I like to think my body image is healthy. At the end of the day it comes down to knowing that not many people complain. I walk with confidence – usually. I know my ethnicities intrigue and my curves entice. I’ve been told these things since I was a little girl and it was really creepy. It’s not about conceit. Knowing you are a face and a body and often nothing more doesn’t feel good and I’m as self deprecating as the next person. I attack other areas I have no control over. I will still think of my nose as large and flat and it will always make me think of peanut butter the way it spreads across my face. It’s adorable on my kids but it will always keep me just shy of beautiful when cute is the attainable title. My eyes will always be a dull brown that is nearly black when I’ve always wanted them lighter. I have my Dad’s cleft chin and my resting bitch face looks just like his everyday face when he’s not fake smiling and a little creeptackular. It’s not pretty and it might be why I smile so much. It might also just be that I’m really happy most of the time lately. I often hear from old friends that I didn’t smile this much when I was happily married. When it’s not my face but the rest of my body, I’m quite happy.
When I was a little girl, many of my family pictures included me in the front, rounding out my belly, sticking it as far as I could. I can’t tell you why I did this because I have no clue. I do know that I’ve never been one to suck in my stomach. I might turn a certain way because there is artistry in angles, but I don’t suck it in.
I was always fairly active as a child. When I wasn’t sitting in a sunny window, collecting bits of trash and calling them treasures, I was outside. I rode bikes, tried skateboarding, played pickle and kickball with the neighborhood kids. . . Play was active. I got older and my mom started sticking me in ballet, tap dance, jazz, Hawaiian dance, swimming, and gymnastics. I got to junior high and joined Drill Team. In high school there was more dance with theater and I also did karate. Aside from my larger than average bra size, I was always fairly thin.
When I left high school, I worked in a lingerie store where I learned the average bra size was a 34B. In high school I was wearing a 36DDD and couldn’t even find my size in Victoria’s Secret. My relationships averaged a year and a half each and I never had complaints about my looks, but contentment often meant I got softer and larger because I ate the way my ex’s ate and I was less active when we were hanging out the way we did. At my largest, my bra size was 40F. (The complaint was I was too nice and too needy.) After the long term before the marriage I wasn’t in relationships as much as hook ups. There might have been one or two special boys at that time, but no one worth keeping. Again, I didn’t have complaints about my looks. I also learned that what you looked like was less important than your willingness. Most men are easy to read and easy in general. Maybe that’s why I’m not easily flattered and more interested in the boys that make me think.
Motherhood happened and I remembered my first endeavor after Kid1 was born. I put on a pair of jeans, felt leaky everywhere because that is what childbirth does to a mother’s body and went to the grocery store. My hair was a mess, I was exhausted, and some poor boy was still hitting on me in line when I was still having a hard time walking. My ex didn’t complain about my looks until I heard from his current one that I’m physically unattractive. Since I wouldn’t date her, I will assume we just have a difference of opinions.
My whole life, the only man to complain that I could and should lose weight is my Dad. He means well. I realized when he was taking me home from the hospital after visiting my infant who stayed a total of 10 days in the NICU that I had to just let it go and accept that I will never be thin enough for him, but no one else complains.
Really, I know what I look like. I can see my stretch marks and extra skin and the parts that sag. I know the random places where a gray hair will show up and even found one on top of my head. (It was soft gray and I was so excited that I have a gray hair and no one will yank it out because I’ve earned it and I’m keeping it.) I stand and judge the first tattoo I ever got because it was a jailhouse tat done badly and I want to one day repair it. I’m waiting for the meaning to materialize and then I will have a concept to bring to the artist.
I also know what my body is capable of. I have carried and birthed seven children. I have hiked through dangerous terrain. I have danced and walked and kicked and punched. I can still roundhouse kick at chest level but I couldn’t guarantee the power behind it. I was able to do my right and left splits until Kid3. I’m flexible enough to bend over and reach my toes without stretching. I have gone farther than I thought I could and I have done it with laughter and through sorrow. I know what it is to run along wet and dry sand. I know what it feels like to push past exhaustion into feeling like you have limitless energy. My body knows pleasure beyond words and what it really means to be able to do nothing but feel because good and bad, it always comes in waves. I can survive pain that is emotional until it’s also physical. My body amazes me.
I have moments of insecurity at a beach when I’m first exposed in a bikini. Then some random guy won’t be able to look away and my confidence is back because I know no one else looks as closely as I do and in spite of my flaws, I’m still amazing to me.
It’s not enough though, is it? It’s not enough to love my body for what it looks and feels like and what it can do. I have young men and women in my life and I owe it to them to pass on what has been internalized through so many heartaches. I need them to know they are so much more than the pleasure that can be found in their bodies because that would make it easier to see the fallacies in being told that they can never find better than the one that makes them feel bad about themselves. There’s a push to end childhood obesity, but it’s really not just about eating too much and being inactive. It’s about what we do to cope when life does the unexpected and we can’t appreciate the change. It’s about not teaching our children that comfort tastes like sweet or savory textures. It’s about a healthy image of normal. We don’t all look like what we see on television. If the only naked bodies I was ever exposed to were in porn, I would never know what a woman’s body should look like. You can’t look at porn or magazines or actors and call that your normal. Its beauty is in its rarity. I was lucky that I often saw my mom in different states of undress. I know what a normal woman is supposed to look like. My mom is solid. She has never been slender to me because she has always had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Legs. She’s always been strong and powerful and to want her to fit into the ideal of what society would push would take away the beauty I grew up internalizing and her beauty looks like strength and independence. When she was slender in the idealized way, it was before motherhood forced her body through maturity and to love the body of a young girl and only that image would be to rob us of the pleasure found in a mature body.
It’s not about learning an ideal and shaming all else. It’s about finding beauty in what we have and loving the way it feels and knowing we are far more than an image. It’s knowing I’m not average but that is what is beautiful. It’s knowing that the reason a man is in porn isn’t because he has a pretty face, but because he has an abnormal size or endurance. It’s teaching our boys what normal is so dysfunction can be addressed and not stigmatized or feared. It’s teaching them that actors are paid to do what they do and that doesn’t make it pleasurable. My son is fascinated with porn right now. We have many talks and I openly discuss the violence and try my best to humanize the actors in a way that he can see there really isn’t pleasure in violence. I don’t want him to grow up thinking that what he sees is normal in relationships because that is a rare snowflake that likes that flavor of kink and you should either run or hold on, but never take it for granted.