F! I’m 40

I lay-out in the backyard, sun sizzling along my body. Bia and Nicki Minaj thump out my pink, portable speaker, giving me permission to rock this bikini. I’m 40; I’m a mom; Fuck yes, I’m wearing this bikini.

Shit, am I 40?

Today’s my 40th birthday. Forty years seeking an identity. Forty years defying expectations. Forty years spent removing labels.

Since childhood, I’ve been caught in a revolving door. Each time I attempt to escape, another label yanks me back into the rotation.

The pretty girl. The bitch. The attention-seeker. The blind girl. The mom. Never a whole person. I’m only allowed to be a singular part of me.

I’m a woman, and women are not allowed to be multi-faceted.

This backyard bikini bod blasting music that, frankly, I’m much too old for, says, “Who the fuck cares?” Whoops, sorry, am I not lady-like enough?

I was called a whore in high school. Interesting fact: I was a virgin in every sense of the word when that label was slapped on. Whore… What a lovely identity we give to women. This is an identity my husband would enjoy with relish.

Oh, did I go too far?

“She’s such a bitch.” I don’t know where this started. I can be stand-offish, reserved. I’m much more comfortable with a small group of friends than large crowds. Unless a stage is involved, then all bets are off.

Bitch… Because I can stand up for myself? Because I turned you down? Because I speak my mind.

Okay, engrave bitch on a plaque for me.

Pretty, such a deceptive label. It’s nice to be called pretty, right? It’s a compliment, right? Okay, sure, unless it’s all you’re ever told.

At least 25 of my 40 years have been spent contorting my body, forcing it to fit a mold. Seeking some identity constructed out of every ism you can think of.

Sexism, racism, ableism, ageism.

I’ve upheld these isms. I believed I was only good at being pretty, and have done everything to fit this narrative while resisting it simultaneously. By perpetuating this lie, I played a role in allowing this BS ideal to persist.

I’m most shamed of this identity. I’ve been trying to tug it off, but the zipper has been stuck for decades. The one thing I ever seemed to be good at, according to everyone around me, seems beyond my ability now.

I’m 40. I may not be considered fat, but I’m no longer the too-thin girl. My blindness causes my eyes to change appearance.

How do I stay me? The false narrative swallows me at times.

I blinked my eyes, and I’m 40 now. I want a new identity. No, I want to be recognized for the person living perfectly imperfectly underneath my skin.

I want to give that little girl and that teenager and that young woman space to grow and explore. She didn’t get to be free. Maybe now I can remove her confines.

White beads and turquoise turtles swing from my ankle bracelet as my foot sways to the rhythm. Lizzo and Cardi B echo my mood. Base vibrates my pink speaker. Yes, pink. The lyrics drift around my body and swirl about the yard.

My finger trails down one of the many stretch marks decorating my mid-section. A gift from my boys. The sun kisses me head to foot. On top my inflatable raft in the middle of the yard, I don’t feel expansive; I feel potential.

By Imperfection

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a mom and writer from Omaha, Nebraska but recently relocated to Urbandale, IA. When she’s not chasing children, picking up messes or reorganizing the house, she enjoys yoga or reading to relax. In her spare time (A.K.A. her dreams) she’s a Broadway star. Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance marketer during the day, a creative writer at night. Her work has appeared in the Brevity blog, The Omaha World Herald, 13th Floor, Misbehaving Nebraskans, Hippocampus, Emerging Nebraska Writers and Random Sample Review. She has her BFA and MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her essay “The Body” was a McKenna Fellowship finalist, and her essay “Imperfection” was a 2020 Best of the Net Nominee. She is blind and writes frequently about disability. She’s working on a memoir about the disabled feminine experience. With the kids though, expect it in stores in about a decade.

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