Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Part Wolf

When I was in Jr. High (that is what we called middle school in small-town America in the 1900's) I had a huge crush on a boy who seemed unattainable celebrity, even then. He was tan, fit, and had the kind of dreamy hair boys illustrated on the cover of Babysitters' Club books would envy. Friends of mine dated him and for that they were my heroes.

His older brother was in the same class as my cheer-leading sister, three years our senior. In a high school of 400 kids, everyone knows everyone. We were friends the way chubby girls who read too much are friends with boys- which is to say more like golden retrievers then actual human women. I was the non-threatening, unsexualized, funny girl who was supposed to leave the room at parties so my more attractive friends could fool around. I wasn't a monster - but I was me.

At 13 I was built thick, with dark hair and a max height of 5'2". I was into the outdoors and dressed mostly out of the LL Bean catalog-school of inspo and it looked about as flattering as you imagine. I never ever thought of myself as sexy or pretty. I wanted to be - but in the high school play I was cast as the family dog (literally). Point is - I was not the girl on the cover of the Babysitters' Club. I did not run my hands through wavy boy hair.

One time this crush of mine fixed a necklace I was wearing in a computer lab. He stood behind me, gentle hands on my nape as he repaired the latch while I sat frozen. My whole 13-year-old-idiot body shook internally. I didn't know people could do that to each other. Having felt the hormonal shock; I fell hard for this boy who was so nice to a golden retriever. (Little did I know at the time, a pretty breed of dog was too high a bar to set for myself.)

I never dared tell him, or anyone. It was mine to hold close. So later that year at a party when he was waiting for his brother to pick him up I felt lucky to be sitting next to him while we waited for our separate rides. We chatted. I pined. Then my ride came. My sister walked in with a smile and a very fashionable pea coat. He shook his head and laughed to himself behind her. (Know my older sister was perfect in my eyes. She was thin, blonde, and smart as hell. So I got his awe, but didn't get what was so funny?) She headed out back to the car and before I grabbed my coat I made the mistake of asking him why he was laughing?

"Oh, you know. I just was looking at Katie and you, well, you know, the nickname.... Your nickname?"

"What?" (I didn't know I had a nickname.)

At this the boy balked a little. He was self aware enough to realize he walked into something uncomfortable. I put on my coolest we're-just-buddies! voice and told him it was okay to tell me.

"We call you the Friendly Beast. You are so nice and funny and everyone likes you, but your sister is, well, your sister - and you're you."

I didn't cry or say anything back. I just laughed. I was well trained in my role. This is what the boy I liked thought of me. This was what his whole pack of boys called me. I swallowed air and smiled. But that was the first night I ever cried myself to sleep over how I looked.

"Friendly Beast" has always been in the background, the label that explained why every unrequited romance didn't work out. Of course boys didn't want me - I wasn't even human. I was something else. All through my teens this was a part of me. (Later on I did find a boyfriend who was very sweet and put up with a lot of eagerness, but that was a long way from the 13-year-old in computer lab.)

That nickname became my identity. I wish I could say it was some amazing Fuck You to teenage boys who called their girlfriend's bestie a beast - but it was more of an escape. I embraced it as armor and fell in love with werewolves. I had nearly fifty werewolf movies in my collection. When I drew myself, I was a werewolf. If people saw me as a friendly monster then that was exactly what they would get. It was easier to give into the role then fight it.

Genes from a Slovak mother and pan-Germanic father made me short - but strong. This was my only vanity. When other girls in high school had trouble picking up bags of dog food I felt like a superhero not breaking a sweat carrying a fifty-pound bags over each shoulder. In my mind I was a beast. I was the cinematic daughter of Simba from the Lion King and William Wallace from Braveheart. Those were my weirdo-teen idols. They were strong, leaders, animals. I drew that picture of "me" up top in college. I was 21 then and still saw myself as the Friendly Beast.

photo by M. Romais
Now I'm in my thirties. I'm still a beast, but I don't cry about it anymore. What once made me feel manly and monstrous in the worst ways is now a sense of pride. This werewolf ran a 5K yesterday in 16° weather for the hell of it. I felt the pain in my thighs while doing chores this morning, and welcomed it like an old friend. Instead of taking a day to heal I ran some more (14° today!) and did A LOT of pushups after -just to feel that howl inside. What used to bring me shame now brings me so much pride. I love being strong. I love that a hundred pushups is cake. I love that I don't flinch working with a ton of draft horse or worry about throwing hay bales all day. The teenager who used to wish so so hard she would look like Rachael on FRIENDS some day.... well, now that bitch owns a pair of yellow wolf contact lenses. I wear them and mean it.

I am still only 5'2" and weigh around 186 pounds. Even when I was training for the half marathon last summer and running 40-50 miles a week - I never weighed less than 178. At that weight and height, an 8/10 capri is my go-to jean size, but some bitchier critics online think that is a lie. (Listen, my body is a mystery to me, too, but I really am mostly muscle). My waist is 33" and my arms are 15" flexed. I remembered hearing trivia that Ben Affleck's arms as Batman were 17" and was unimpressed. Grrrrrrr, baby.

My body is thick, but that no longer makes me feel less then more conventionally attractive women. I don't want to be a tall, blonde, model who has trouble holding her groceries. I want to be the most kick ass version of me. Which is why I run long races, earned my black belt, ride draft horses, shoot archery, hunt, train hawks and run a farm alone on the side of the mountain. It takes a part-wolf to do all that.

I still deal with the same body issues so many women deal with— and some far more serious than most— but as an adult I am proud of what the Friendly Beast has accomplished. I have no idea what happened to that boy and I honestly don't care. But I hope if he has daughters he raises them to value their own gifts, whatever they might be.  Not everyone gets to be an LL Bean model or even look good in a fleece vest - but we all have something to offer, something to be proud of.

Some of us are a little too feral to make most people comfortable. Some of us are born gorgeous. Some of us get to grow up touching wavy hair. Some of us are friendly beasts who would've killed for Golden Retriever status at their lowest points. Life has a lot of possibilities. What I do know is I no longer doubt there's a person out there who will find me beautiful, as is. I know because one already does.

Me.





46 Comments:

Blogger mama, ph.d. said...

I am built very much like you, except you are way more fit, and are now my "body ideal". At 41, I have very almost come to terms with this body I was born with...but each time the doctor says "you need to lose weight" I bury myself in shame a bit more (that shame usually includes food). Its time I embrace my strength...the strength I was so proud of before I realized I was so very different from anyone else. Thank you for writing this. It's such a great piece, and one I can relate to so well. Also, bravo on the running and push-ups. I've become so timid on the exercise front...I always just feel like I'm too weak/heavy to really go for it!

January 8, 2017 at 5:22 PM  
Blogger Roxanne said...

Jenna, Im twice your age but would give anything to look like you. I think
muscles on women are beautiful. Im more the pudgy grandma type. Keep up the good work.

January 8, 2017 at 5:24 PM  
Blogger Samantha Bernstein said...

love.

January 8, 2017 at 5:25 PM  
Blogger crashdown said...

Great post. And hey--you look awesome for someone who grew up in the 1900s!

January 8, 2017 at 5:41 PM  
Blogger Einit Borowsky said...

Jenna, you are beautiful. Junior high boys are idiots. Funny, I have a male friend who calls me beast. It's a term of endearment from A Wrinkle In Time. Do not let internet trolls get to you. They're jealous. You have created, manifested the life of your dreams and are a powerful woman. You look fabulous darling!

January 8, 2017 at 6:01 PM  
Blogger Paul Molnar said...

I love this post! (I also must say that I really dig your "Friendly Beast" drawing.)

January 8, 2017 at 6:19 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

Well said! I hope my granddaughters embrace this attitude!

January 8, 2017 at 7:06 PM  
Blogger Roxanne said...

Jenna, when you first got the farm did you think you were going to die when you
had to lift something heavy or do something strenous? Did your terrific body come from just doing what you do day after day? Im assuming you didnt look like this when you first moved to the farm. You are gorgeous.

January 8, 2017 at 8:47 PM  
Blogger Jacquie said...

You know, I was the perfect 10 and I hated it because it attracted a lot of sexual attention I did not know how to handle. Read sexual not loving. As I grew older I just became bitchy so the uber horny guys would back off. I didn't have many women friends. I always felt vulnerable. I never learned "how to work it." Never even knew that was a skill. Spent a lot of my 20s on my own. I kissed a lot of pond scum. Had my heart broken so many times because of the packaging. I didn't meet my husband until I was 38. Too late to have children (just my biology.) So, I'm just saying. There are a lot of pretty people out there that are just lonely. And one should never pay attention to what young boys, or young men for that matter say because they are unholy stupid. I'm 54 now, overweight and so glad that part of my life is that over. I want to lose so I can feel stronger. But the pretty part? It can be a really scary for a little girl.

January 8, 2017 at 8:54 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

These comments are so great, thank you for your stories and encouragement.

January 8, 2017 at 10:30 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Rox - I don't lift if that is what you mean? I run, do some yoga, but mostly just farming - I did not look like this in college.

January 8, 2017 at 10:32 PM  
Blogger Laura Angelus said...

love this!

January 8, 2017 at 10:42 PM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

You kill it, woman! I have a 5 foot petite build, but have also surprised a lot of people with I suppose a sort of freakish strength - I always beat the boys (by a lot!) at pull-ups and the amount of weight I could bench. I was the one girl playing basketball with the guys while the others sat on the bleachers - a tomboy I guess, though I didn't really feel that way. Still, kind of hard to find a boyfriend not intimidated by your beating him at arm wrestling ;) I've softened up some, but I know what you mean about the wolf inside. We need strong women (in their many forms) now more than ever.
-Jaime

January 8, 2017 at 10:58 PM  
Blogger Dave in Oregon said...

One of those nights, bouncing around the internet, hoping to find someone's words that actually change the space I'm in, cause it's been kind of a rough week. Big tree fell on a roof, power going out every day, creek rising, scary weather forecast . . . this post just turned my head around. Thank you! You are awesome and beautiful and sexy. You have mad skills, I mean seriously, I read your blog pretty often and I'm blown away by what you've accomplished, learned, aspired to, and achieve in a typical day. Strong is good. You are amazing. It makes me happy knowing you are alive. If I still lived in NY I'd come and tell you in person, bearing a dozen roses and a nice bottle of Scotch (don't worry - I'm 3,000 miles away, on the other coast!) That picture of you with your hawk on your arm says it all. You rock, Jenna! Just keep being you.

January 9, 2017 at 3:11 AM  
Blogger Christine said...

This post made me cry. I was so beyond ridiculed for a similar body type and red hair today I take pride hauling in heavy shit as a single mom to take care of my two teenage boys --who btw were raised to respect everyone! One of their friends came over one day and saw a pic of you on my bookshelf w me standing next to you from a Plan B workshop you had, and he asked 'who is that?' And I said 'that is one of the most awesome women I've ever met...let me tell you about her... she farms on the side of a mtn in NY state...' and he sat and listened IN AWE. Btw that pic is still there. You keep howlin, shining, and inspiring...Wolf Girl 💜

January 9, 2017 at 7:40 AM  
Blogger seagoddess said...

nice!

January 9, 2017 at 8:53 AM  
Blogger hart said...

This is wonderful post. Thank you. I am sure you look in the mirror and it tells you how lovely you look.

January 9, 2017 at 9:21 AM  
Blogger E said...

Brava!

January 9, 2017 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger E said...

Brava!

January 9, 2017 at 9:49 AM  
Blogger C. A. Smiley said...

Well said!

January 9, 2017 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger Lesley UK said...

You are beautiful and you rock. I love you.

January 9, 2017 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger Ashlin Whitaker said...

I loved this post!

January 9, 2017 at 12:22 PM  
Blogger Sue Sullivan said...

You've done a great job of catching a foundational story, an ancient belief about who you are. Nicely written too.

In my experience, catching the things you believe about yourself is the first and hardest step. And the true magic comes in the next step -- questioning that belief, seeing how it makes you feel, who you would be without ever being able to think it again, and turning it around to the exact opposite, shedding a story of self that came from another and feels unhappy and limiting.

Are you familiar with the Work of Byron Katie? Superbly useful, for those so inclined to question painful/stressful thinking. I've not found a more direct path to self-realization in about two decades of questioning and searching for respite from the monkey mind.

I see so much juicy freedom in questioning the beliefs that you name and claim in this piece -- I was never meant to be beautiful, strength all I can claim for myself, I am destined to be a side-kick, I was a beast to my sister's beauty, a group of teenage kids knew better than me who I was and was meant to be. Questioning those beliefs one by one and turning them around might help you to see and self-realize with others have seen above -- you are beautiful, without asterisk, without qualification, without needing to be as strong as possible.

Thanks for being willing to go deep with your piece. I caught thinking of my own in it and appreciate the chance to question it for myself.

You are limitless in the most important of ways. Only the deeply held stories and self-definitions stop any of us from realizing this.

January 9, 2017 at 1:33 PM  
Blogger Sue Sullivan said...

Oh, and know that I am writing to myself, a projection of my younger self. You need take nothing from it at all, if it doesn't serve you.

January 9, 2017 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger maya P said...

I spend way too long worrying about my body. This was a breath of fresh air. Thanks Jenna.

January 9, 2017 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

I don't think that I know a single person that had a good public school (7-12 grade) experience. I put all of that behind me when I went away to university. I have never looked back, and never attended a reunion.

January 9, 2017 at 9:05 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Snook said...

Hello Jenna. It's strange to me how time has a way of making us relive those moments that happened so long ago, yet feel fresh when we think about them. Maybe because I was a few years ahead of you in school, I have no idea who the boy was, but I can tell you how you pictured yourself is not how I remember you. To me you were the smart girl, the funny one, the one with cool glasses. You were confident, at least to me, because you were never afraid to be yourself. In a school like we went to, when all girls that age want to do is follow, I can't remember a time when you did. And you are beautiful, you were then and you are now. Sometimes it just takes us a little longer to realize these truths, like your story. Loved it. And I liked your fleece vest....

January 9, 2017 at 11:58 PM  
Blogger A.L. M. said...

Fantastic post, thank you!

January 10, 2017 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Thank you!

January 10, 2017 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Sean Epperson said...

Keep up the good work. Nothing wrong with the way you look.

January 10, 2017 at 2:59 PM  
Blogger Sprite said...

This is definitely one of my favorite things you've ever written. Thanks!

January 10, 2017 at 5:28 PM  
Blogger Pit Stop Farm said...

I can relate to the feeling of being an outcast, but it had nothing to do with my looks. I was the shy introvert who read too much and never knew how to speak with people - I still have trouble carrying a good conversation or knowing what to say. My thoughts race and have a million words to support them but when I open my mouth either nothing comes out or it's a jumbled mess. My genetics were a bit different though, I've always been lean and muscular with what I'm told is good looks. It didn't matter though, I never had the girlfriends growing up, or really much in the way of friends. But, now that I've matured into a nearly 40 year old male and continued to stay in very good shape (running, lifting heavy things on my property, etc.), I say good riddens to all of those jerks from the past. I can tell you this Jenna,..... you are an amazing beautiful woman, in every way, including physically. What's most attractive though, is your tenacity to be you, no matter the cost. Keep being a wolf....you're a survivor. Scratch that, you don't just survive,...you thrive. I've always thought of myself as a "lone wolf", but now after reading your post I also FEEL like a wolf. In fact, you might just catch me howling at the moon tonight. Rock on Jenna.

January 11, 2017 at 9:05 AM  
Blogger Caitlin said...

I love this so much--in many ways, this was my experience too. I appreciate it now because I think it let me live a better life and develop my imagination and become a better and stronger person, but it was rough going from junior high through college.

January 11, 2017 at 3:45 PM  
Blogger Charlotte Boord said...

There'll be a Wolf Moon tonight...

January 11, 2017 at 10:16 PM  
Blogger bookkm said...

Looking good, Jenna. This memory is so common among girls and women who are Hollywood pretty. And that is most of us. I am glad you shared it with us because your story is inspirational.

Men - and boys - are wonderful to have in our lives. Finding a "mate" is a lovely thing. But we are ENOUGH all by ourselves. We can be happy and fulfilled doing what we love. You are proof.

Thank you.

January 12, 2017 at 9:34 PM  
Blogger Margaret said...

Jenna, I hope that someday women can speak up about how proud they are of their bodies and that they won't pine away for something different. I am friends with women who are overweight, underweight and average weight and everyone can find flaws in themselves with their own eyes. We are most judgmental to ourselves.For thirty years I hated that my eyes were not symmetrical. Do you know what my husband likes best about my body? -My eyes! Variety makes the world go around. I really admire your courage and I love this post.

January 12, 2017 at 10:20 PM  
Blogger Camille said...

Bet your sweet ass Jenna. Well done, well written. I remember those days. In my early 20's I once complained to my mother that I had inherited her *fat thighs* Yeah...not nice. To her credit she did not smack me but suggested I snap the hell out of it and look around. The world is populated by less than perfect body types. She said, "Got fat thighs kid? Then find yourself a fat thigh lover, but not until you learn to rely on yourself and appreciate being in your own skin". I listened to my mother. She was correct. You look fantastic and I very much admire your strength. Enjoy that wolf moon!

January 12, 2017 at 11:32 PM  
Blogger Imaginary acres said...

I want to be you when I grow up. I'm 62.

January 13, 2017 at 6:37 PM  
Blogger jules said...

You go, girl!

January 17, 2017 at 10:29 PM  
Blogger Mishqueen said...

Hey awesome! I'm no blonde, but I do have a very hard time carrying my own groceries. Pathetic, I know! The weakness of my own body is a neverending frustration for me. I can work out just as much as the woman next to me; where I languish and fail to improve quickly while she grows strong and skilled before my eyes.
But my whole life, my fellow women, who should have been my SISTERS, curse me to my face because I'm skinny. Skinny; which has never helped me accomplish anything of worth. Skinny; which makes no one happy. In fact, they're not even jealous of me, because my lack of curves apparently makes me less of a "real woman". In the end, they are badmouthing me but don't actually want to look just like me after all.
Your strength is something I've desired my whole life. It's a badge of honor, I'm proud of you! You've worked hard and you deserve it.

February 6, 2017 at 3:24 AM  
Blogger Patterson said...

Hey woman, you have gorgeous muscles! I am a fifty eight year old woman who can no longer do a lot of the physical things I used to do (throw eighty pound bales of hay for instance or walk up a steep mountain trail with a 65 pound backpack. Time and artificial joints have taken their toll. However I, like my mother, was born to have the build of a draft pony, smaller but strong. I put up with a lot of grief from others and myself about my body and then got over it. I was strong enough to do what I wanted to and to have fun while doing it. That is what mattered to me. We are all different sizes and shapes and we can all find flaws in ourselves but we all should be able to celebrate our strengths too.

February 6, 2017 at 5:55 PM  
Blogger Jon Harshbarger said...

You and your writing are beautiful.

February 12, 2017 at 8:46 AM  
Blogger Tricky Wolf said...

Jenna any man would be lucky to have a woman as strong as you, stay wild and free until prince charming turns up on a white charger

February 23, 2017 at 3:19 PM  
Blogger Caley Kratz said...

That post gave me goosebumps. I grew up similar to you mentally and physically. The tough farm girl that no one looks twice at. I have learned to embrace my gift of strength in my 30's as well and use it in life, as you have. It's functional and beautiful - where else can you get that? :) You are so well-rounded in your awesomeness - inside and out.

February 28, 2017 at 8:13 AM  
Blogger Linda Stansberry said...

This is amazing, thank you! It took me a long time but I also learned to love the strong, primal and wild part of me.

March 21, 2017 at 7:53 PM  
Blogger Lynette Kendall - Doula said...

What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing. You may not have run your fingers through wavy boy hair, but you're more blessed than most because you've ran your fingers through the wooly hair of beautiful creatures on your self-made farm. Not too many people will ever have that pleasure.

April 12, 2017 at 12:40 PM  

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