Last week I started thinking about Oprah. I was standing in a locked changing room at the YMCA, and I was thinking about her, because I was the only person who was actually in a changing room. Everyone else was happily changing at their lockers. So I started thinking about Oprah, and how she talks about ‘owning it'.
My mother Violet and I were getting ready for an aqua fit class. She was stripping down to her birthday suit, and I was grabbing my suit and heading to a private room. She reassured me that there were all shapes and sizes at the Y, but I wasn't quite ready to reveal myself in public. So I locked the door and slid into the tight black bathing suit that covers my jagged scar and gives me the illusion of a flat stomach.
If it was just my stomach I could have exposed myself, but I wasn’t mentally prepared to reveal my Barbie boobs, and see the horrified confusion people’s faces. So instead I hid behind a locked door and thought about Oprah. She may have coined the term ‘Owning It', but before she came along there were other people in my life who taught me the same lesson.
Before Oprah there was my grandmother. She was a sweet gently lady from Lithuania with soft skin and kind eyes. She loved us all madly, and would sit patiently in her big green chair while my sisters and I scrambled over her like a pack of kittens. While she watched her ‘boyfriend’ Liberace we'd stroke the crinkly skin under her chin, and playing with the jiggly flesh by her armpit. For this we were rewarded with a hug and a chuckle, and later with a giant plate of perogies and a five-dollar bill.
When I was about six I had sleepover over at my Grandma’s house. It didn’t happen often and I was very excited. At night she put me to bed, and covered me with blankets. I remember her wearing a flowered dress and her soft hand stroking my hair. As she leaned in to kiss me I inhaled deeply taking in the smell of cabbage rolls, and Dove soap. She turned off my light, and told me I was pretty.
A few hours later I had to pee. I crawled out from my pile of blankets.down the dim hallway toward the bathroom. I was just about to turn a corner when I stopped dead in my tracks. Standing in front of me was a creature, with long flowing hair and a long gown. I was too scared to scream. I just remember looking up and seeing a face that was a cross between my grandmother and a baby - the creature didn't have any teeth! Not to mention the fact that the creature had the biggest bosom had ever seen and instead of standing straight out, it hung downward, towards her waist. And the hair! It was wild! Without bobby pins holding it back it stuck out all over the place.
My grandmother started shaking. She put her hand over her mouth and I realised that she was giggling. 'I don't have my teeth in!’ she managed to say between gasps of breath. 'I left them in my bedroom.' She must have been enjoying the look on my face because she rocked with laughter. She was back lit by the light in the washroom and her nightgown was transparent. Not only had a seen her without her apron, but I'd certainly never seen her naked.
But here's what I remember thinking in my pious little six-year-old head. I was thinking 'Why are you still standing there? Shouldn't you be running away in embarrassment and getting your dentures?' But she had no intention of running away - she was having too much fun watching my eyes bulge out of my head. She was toothless and braless and see-through and scary, and she was having a blast. She stood her ground, and she Owned It.
Eventually I made my way back to bed and trembled under the covers. I had never seen someone nearly naked and toothless! The image burned my eyes and gave me nightmares for weeks. Today however, that same image is precious. The page it holds in my mental photo album is alive and joyous, and real.
The Mighty O encourages all to be our authentic self. I don’t think my grandmother ever used the word ‘authentic’. In fact, her English wasn’t all that good. But her lesson was as clear as the glint in her eye.
I’m still a chicken and I’m not ready to get naked in a changing room just yet. But that time is coming, I know it for certain. So when I’m ready to get naked in public, I’ll own it.
Like my Grandma.