She was my best friend in high school. Her mother knew her as Karen. But pretty much everybody at school knew her as Stringbean. She had a natural supermodel body at a lean 5′ 11″. Beautiful, blonde and doe-eyed. I hung around with Stringbean for many years in my awkward pudginess topped by my pimply, gap-toothed, farsighted bespectacled, face. My knickname was Koogles, for the way my coke-bottle glasses magnified my eyes to resemble the bug-eyed, hefty brand mascot for a then-popular peanutbutter-and-jelly spread.
The Bean, of course, thought of herself as too tall and too thin. But no one else saw her that way. In the childhood torment of cruel knicknames, “stringbean” was the best anybody could do. Girls admired her, boys admired her. The handsome Tony captured her heart.
Today I’m remembering Stringbean’s hipbones. They entered the room, it seemed, a full minute before the rest of her did (she had, also, that particular runway-model gait). This was in the days of the first round of hip-hugging jeans. Karen’s hipbones were the most articulated hipbones I can ever remember seeing. They rose up out of her jeans creating a kind of ledge, or butte, on either side of her body. You could rest a coffee cup on each of them while admiring the trampoline stretch of belly skin that pulled across the front of her. She didn’t have an anorexic build at all, but did she ever have hips. Great, sculptural, bony, protruding pelvic bones. Later they proved able to cradle her babies all the way to term without requiring her to wear maternity clothes. We’re talking serious hips.
We visited Italy last September, and had a great conversation with our gondolier, Igor, about gondolas, their history, their parts. He introduced us to a friend of his who makes “forcole.” A forcola is the fulcrum that transforms an oar into a highly maneuverable lever on gondolas and other boats of their kind. The people who carve these beautiful forcole from the world’s hardest woods are masters of their crafts. They make functional forcole and, often, sculptures inspired by their work.
A forcola works, acts, and looks like a good hip, cradling the thighbone and structured to allow infinite and wide-ranging movements. Its beauty, strength, and purpose are breathtaking.
I’ve always wanted hips like that.
But my hips are the narrow hips of my muttly people. I come from a narrow-hipped, assless lineage. My family members can be recognized by their long muscular legs. Lanky, bony, serious shoulders, long elegant arms, hands, feet. And their lack of pelvic space. Our tummies buldge up between our pelvic bones because there’s little room even for the organs that are supposed to be there.
My hips are easily buried under fat, and not structured for optimal function. Not pretty, not jutting, not sculptural, not present. When I was at my heaviest, it was impossible for me even to find my hipbones. No amount of poking allowed me to locate them, even when I needed to in order to help physical therapists locate the source of hip pain I had when trying to walk to lose the weight.
However, while losing weight, the place I most felt the weight loss was in my hips. I was very much aware of the sense of weight dropping off by the feeling of my pelvis in space — the space my hips fill in the air. I remember very well the day I could find and feel my pelvis and hipbones at the front of my body using my own two hands. And the day when I could find and trace the line of my pelvis in the back of my body. And the day I actually bruised a hip when banging it into a bureau. I have to be more careful now that I don’t bounce. Becoming aware that I have hips at all, and teaching them to work correctly are among my favorite results of the weight loss.
I talk with some of my parent’s friends who have great difficulty with their hips, and I’m thankful for my working ones, focused on keeping them working well as long as possible. I love to move them. Last week in belly dancing class, we learned to do hip slides. These are straight-legged, focused movements that require sliding the hips side to side in a way that fully separates them from the rest of the torso. For just a flash, in the dance mirror, I saw a butte, a hip-ledge, a baby seat, emerge on my left side. I wasn’t able to duplicate it, but I swear, for an instant, it was there.
Which began this rambling set of flashcards on matters of hipness. Thanks for indulging me,
Wait for this to load, put on your earphones, and enjoy the great American poet,
Lucille Clifton, reading “Homage to My Hips”