Hovering near the top of my ‘missed opportunities’ list, somewhere just behind ‘never getting round to that gangbang dinner party’ is a snowy afternoon in the early noughties.
Remember that time in your life when you were most carefree? Happiest? Most content in your body and intensely, hornily desperate to use it? Well, mine was around about then. Just before I’d started shagging, but long after I’d discovered boys. My weekends and evenings were spent huddled in whispering, weed-smoking, cider-swilling groups, competing with each other to contrive more imaginative ways we could get touched up by our equally-horny peers.
I miss those times.
More than that, I miss this one boy I used to know. If you’ve read my book, he’s the First Love guy – that one school crush that sets the bar for your future crushes, and the guy I’d follow achingly around. I’d hang off his every word, and the vaguest hint of flirtation (“Is that a new black lipstick/scruffy jumper combo? Looks good on you!”) would send me into swooning delight.
I used to touch myself in bed while thinking of him pushing me roughly up against a wall. His hands rummaging greedily up my skirt, and his lips on my nipples. Kids these days think they’re the first to discover vampires, but I was frigging myself to the idea of this guy biting my neck before Edward Cullen was even a glint in Stephanie Meyers’ eye.
Anyway. The boy. I won’t describe him physically – insert your own imagination, based on the first person you fell for. Their hair, their lips, their eyes – their fascinating hands, and the way you’d sit stock-still if they touched you, praying that they’d never take that hand away.
One afternoon in winter, having left us for a few months, this boy came back to visit. It was a big deal. Friends, acquaintances, and even people who hadn’t known him well all gathered for an afternoon of teenaged fucking about. ‘Fucking about’ was top of our schedule for most Saturdays anyway, but it was a rare treat to have a purpose.
Before we met up with the group, a bunch of people gathered at my house – that’s where he was going to arrive and the plan was that we’d do… whatever it was that we did… for a while before heading out to meet up with the group. That morning, it snowed. I’m talking a fair bit of snow here: the kind which, in the UK, inspires news reports about grit shortages and ‘SNOWMAGEDDON’ headlines in the Daily Express. In short: about 2 inches.
So we did what any four girls and a dude we all fancied would do in that situation: we had a topless snowball fight.
With my family out of the way, and a good few bottles of cheap alcopops in our stomachs, we stripped to the waist in the garden and hurled chunks of snow at each other until our lips were blue and we were laughing so hard none of us noticed that our nipples were like stone and at least two of us were on the verge of hypothermia.
Here’s where the regret comes in, though: when I say ‘we’ I mean ‘they.’ I joined in, of course, because snow is rare enough that I’d never miss the opportunity to chuck a fistful of it at a friend or loved one. But I kept my top well and truly on. In fact, at the time I was so worried about what I looked like topless that I was wearing an extra-chunky jumper to try and hide any bits that I thought might turn him off. Him: this guy who was not only a good friend, but who had spent countless hours playfully flirting with me and leaning against me to feel a bit of sideboob during maths class.
I worried that he wouldn’t fancy me.
I worried that, in the midst of a friendly snowball fight with a bunch of topless girls, this guy who had professed a keen interest in topless girls would somehow go ‘hey wait, this topless girl here does not meet the exact specifications for this sort of thing. I am disgusted and will leave immediately.’
So I kept my jumper on. And my coat. And my girlfriends teased me for being shy, and he hugged me to him as we collapsed in the snow together, and later that evening he got off with my best mate.
I’m not going to say that he snogged her because she’d got her tits out, or because she was more fun than I was, or that the moral of this story is that you need to get naked in front of people no matter how shy you are: these lessons are just as unhelpful as the ones that persuaded me to keep my jumper on, despite my desire to whip it off.
Looking back now at that afternoon, and checking out the pictures of me when I was that age, I am utterly devastated at how cruel I was to myself. While I’d never go so far as to say I was an attractive teenager, I certainly wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. In fact, if you stripped away the ridiculous dress sense and penchant for scowling, I looked decidedly average. Just a girl in a chunky jumper, with hips and thighs and boobs and an unnecessary paranoia about what other people would think of her body.
It’s easy to say this now, when I’m thirty years old and aching for a giggling snowball fight, but really I wish I’d been kinder to myself when I was younger. Looking at old photos, I realise that although my body changes pretty slowly over time, with each year I grow more hateful, more bitter, and more judgmental about the body I have, the face I have. The person I am on the outside.
So while I’ll most likely spend Christmas wrapped in twenty layers, sitting by the fire and reading porn to stay warm (this is what I’m reading at the moment, and it’s well hot), I’d leap at the chance for that kind of playful flirtation, and if it happened again I like to think I’d make the most of it. I’ll never be as young as I was then, for sure, and I probably won’t be as sexy either. But equally I’ll never be younger than I am now, and although I have a bitter relationship with it, I will never be happier with my body.
I regret not joining in the Christmas snowball fight, but alongside that regret is a more irritating disappointment – that I’ve learned things from this experience that I’ve never fully put into practice. Being happy with what my body can do for me rather than what it can do for other people.
I’m not saying you should all whip your kit off and frolic with the snowmen – loads of people aren’t comfortable with that, and will never feel sexy doing it. I think what I’m saying is that I want to stop acting as if my greatest critics are other people. To recognise that the voice in my own head gives me far more criticism than any stranger ever could.
I want to regret less. Do more. Feel happier. And let myself enjoy those things without poring over them critically at a later date. Whether it’s a hatred of the body I used to have, or anger at the self-conscious person who wouldn’t take her jumper off to frolic topless in the snow.
To recognise that decisions I made were made for a reason, and that stories like this should never be regrets, just memories. And happy ones, at that.
Let it snow.