I have not worn a bathing suit in public since I was 13 years old. That next summer, I grew five inches in only four months and went from a size zero to a size six. I realized immediately there was something wrong with my body, which could easily be seen by holding up a mirror and looking backwards — it was right below my waist and just above my arse and it sprung out on either side like the golden arches of McDonalds.
I concluded that my body was misshapen and began wearing baggy clothing. No one had ever explained that becoming a woman often involves developing hips the width of Texas. The entire concept made me feel like a foreigner grasping to understand a new word. Being that I was raised with four older brothers in a den of masculinity, the topic of womanhood had never come up.
Eventually someone explained that I’d been blessed with “birthing hips” and that this was a good thing, since the sole pride of a woman is in having babies.
When I was younger, my Mom would write letters of protest to churches with daycare programs because they were enabling women to work outside the home. It was always understood that I’d eventually grow up, get married, and have my own babies to stay at home with. I have to admit, I never really thought about pursuing a professional career or traveling, because that’s what selfish women did and we felt sorry for them. We definitely felt sorry for their children.
It took me quite a few years to realize that being a woman is not defined by any one single act or rite of passage. I’m 28 years old, I’ve never been pregnant, and I can assure you I am most definitely a woman. If someone wants to ask me how many babies I have, then I’ll list the 17 countries I’ve traveled with nothing but a backpack.
I don’t feel that I need a man to put a baby inside of me before I can claim the honor of being a woman. My family, on the other hand, may disagree. My sister-in-law periodically sends me articles about how likely it is that my children will be born with Downs Syndrome, as though such a child should be considered a punishment for my tardiness at becoming a mother. On my 25th birthday, she sent me a statistic on just how many of my eggs were dead and floating about my ovaries like the burned bits of quinoa in the bottom of a pan.
It’s not that I don’t like kids, because I do. I actually happen to be the Best Aunt Ever, and I’m hoping to eventually make my own babies—just not yet. I have an agreement with my boyfriend that I’m entitled to a baby animal for every year past 32 that I don’t make a baby human. I really wouldn’t mind a kitten at the very least, and baby goats are also quite cute, so I figure I have plenty of time.
When I do have children, especially if I have a daughter, I won’t be passing on this limited definition of femininity and womanhood. Being a woman is amazing—whether you’re pregnant, have kids , are still trying or have chosen not to. There is no single thing that ranks any of us above the others or plots us in some chart of achievement.
Watching my nieces, in all their feist and cleverness, makes me think we’re born with an awareness of our capacity, but that it’s often hijacked by someone who gains from our limitation. I wouldn’t trade anything for this journey, but if I could go back and tell 13 year old Aussa what it really means to be a woman, I’d borrow a few of the same words that I tell my nieces and maybe, someday, my daughters.