This weekend I had found the denim capris I have been looking for for over a year. I was at Walmart shopping for bleach and made a detour when my eyes spotted the $14 jeans. Now, I had never thought of buying clothes at Walmart before but apparently something happened to me over the last six years. That same something is, apparently, what also resulted in the horror that was my reflection in the fitting room.
“Oh. My. God. I am disgusting. I am absolutely disgusting.” Like looking at a car wreck on the side of a highway, I couldn’t leave well enough alone; instead of going straight from my shorts into the capris I chose to pause, turn around and look at my butt in the mirror. I did a double take and then a triple take out of pure shock. I swear I could model as a Before ad in diet commercials.
“Why do you say those things?” piped Fred, who had scurried into the fitting room with me. “Why do you say mean things to yourself?”
Oh, the wisdom of children!
Yes, why do I say mean things to myself? Would I ever, ever in a millon years say to a girlfriend, “Oh. My. God. You look disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.”?
I’m sure that my first model in making friends with my body came from my mom, who for all the years I have known her believed that she was fat. So much so that in the first grade when I had to make a sentence with the word “fat,” I raised my hand and said, “My mother is fat and weighs 200 pounds.” This resulted in an explosion of guffaws and a prolonged argument with my teacher who refused to believe me. Now I understand why; my mother was about 125 lbs. at the time.
I had hated my body growing up. Unlike most girls and women I knew and knew of, though, I wasn’t worried about being fat. I was the opposite: I desperately needed to put on weight. As a teenager I looked skeletal in jeans and I always found excuses not to accept invitations to the beach. I longed to look like Cheryl Ladd and Christie Brinkley and, later, like my best friend Jennifer who at 13 was already turning heads in junior high. I carried around Catherine Bach’s (Daisy from Dukes of Hazzard, of course) famous words, “I was a total stick until I was 16!” like they were a Mark Twain quote, praying and praying that I would experience the same fate.
And sure enough, at around 17 I started to fill out. I began to look feminine. I dared go out in mini skirts and form-fitting dresses. At 27 I hit a peak, when in the midst of a major life overhaul I took up yoga, ballet, hip hop dance, skating, aerobics and weight lifting. A major crush on a trainer landed me in the gym 4 times a week rain or shine and the results were fantastic.
“What are you staring at?” I remember snapping at a male friend at lunch.
“Your arms. They’re frickin sculpted! They’re amazing!” He was tranfixed, on a totally non-sexual part of my body. This made me happy.
“Oh yeah…you’ve got a tight body,” a male friend of the non-platonic nature once said in a making out session. This, too, made me happy.
Little did I know I should have bottled those moments, because those days are gone forever.
I had once believed that I would be one of those women with a spring-back body post-birth. After all, I had been thin my whole life, and there I was in my late 20s and early 30s with my sculpted arms and sleek stomach. But by month 8 of my pregnancy I began having doubts. The first dimples appeared on the back of my thighs and I wondered where all that skin was going to go once my belly had nothing more than my stomach to hold.
And trust me, I mourned after I gave birth: I cried about the breasts that became machines, the waist line that was no longer there. In my mind I had crossed a fundamental divide: from carefree to responsible, from hot thing to matron.
My son is now heading toward double digits, and so I’ve had plenty of time to get back into shape. But I know I will never get my old body back. I weigh the same as I did before I was pregnant, but what the number doesn’t show is the changed size of my hips, the loose flesh around my mid-section, the increasing jiggling of my arms. But as I settled into my identity as a mother, I’ve also made a home in my mind for this new body. I have come to think I look pretty good, even if my hey day is gone. One could perhaps say that I’ve lowered my standards; I prefer to think that I’ve come to better understand the real meaning of beauty. I now think of what my body can do rather than what it can show, and I know that loving life can do more to fill out those lines and radiate youth than any lipstick or diet fad can.
But, I do need to get and keep myself moving. Not so I can look like a celebrity mom, but so I can be around to cry at Fred’s graduations and to play tag with my grandchildren. Who knows? With all that exercising things may fall into place, and I could end up looking like one hot grandma
Art work by hersheydesai