I have this pair of control-top underwear. Inside, along the part that forces my belly flat, it says “Women Should Adore Their Bodies,” which sounds lovely, if a little funny coming from a pair of control-top undies. A more appropriate motto might be “Women Should Accept Their Bodies,” which is roughly where I’m at, as of this month.
Recently I decided to give up on the whole hot-or-not game. I’m not saying I’m going to live in sweats and never brush my hair again (although hey, as a freelance writer, that's not so far-fetched). I just don’t feel like I need to look like women in magazines, or compete with women on the street -- I’m past that crap. And a big part of that is because I've had a baby.
My body has morphed in so many ways over the past year or so that if I worried about it too much, I’d just make myself crazy. Plus, having a baby puts a pretty definitive end to any fantasies one might entertain about getting back one’s 20-something body.
When I was about 15, I remember being completely crushed when a friend told me and the rest of her female friends what her brother, who was one year younger than us, thought of all our bodies. Kim had a nice butt; Melissa and Erica both had great racks. And Amy? He had described my body as “not terrible, but not great, either.”
For years that echoed in my head, driving me to work out, diet, take various drugs that would make me skinny. Never mind that the teenage boy who had passed this judgement was pimply faced, unattractive, and not particularly interesting.
In the years leading up to my son’s birth, I was the most satisfied I’d ever been with my body, and I worried that childbirth would be the end of it. It was, for a while. For months I felt terrible, but something about the last few weeks’ experiences has helped me see the overall absurdity of spending any time at all thinking about what anyone else thinks of my body.
Last week I was in San Francisco's Marina district, which, if you don’t know it, is basically where sorority girls get put out to pasture. I had showered and tried to look presentable for a work meeting, but I’d had to rush out of the house without makeup AND bring the dog with me, so by the time I got out of the car I was covered in dog hair and there was a coffee stain on my coral silk trousers--the one pair of pants that hadn't had a stain that morning. Walking down the street, every woman who passed was impeccably groomed, super-skinny, and tight-faced.
My first stop was a bakery, where I bought a dozen pastries as the local ladies looked me up and down. In years past, I might have felt bad about myself in that situation. They were all so perfect, with their bottles of water, tight butts and dewy faces, and I was a pastry-obsessed mess whose mum tum was escaping out the top of her pants.
But on that particular morning I had a different perspective: These women looked so miserable and uncomfortable with themselves -- every bit as miserable and uncomfortable as women who aren’t thin and beautiful and young. So who’s really winning in this game? The way I see it, age is coming to get everyone, no matter what, so why not have a pastry and let the sun warm your face once in awhile? With few exceptions, extreme food and sun and exercise regimes don’t pay off big-time, anyway — I refuse to believe that any one of those Marina women would look thaaat much worse if she eased up and had some cake once in a while. Hell, the happiness and tiny bit of extra fat that came with it might even make her look younger.
I was feeling pretty comfortable in my newfound body acceptance, and then I had a morning that put it to the test. I was walking down the street in downtown Oakland, sporting red skinny jeans and feeling damn good about myself. People kept looking at me in that way they do when I’m either looking particularly crazy or particularly attractive, and I decided it was the latter because hey, from the knee down — my vantage point — I was looking hot.
When an 80-year-old Chinese woman in a wheelchair gave me the same look, my confidence faltered. Was my hair sticking out? Were there food remnants on my jeans? I snuck a peek in a reflective window one block later and realized with first horror and then amusement that it was neither something particularly attractive nor something particularly crazy that was attracting so much attention. It was cold out and my boobs, which are considerably saggier than they used to be thanks to a year of breastfeeding, were pointing south. Actually, to be perfectly accurate, one was pointing southeast, the other southwest. The headlights were on and they were pointing at my armpits -- you get my drift. I was wearing a thin, white cotton tee so there wasn’t much left to the imagination.
"Gross!" was my first reaction. Then, "Hilarious! People have been staring at my fucking mom tits all morning."
For a while I walked down the street with my arms folded across my chest, but then I decided I didn’t care. Having saggy boobs has zero impact on how I feel about myself, dammit. I reached down and pulled the girls into a less awkward position, never mind the crowd of people walking toward me.
It’s not that I no longer care about saggy boobs and stretch marks, or trying to regain some sort of muscle tone in the area formerly known as my abs, it’s just that none of those things has an effect on how I feel about myself or my life anymore. And that's a huge gift I wasn’t expecting motherhood to bring me.