water. There was a young couple sunbathing a little ways away; the young woman was wearing a revealing bikini. My friend commented on it and mentioned her younger days when she actually looked good in a bikini herself and didn't I remember those days as well? I didn't reply in the affirmative as it wasn't something that I could relate to as I never wore a two-piece swimsuit as a younger woman (except when I was about five years old or younger but that didn't count). Even wearing a one-piece swimsuit didn't take away my insecurities. What was it like, I wondered, to have the shape of a woman at that young age, to feel reasonably confident of one's curves and sexuality, to know that one was attractive to the opposite sex, to feel attractive in something as simple, as well as revealing, as a swimsuit? And didn't all women want to feel attractive in their swimsuits, whether it was a one-piece or a two-piece? The body was only partially concealed, after all, leaving ample room to the imagination.
When I started wearing swimsuits again during my late teens and early twenties, I was never confident about my body, always finding fault with it. During those days, I especially felt embarrassed as I felt -- and knew -- that I wasn't proportionate.
Another outing with that same friend brought us to the mall. We were in her car and we noticed a curvaceous young woman who was dressed very elegantly. To put it simply, she looked good. And my friend commented how good she herself used to look during her younger years. Her life was obviously different from mine. I was never curvaceous that way, meaning that I wasn't well-endowed, and felt that I never measured up to society's standards of what an attractive and proportionate body should be. I felt that I had the shape of a woman -- mainly due to my hips -- but it was never enough. It pained me to know that I was not proportionate, a description that I'd oft-repeated. So, no, I never remembered looking that good during my younger days, especially not where my body was concerned. There were times when I received compliments on the way I dressed or I was aware that I was being noticed by another (even though I could sometimes sense it, I would usually know about it because someone else would tell me for I was mostly oblivious to such things, being too insecure to look at the other person). But that confidence was never there. If it had been, surely I wouldn't have hunched my shoulders nor looked at the ground so much.
My friend had fond memories of her days as a much younger woman, able to recall fun-filled and sunshine days when she ran about in a two-piece swimsuit. There were a few times when I, too, ran about in a one-piece swimsuit but it was obviously a different experience for I always felt self-conscious about my appearance. If my friend ever had a similar experience, she never said so.
And there was a time when I was rather fascinated with a cocktail dress that looked wonderful on the mannequin. But then mannequins were always proportioned, weren't they? The dress was strapless with a very modest sweetheart neckline, revealing bare shoulders and a small waist. And either the top half or the skirt was velvet. The material was both smooth and inviting. It seemed womanly and bold to me. Never mind that I wouldn't have anywhere to wear it to nor any formal occasion to wear it for. I think I wanted to be -- and feel -- womanly. And bold. And elegant at the same time. That was how it seemed to me.
Even now, as an older woman, there are days when I feel fairly confident about my body -- imperfect as it is -- more so than my younger days, and days when I wonder what the outside world thinks about my appearance. And why should I wonder? Why should I worry? Surely, as it is often said, what really matters is what is inside the person, his values and character, not the outside appearance. I think a big part of the reason is because it took me a long time to appreciate my body, to accept it as it is, flaws, curves and all. My body was once my enemy, or so I thought. These days, it is not that it is my best friend for there will always be those "issues" -- another favourite word -- to deal with.
Maybe being a forty-something-year-old woman is easier. Maybe it is all part of growing older. Maybe it really is "better late than never" and one just has to wake up and appreciate what one has, imperfections and improvements, and not worry what another has to say about it. But why analyse it any further? One can analyse something to death and come up with all sorts of reasons, or what one thinks are the reasons.
I have always been aware of my body. It has been known to entice me. It has also been known to repulse me. But it is my body, the body that still sometimes yearns to wear -- and wear it well -- that somewhat modest, yet form-fitting, strapless dress with the beautiful sweetheart neckline. I guess sometimes old fascinations, even from as way back as twenty or so years ago, never really die.