Recently someone asked why I was writing this newsletter, and why I’d chosen the topic of my erratic career trajectory. I explained that more than anything I'm writing this for myself, a) because it is fun, and b) to make sense of my experiences and career choices and what they’ve so far added up to — to understand it all from the vantage point of my early-mid-50s.
After we spoke I realized there was more to it:
I’m also writing this to lay claim to my experiences and career choices — and, ahem, my accomplishments — in response to naysayers I’ve encountered along the way, whose voices have been echoing in my head for far too long.
For instance, there’s my first boyfriend, who I went out with in the second half of high school and the beginning of college. We’d been broken up a year when I interned at Newsday. Ostensibly still hurt that I’d moved on to someone else (mind you after he’d suggested we see other people while far apart at other schools), he called me after the first few articles with my byline had appeared in the paper, with the express purpose of insulting me.
“I don’t know. It seems like all you do is string together people’s quotes,” he said. “FYI, that’s not journalism.”
For decades, every time I have described myself as a journalist or writer, my brain has replayed his nasty naysaying, turning it into a subconscious mantra of self-doubt. Never mind the many bylines that would come later in the New York Times, assorted trade and consumer publications, women’s magazines, MTV News… A (spurned) dude told me my work amounted to nothing, that I was doing it wrong, and goddamnit, I believed him.
Well, not anymore, dude. I’ve got this here newsletter, so you and your naysaying are history.
Speaking of getting men’s voices out of our heads, on Longreads this week I published “Whole 60,” an essay by novelist Laura Lippman in our Fine Lines series. It’s about her decision, at 60, to stop worrying about whether men deem her fuckable. She ditches dieting, buys herself a two-piece bathing suit, and chooses to love her body and her looks on her own terms.
OMG. What a revelation.
Working on Laura’s piece was exhilarating. I’ve been struggling all my life to disregard comments men have made about my body. I’m a hair under 5 feet with diet-and-obsessive-exercise-proof curves — lord knows I’ve tried, to the point of needing professional treatment in my teens and early 20s.
Just about everyone from my father and grandfather, to my first husband and random men on the street, has felt entitled to lob insults or lascivious comments at me about it. Their words have reverberated through my mind every single day. I have tried so hard to turn that noise off. And there was Laura, just doing it.
Could I just do it, too? Could I decide to forget that on my honeymoon, my first husband brought me to see a statue of a squat fertility goddess in Rodin’s sculpture garden in Paris that he said reminded him of my figure? Or that he often said I’d be perfect if I were seven inches taller? I’d long ago stopped caring about him. Shouldn’t I be able to stop caring about his evaluation of my body and looks too? Not to mention the evaluations from all the other men? Maybe I could…
^^^ Me at 23 in June, 1989, doing my best to smile as I pose with the fertility goddess my first husband said was built like me.
After I was done formatting Laura’s essay in WordPress, I was so inspired, I clicked over to ModCloth to order myself a two-piece Esther Williams bikini (which in real life is red with white polka dots, but for you, dear reader, I made my drawing of it up top more colorful).
I haven’t worn a two-piece in at least 10 years, since a DaVinci Robotic Hysterectomy at 43 for adenomyosis left me with four incision scars on my abdomen, in addition to the scar I already had on my navel from a laparoscopy at 18 to diagnose my endometriosis. Fortunately, this swim suit style has a high-waisted bottom that covers all that business.
I wore my new suit to Kingston Point Beach last weekend. In the water, another woman swam up to me to tell me she admired it, and how I looked in it. I took in her words. They felt so good. I celebrated afterward with ice cream.