Tiger in the Mirror

I look in the mirror and I see my shoulder muscles ripple a bit as I pull off the too-small swim suit.

Suddenly, I’ve overcome with some sort of pride:

How can this be so simple?

I smile and keep undressing.

Now the boy in the mirror is bare; he is beyond caring

But he looks at his body with pride,

He inhales the chlorine-shampoo smells of the bathroom and is flooded with happiness

After all I’ve put my body through –

The bulimia,

The anorexia, the over-exercise…

After breaking my back, taking months off from swimming

For some crazy fucking reason, my body still works.

It still remembers how to swim – I still remember how to swim!

My body, despite the shit I’ve put it through,

Bounces back every fuckin’ time I knock it down

I stare at myself with immense pride;

My broad shoulders and strong chest which hold my heart that continues to beat and to love,

My messy hair that shines in the sunlight and turns blonde in the summer,

My recently sized double-D breasts that sag down my chest that constantly reveal my assigned sex, but will one day be removed,

My huge thighs that not only touch, but also seem not to quite fit together that power me to win that race or to walk down the street holding her hand or to run into my father’s arms,

My acne that screams “UGLY, PUBESCENT, INNOCENT!” is fading as I learn to manage my stress (and with a bit, okay – a lot, of face wash…),

My round face that is all the better to hold my smile,

My love handles spilling over… well, I’ve always wanted a handle on love, right?

I raise my hand to dry my hair and I see my fat arms – that hold people tight and give the best, firm, “Schuyler” hugs,

I see my sausage fingers that write and type and play instruments, my hands that she calls “Jesus hands,”

And as I turn, I see my newly forming stretch marks.

They’re pink and still coming into focus, but I know exactly what they are.

They creep out of my inner thighs and butt and hips like nasty fingers trying to take hold of my body.

I suck in my breath and my pride falters.

Stretch marks are scars that form when the skin stretches because the body grows too fast for the collagen fibers to keep up – so it’s from getting fat too fast, right?

But… why can’t I be proud of these scars like I can be of my others?

I’m proud of the one from my first skateboard fall because it shows my experience!

I’m so very proud of the ones from my feet surgery because it reminds me of the pain I overcame as a child.

And I’m even proud of the one on my chin that I got from tripping up the steps…

So why can’t I be proud of the stretch marks?

After all, they show the best accomplishment of all: health and recovery.

I look back up into the mirror and my smile begins to return.

I look myself in the eye.

I am a tiger who has earned his stripes.

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