(Originally posted on the Body Joy Project blog.)
They dug it out past the crops, not far from the field of sunflowers. It was only a few feet deep, but it was big. About the size of a public pool. We watched, mesmerized as the water and dirt swirled together. Two hoses on full blast and still, it was taking forever. We’d been watching them dig all week and they promised it would be ready today. We’d been in our swimsuits since the morning.
Reluctantly, we left to eat lunch and do our afternoon chores. I remember standing on a step stool in the kitchen kneading dough in my swimsuit and tennis shoes. I would have worn that outfit anywhere. I was ten years old and confident. The idea of hating my body had not yet entered my world. I hadn’t even spent much time thinking about my body other than seeing what it could do. I was too busy living in it.
Eventually, someone ran into the kitchen screaming, “It’s ready! It’s ready!” So was I. This wasn’t my first time at camp, but it was my first mud pit and I couldn’t wait to get in.
The mud was thick, and warmer than I thought it would be. I could feel tiny bits of dried grass and rocks between my toes. I walked around a bit with it up to my thighs, dragging my fingers through the surface of the mud as I walked. Slowly, I lowered my whole body into the mud. I lay on my back and was instantly floating. With my head back and my ears under the mud, everything was silent. I was looking up at the clouds slowly drifting all alone in a warm sea. It felt like the whole mud pit had been made just for me.
At the same time, I felt so connected to the people around me. I saw my friends and camp counselors in a completely new way. They were beautiful. Alive and free and messy and perfect. My interest in everyone around me grew. They liked this just as much as I did. What else did we have in common? What else were they capable of?
I remember all of us looking at each other in awe, laughing, and trying different things. One person would shout out “hey you guys – try running” and we’d all fall over trying to run. We’d get out and hose each other off, squealing in delight as our skin beneath the mud was revealed. I would get as clean as I could just so I could see myself transform again as I got back into the mud.
That experience opened something up inside of me. I saw the work it took to make it possible. I saw my counselors and the owners of the camp spend days digging that pit. They had made a special place for all of us to get messy. The possibilities of what I believed a person could be were changing. Lying in bed that night, falling asleep, my breaths were deeper and I felt bigger on the inside.