L is a skinny girl and she has this funny habit of taking her shirt off by pulling her arms up through the neck hole and scrunching the whole shirt down around her waist. She twirls, letting the sleeves that now stem from her hips move like helicopter rotors. Tonight was not the first night that she took advantage of her newly-exposed nipples. She covered each one with a sticker. Of a red fire hydrant: her favorite. You say pasties, she says firefighter uniform badges. Either way, she's very cognizant of her nipples.
I have five invisible kids now, Mama.
"You do?" I was surprised. Her sister has had invisible children, but L hasn't really ever explored this kind of thinking before.
Yeah. Their names are Nick, Sally, Junior, Mimi, and Chichi Isabella. So I'm going to need more nipples. How can I grow more nipples?
There has been a lot of nipple talk lately, between a few glimpses of breastfeeding and the newfound knowledge that breasts are going to grow under their own nipples one day. That, let me tell you, has generated a lot of conversation. Breasts are implausible things, but so are non-invisible offspring.
Two women I know had babies last week: one for the second time, one for the first. I keep thinking about them, about that body-redefining change. I keep thinking about how we teach girls so much about what not to do with their bodies: don't have unsafe sex. Don't dress too trashy. Don't let your body be used or objectified or shamed. Buy skinny jeans hip huggers pencil skirts. Push-up bras strapless bras bikini bottoms.
We never seem to say: make your body feel pretty any way you want as long as you remember what your body is for. We strip biology from anatomy and strut image over substance. We don't do ourselves any good. So my girls, I trace their skin. I say, "the milk will come from all over here. You will feel it as high as your collar bone. I swear I felt it in my shoulder blades. Your whole body will work to feed your babies. If you want." Because if we're going naked-honest about biology, I will also go naked-honest about choice and circumstance. And I won't raise them to assume they'll have kids, or that they'll birth those kids, or that they'll want kids at all. But I will raise them to know what their bodies are capable of -- if that's how they want to use them.
Bras are pretty and fire hydrant stickers are great and some people squirm when we openly talk nipples, but that Chichi Isabella will teach you when she eats just how powerful and mighty and nurturing and humble and mortal and ordinary and love-capable you are.
I love this photograph.