When I was in college I found many ways to show off my assets. Let's be honest, I had no substantial assets except I was a size 2. Despite what vanity sizing would like to have me believe, those days are LONG gone! Growing an entire human inside of my body changed the topography! While I used to be vaguely shaped like a 10 year old (Oh, but how great, right?! Eesh.) now, in the wise words of our friend Shakira, my hips don't lie. I take up much more space on a plane than I used to.
My stomach (which I used to bare on every occasion possible because it was invisible) is now softer and rounder. Each day I calculate the balance of layers that will artfully camouflage the muffin top without there being so many layers that its volume appears to increase!
And now, I'm supposed to take my body, practically naked, OUT OF DOORS, and frolic in a place full of people who have NOT rearranged their insides to produce a person??
I absolutely applaud Jessica Turner who said, it's not about how she looks, it's about the time spent with her kids. She's decided that she was no longer going to be on the sidelines just because she didn't fit the airbrushed, Photoshopped ideal. She's right, of course.
And I visit the website for A Beautiful Body Project often. I admire the women who are confident enough to take joy in showing their bodies just as they are. I admire the women who deeply cherish the scars, stretchmarks, and rolls that are just part of being human. Often times when we see images in a magazine, the models / celebrities are arranged in a way that allow us to be the active one. They are placed as objects for the viewer to observe. In this set of photos, the women are the active ones, we passively observe their active display of beauty.
But, despite my love for these words, stories, and images...and despite the feminist screaming in my head that I should stand up and jiggle my thighs at anyone who dares judge the way I look, I'm still wishing for the days when we could go to the beach like this and look like everyone else! Obviously, I've got some anxiety issues because I'm anxious about the way that I look, but I'm also anxious that I'm not over that already, dammit.
Honestly, it was Jen who helped me change my views about this. I was complaining about my upcoming trip to the beach and the swamp of everyone's nakedness that I was about to enter.
Me: "Oh my gosh the last thing I want to do is be in a skin tight swim suit (after trying hard to pick something modest and safe while keeping in mind my husband's request to avoid a 'mom suit') around bucketloads of teenagers in bikinis. I'd really like to keep things wrapped up."
Jen: "But what are you specifically worried about? You know me, I look in the mirror most days and say, 'Damn, I am rocking it!' But that probably makes me odd."
Me: "It's not odd, it's special. I look in the mirror most days and number my flaws and get upset with myself that I don't spend more time working to correct them."
Jen: "Ugh, that must be awful! You should study more art history. I'm pretty sure that's what formed my idea of beauty. The thing is, you are sexy as hell now. Bodies haven't changed, the media has, and why would you listen to them when they are so clearly wrong about so many things?"
These words pulled me up short, because of course I know that magazines, television, and movies are not reliable sources of information about, well, much of anything. But it is as if we're all sharing the same delusion. If I decide to be bold and proud and work to change my point of view, it doesn't change the point of view of others. And we live in a society FILLED with the opinions of others. Tanis Rex-Blake realized this as she was ridiculed while sunbathing in a bikini after birthing 5 children. Of course I realize that teenagers are completely unreliable judges of reality, but even so, this doesn't make me want to strip down to my C-section scar any time soon. Despite the fact that "media" and "haters" are obviously idiots, at this point my plans were still to visit the beach firmly ensconced in a swimsuit that covers as much flesh as possible, and accent that with several (adorable, I assure you) layers of cover-ups.
So Jen's plea for rationality and appeal to reality left some impression. "Right you are, friend, please excuse me while I resume my regularly scheduled body shame." But what she said next actually changed my perspective.
Jen: "I can't imagine being anything but grateful for the body that one has, even more so if your parts are working."
And for me, there it was.
My body is a marvel.
The fact that I can touch the sand, feel the water caress me as I slip under the waves, run down the beach after lost balls, turn my face to the sun, breathe the salt air, and laugh with my child is a miracle. To paraphrase Neil deGrasse Tyson (handsome astrophysicist who narrates new version of Cosmos), it is amazing that humans even exist, and we get the privilege of taking just a few dozen trips around the sun. And while I will not be taking pictures of my stretch marks, I certainly will approach this trip with a profound sense of gratitude instead of fear. Because really, after talking to Jen and watching Cosmos, who can take what Cosmo says about my body seriously?
(I sincerely apologize for that pun. I tried to resist, but there was no stopping it.)