Yesterday at a poetry workshop I took off two layers of clothes.
One minute we were discussing black poetry. The next, we were arguing about women’s dresses at the Oscars. The next, I had taken off my clothes.
You see, Maya Angelou told us in her powerful, incomparable way that no matter what you do or wear or say, the men always go home. Then there is a gap in my memory, and next thing I remember the poet-friend sitting next to me was asking passionately for someone to give her a paragraph of writing to explain why women still feel they need to expose half of their bodies in order to have power. She was more than asking. She was pleading, demanding, from a place of exasperation, frustration, but also from a place of long experience in the media industry. Still, there was no space for anyone else to respond. And I felt she was not seeing clearly, that she was not acknowledging the women who showed up looking elegant, strong, gorgeous, and powerful, no matter what they were wearing. And deeper inside, the years of feeling ashamed of and confused by my skin, my precious human body, loomed and heaved furiously, and then we were all standing up trying to head for tea and snacks and get out of the conversation, and she was still talking, and demanding, and next thing I knew I was peeling off a shirt, and then another, and then my pants, too, and standing and turning in the middle of a retired poet’s living room in my bra and undies and socks.
It felt really good.
Human bodies are beautiful.
I know where my friend was coming from. I know we’re fighting the same fight. And I won’t put up with women judging other women anymore.
In most moments, I will probably try to point out what is happening with as much compassion and clarity as I can. But in my best moments, I will take off my clothes.