I always do. Seemingly willingly, as gracefully as I can, I schooch down the table and put my feet in the stirrups. I don’t want to, I hate to, I know what iscoming…but I do as I am told, I am cooperative. A good girl??? I hear my mothers voice, “Patti”, she’d say, “be a good girl.” Or if I did something she liked , “Patti, you a such a good girl.” She also said this to our dog as she forced worm medication down the dogs throat, “Noowwww, beeee a gooood girrrrl”. The dog always swallowed the pill. She was a good girl, too.
This fall, friends invited us to join them at the local Renaissance faire. The invitation included attending in costume. Tim and Lisa were members of a well known acting troupe when they lived in California. They have racks of costumes, handmade by Tim, that are exquisitely authentic. I was thrilled with the invitation; I love Renaissance Faire’s. I love the language, the clothes, the castles, the knights in shining armor. Me thinks I was a poorly wench in a past life or mayhaps the queen. I felt like I had manifested a personal fantasy, dressed and playing the part.What fun, I couldn’t wait!!
So, prior to the scheduled event, Tom and I went over to Tim and Lisa’s. We went into the basement room, not closet, of costumes. Now, I don’t know what size Lisa wears, I thought we seemed somewhat close, but each ensemble she unwrapped looked extremely tiny. I held them up to my hips, my chest and would say, “Oh this is too small, this will never fit.” Lisa explained, “We will be corseted, so they will fit.” Oh good, I was getting worried I wouldn’t fit into one of these amazing costumes.
We gathered the bodices, shirts, skirts and corsets, and traipsed upstairs to their bedroom to try them on. First the corset. As we struggled; Lisa- loosening the lacing, me -trying to fasten hooks, not quite sure what to do with my breasts, and both of us trying to be respectful of the intimacy of the moment; I am catapulted to the scene from Gone With the Wind when Mame is corseting Scarlett. Scarlet is holding onto the the four poster bed as Mame yanks her into a 24 inch waist. Just then Lisa says, “Hold onto the the bed posts.” I look and there in the center of the room is a huge four poster bed. I take hold and Lisa yanks….HARD. When I am fully corseted in I can’t bend, can barely breathe and I think I may have a broken rib. Next comes the loose blouse, then the skirt, which by the way now fits my cinched in waist and finally the outer corset. Seriously, another corset. Okay, this is the one that will make my breasts look really big, like the Queen Elizabeth movies, so I say to Lisa, “Lets go for it.” I take hold of the bed post once again. When I am completely tucked into this amazingly accurate and beautiful Elizabethan costume I look like I have been transported to another era, another life time, but I feel like I am about to pass out!
I carefully walk down the stairs to show myself off to Tom and Tim. They like what they see. I can’t really sit to join them-since I can’t bend, I don’t dare grab a piece of the delicious bread and cheese LIsa has put out- I don’t think I can swallow, so I stand there, feeling what now may be internal injuries. I ask Tom what he has picked out to wear, and he holds up a luscious jacket of velvet tapestries. Tim says, “Yeah, he’ll be comfortable in this.” I am not sure I can make it back up the stairs to get this outfit off, “Oh” I say, “Are we supposed to be comfortable?”
When I am finally unhooked, unlaced, and un-doubled corseted, I take my first full breath of air. I notice my lungs don’t quite fully inflate-it hurts to breath. I make a mental note to take a smaller breath the next time. I think of my yoga class tomorrow and wonder if I should skip it. I slip into my Victoria Secrets bra, now more comfortable than it has ever been and my panties that tend to crawl up my butt, but who is complaining. On the ride home I feel my sadness. I image all the women of the castles, the Victorian mansions, the Southern belles, cinched in, unable to breathe, bend, eat, be comfortable. I speak into the darkness of the car, “It is in my genes to tolerate the the intolerable, to make good of bad. My ancestors did.” I was so moved by the physical brutality women endured to wear the fashion of the day. I hurt, literally and emotionally.
I think about the ways I am good, nice so I get along, cooperative. I am not saying this is wrong or bad, but it is sometimes a pain in the ass-like when we slide down the table and put our feet in the stirrups. We know what is coming, and without complaint we do it. Now, in the event of a gynecological exam (or ridding oneself of worms), it is probably medically smart to schooch down. But the corset heightened my awareness of the many ways and places I schooch when I it is not smart to do so. When I accept the unacceptable or at least tolerate it in order to be loved, fit in, not left, or not make anyone mad at me. I corset myself. I yank myself into a shape that is unnatural and I keep smiling.
I know I am not alone in this. As women we have learned to sub-optimize. A concept I learned while attending the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. I was a member of the Institutes first, and the last, exclusively female class. As a class we were taught to sub-optimize; which means to put personal wants and needs in the background so to move the “others” needs and wants to the foreground. Well, I knew I excelled at this and I suspected my class mates were equally as talented. The problems ensued because we were tired of sub-optimizing. Amazingly, this all women class of therapists, doctors, nurses, and social workers wanted the floor, all 18 of us, at the same time. We had stopped caring so much about each other and more about ourselves. There was chaos. And pain.
I think, ladies, we have some questions to consider. When do I choose myself and when do to I choose the other? What do I choose to tolerate and what do I choose to refuse? And how do I make these decisions in our relationship with one another? Not easy questions and ofttimes hard to answer. But…the next time you are schooching down the table, headed for the stirrups, it is something to think about.
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