A few days ago I was singing a song while my older daughter read her book nearby. She was also, of course, listening. In fact she was watching, too, and it was lovely. It added to the intimacy of the moment.
After I finished she asked me what the first words of the song were. On hearing them she burst out with, “Mommy, that’s just like you!” The song was “Nobody’s Girl” by Bonnie Raitt and the first words are, “She don’t need anybody, to tell her she’s pretty, she’s heard it every single day of her life.” I asked her what she meant and she said people are always telling me I’m pretty.
What I think she’s picking up on is a stream of compliments I’ve received lately because of this whole weight loss thing. It’s relatively dramatic (about fifty pounds) so people who haven’t seen me in a while find it notable. As in, they note it.
My freshman year of college I dabbled in anorexia and bulimia and dropped down to around 108 pounds (I’m around about 5’6″ and weigh about 160 now). When I went home over Thanksgiving and Christmas that year people were insane. They were gushing and ooooooohing and aaaaahing over “how great” I looked. I was starving myself, making myself sick, and got nothing but praise for it. Our society and the obsession with female thinness is seriously fucked up.
Since I’m not starving myself and I’m not unhealthy now I don’t mind the “you look great!” comments. I’m a little annoyed for the sake of humanity that a woman getting thinner draws more compliments than a plumper woman, but remove the socio-political issues from it and I appreciate people are just trying to be kind.
When I notice a friend looks particularly attractive it’s hard for me not to say, “What is different?” Frequently I say it (I tend to say what’s on my mind without much consideration for the consequences) and realize what I’m implying is that they usually don’t look so great. Oops. Commenting on appearances can be so laden in miscommunications it’s easy to avoid them entirely. Then those of us who strive to always value the person inside more than the external qualities end up feeling shallow for what seems such a surface level assessment. I even had a friend hug me the other day wanting to apologize for “making such a big deal” (about my weight) because she didn’t mean to draw attention to it like that. In that case I think she just caught me in one of my many, many foul moods so her compliment may have been met with a blank stare verging on a stink eye.
Of course with The Beauty Myth still alive and well, some lost pounds doesn’t equal contentment, necessarily. I’ve continued my moratorium on mainstream media which I began last year in an effort to stop letting unrealistic and unattainable visions of “beauty” affect my self-esteem. As the reality of divorce set in I began seeing myself differently. Marriage is a comfortable state and one as loving and good as ours provided unconditional acceptance of me just as I was. I didn’t give much thought to my appearance. I’m working hard on returning to a similar state of disregard. It was a pleasant kind of ignorance I felt with no concern about what I should look like or how I should “take care of myself.” I lived with that peacefulness for years so I know it exists. Cutting out mainstream media has helped immensely. I dread grocery store checkout lines these days because that’s where I’m hit with the images and insidious messages I’ve so successfully avoided.
In about fifteen minutes I’ll be having “spa night” with my seven year old, a ritual we started after I read this article in Mothering magazine years ago. We’ll soak our feet, massage lotion into our skin, take turns having bubble baths, and we’ll even put a “clay” mask on our faces as something “fancy.” I was struck, though, tonight by how tempted I was to pick up some lotions promising they would “get rid of wrinkles” or “firm sagging skin.” Some of the fat might be gone, but The Beauty Myth lives on. For my daughters sake (when my own sake isn’t enough motivation) I will continue my search for loving myself for what I am, for how I am, not for how I believe I ought to appear. Tonight we will celebrate our bodies and as always, I will follow her lead in self-love. Children are wiser than any of us “grown-ups” when it comes to this stuff. We’ll talk, we’ll laugh, and we’ll feel extra special giving ourselves these treatments. The intersection of feminism, parenting, mothers/daughters, and being female will all come together and it will have nothing at all to do with appearances. It will be beautiful.
edited to add: