Loving another woman is a revolutionary act. I’d heard it before but didn’t quite grasp the gravity of that notion until I recently caught myself confidently staring back at my reflection in a full-length mirror. My broad, uneven shoulders taking up most of the glass’s width, the remnants of the day’s makeup still at the corner of my eyes.
I was naked, imperfect — and beautiful. And it wasn’t always this way.
I used to hate my nipples. Hate my nipples. I wanted “porn” nipples. You know, the perky ones with the tiny areola? One of my friends in junior high school had them and I wanted them, too. We had this obsession with comparing the size of our budding breasts. I couldn’t help but think every time I looked at hers: “I. Want. Your. Nipples.”
In boarding school, a couple of my dormmates and I got the idea to measure the size of our nipples with coins. One girl was a quarter and the other was a dime. My size was indeterminate. We didn’t have a coin large enough but we estimated I would have been a dollar. I moped back to my room, wishing the large masses on my chest would disappear.
I went on to college, began dating guys and became even more self-conscious. Once, I heard larger areolas were more sensitive. That made me smile. But I soon remembered the porn stars and the not-big-enough coins.
Then one summer I met a woman — an amazingly breathtaking woman that answered all the questions I had about my sexuality.
“You can explore,” she gently encouraged our first night together. She then guided my fingers between her thighs and I timidly traced the new yet familiar territory. She began to outline the dark brown circles sitting on my chest. When my body tensed, she smiled and brought her soft lips to mine then to my breasts.
She loved my nipples. They transformed from obnoxious mounds to chocolate gumdrops that jutted forward instead of up in excitement. She was captivated by them. Our trysts began as an exploration of my attraction to women. But as I explored her body, I started exploring me. As I fell for her, I fell deeper and deeper in love with me.
My nipples were only a fragment of my insecurities. I learned to appreciate the uniqueness of my most intimate, least talked about lady parts. I grew to embrace the stretch marks that adorn my boobs and wrap around my ass. You see, these incredible, brilliant, beautiful women I shared cocktails, laughter, late-night conversations, and kisses in dark corners with shared these imperfections, too.
Over the years, time after time, woman after woman, I grew more accepting. The fact that they saw past my flaws and saw beauty in those same imperfections was the greatest lesson and gift in self-acceptance.
I once half-seriously joked to a friend that every woman should experience sleeping with another woman at least once in her life. Despite my personal views on sexual fluidity and belief that everyone (men and women) is bisexual to some degree (Kinsey scale, anyone?), there’s some truth I hold to in that declaration.
“Loving relationships among Black women do pose a tremendous threat to systems of intersecting oppressions,” Black warrior woman and scholar Patricia Hill Collins writes. “How dare these women love one another in a context that deems Black women as a collectivity so unlovable and devalued?”
While we all don’t necessarily have to be bedfellows, talking honestly with other women (black, white, straight and queer alike) about our deepest uncertainties about self is pretty radical. In a culture where sex and human sexuality is still largely taboo, that moment in front of my mirror — unshaven legs, chipped nail polish, nips and all, reminded me of the importance of not only loving (on) each other and ourselves but sharing openly about the parts we might not love so fully.
From saggy breasts to lopsided lips, I’ve met women with their own quirks and intricacies that make them unique. Seeing (and being with) women in their bare, unaltered, flawed, beautiful skin made me more comfortable in mine.