In search of the perfect summer body | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

In search of the perfect summer body

As much as I love the wonderful “pow!” and in-your-face “whoosh!” of seeing Downtown Pittsburgh upon exiting the Liberty Tunnel, my money is on the West End Bridge for the best view of the city. It is the all encompassing magnificence of the entire Golden Triangle, the confluence or Sangama in Sanskrit, framed by the rivers and the hills that really does it for me. You can feel the topography of the city, the lines of Diondega enveloping, embracing us. Stunning. Every. Time.

My love of this view means nothing can tear my eyes away. Well, almost nothing. You see, on my most recent traversing across the West End Bridge, something took my attention away from this golden view. As I crossed, I saw a man I guessed to be in his late 60s or early 70s on the bridge with his white T-shirt off and tucked into the front waist of his blue shorts. His white skin was now the color of his sun-washed, dark tan leather belt. But what paused my reverent landscape gazing was that, while he was clearly enjoying his walk across a long bridge on a hot day, he was also an older gentleman. His pectoral muscles were strong but sagging and, while he was on the thin side, he had a slightly rounded belly with what appeared to be a large scar from the bottom of his center rib cage down to the top of his shorts.

When I saw this older man with his tan, sagging, scarred, older body, I thought, “Put your shirt back on bro, no one wants to see that.”

Then I immodestly thought, “Wow Tereneh, how incredibly messed up and fucked up of you to think that way.” But I am being 100% honest, that is what I thought to myself. I can point to how we in America are conditioned to look and celebrate youthful bodies, but that is just an excuse. So I had to pause and really think and unlearn some ageist, ableist mess inside of me.

As we are entering summer, we will be seeing more of each other, especially in the summer of the vaccinated as others re-enter social life. With this in mind, I spent the next bit of time reframing my ageist, ableist reaction to one of forgiveness, appreciation, and celebration.

I challenged myself and changed my tune as I wondered if the era of body positivity and celebration extends to all of us regardless of age, ability, color, and size. Is there an age limit to body celebration, and if so, why? Can only people in their 20 to 30s love their cellulite and show it off in short shorts? If so, that is ageism and not real celebration or liberation.

As we love big titties and ass, can we also love small tits and flat butts? Or are we still picking what bodies we love? If so, in the end, we are no better than the Edwardian Gibson Girl and their pigeon-shape making corsets, if we are selecting the perfect Hot Girl Summer bodies. Throughout history, every era has had their “Perfect Summer Body” types, often only women and femmes bodies, which are being judged, labeled, and, if not valued, then most often on display.

The point I hope for body positivity is, “If you have a body in any form, love it and be positive about it.”

I say this to myself as I look in the mirror and see the pandemic pounds I put on, especially while I was in Turkey. My loving boyfriend would make up for our inability to tour Turkey due to COVID by taking a culinary tour of Turkish cuisine via take-out, often saying, “You haven’t tried this yet, so let’s order two kinds.”

My beautiful but very flat walks along the Aegean Sea in the morning were no match for real kabobs, tahini sauce, curry yogurts, pides, pomegranate syrup, Turkish baked-good weekend lockdowns, and evening curfews.

I say this to myself as I replay the summers walking to ballet class as a kid, trying to negotiate how to avoid sexual and street harassment from men and boys of all ages. Starting around the age of 11, I would pull my hair back and put on my glasses … that helped, somewhat. Learning how to balance growing into a woman, the desire to perform on stage without being consumed without consent on the street. Knowing I need that self possession, confidence in my dance training, and in life. How to not let it be stripped away on the street by those strangers? I still struggle with this, to be honest.

I say this as I replay, in my mind’s eye, the man walking across the West End bridge, enjoying himself and his body as he walked in one of the most beautiful places in America on a hot day.

So I say to him, to you, to me, to all of us:

You have a body, this body has kept you alive in this most challenging of times, and we are still here. This is our perfect summer body because it exists here and now, the summer of 2021.

Celebrate, rejoice, and reverently, respectfully enjoy the view.

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