when ava was a month old i took her in to our doctor for a checkup. since i was there and he was our family doctor (albeit a new one, having just bought the practice from our old doctor), i told him i was fairly certain i had a breast infection.
he asked how i knew. i was used to my midwives—they trust me, they know me. i say i have mastitis, they say we’ll call in your prescription.
so i told him—fever, flu-like symptoms, oh and this hot red spot on my right breast right here. cue nonchalant unveiling of boobage.
took him a little by surprise.
i got my script right quick.
i’m telling you this story to explain how i feel about doctors: they’re doctors. i don’t get worked up over exposing various body parts to them. that’s their job. you want to judge my body? i don’t seriously think you are, but whatever. professional courtesy demands you keep a straight face when i’m sitting on your paper covered table. pap smears, routine exams—par for the course. i’m no exhibitionist, but the fact is to keep yourself healthy is going to require the harsh florescent lighting of an office exam room shining on parts of you that you may normally keep wrapped up.
and generally-- i’m okay with that.
2 weeks ago i had an appointment with an endocrinologist. it was the first time i’d seen one, and i was nervously optomistic that maybe this would help provide answers to the weird things my body has been doing for the last two years.
he was a nice guy—we joked, he was compassionate. he assured me that he would do what he could to get me feeling better. he took my blood pressure, checked various body parts…
and then. then there was this awkward thing. he asked me to stand up—he needed to check my stomach briefly. i didn’t fully understand, i thought he wanted to feel my stomach. turns out he wanted to see my stomach.
i was wearing a maxi dress.
it turned into this unbelievably uncomfortable moment of him starting to lift my skirt because i was just standing there waiting, then me thinking he wanted to feel my stomach hand-to-skin, so me lifting it a bit higher so he could reach under, then him lifting it even higher because i still wasn’t getting that he needed to actually see my stomach.
let me be clear: i don’t blame the doctor, i’m not angry at him. and he definitely seemed embarrassed. it was just a comical set of events that went wrong.
i was humiliated.
i don’t say that lightly. i could feel my face burning as i sat back down, and i avoided his eyes for the next few questions. because for all my big talk about not caring about doctors seeing my body—i completely and totally hate the way my stomach looks.
::record scratch:: wait, what? am i allowed to say that? listen—i’ve heard the speeches, read the blog posts, looked at the websites. i’ve called my stretch marks my “tiger stripes”, my badges of motherhood. the saggy skin i try to—if not love—at least embrace as remnants of bringing my five beautiful children into the world. and my husband loves me the way i am—never once has he made me feel anything less than completely beautiful by both his words and actions.
but it doesn’t work. the sagging skin and stretch marks, the fat i can’t seem to shake from the last two pregnancies—i hate it. hate. it. it flies in the face of all the self affirmations we see and read. the praise princess kate got for “embracing” her post-pregnancy body was huge news. and to a certain extent it’s true—a woman less than 48 hours post-partum should never have to justify what her body looks like.
but what about when you’re like…24 months post partum? do the same rules apply?
i understand it all: my stomach was stretched almost to bursting and then deflated five separate times. and i thank my body for the ability to do that. my self image isn’t so poor that i look at tabloid pictures in supermarket checkout lines of stars flaunting flat bellies and 6 pack abs 15 minutes after giving birth and think “whaaaaa why don’t i look like that???” i know it’s totally unrealistic—and frankly, ridiculous--not at all what my goal would ever be. and the truth is i need to lose weight—both for health reasons and self-image reasons. i have been battling that for years now, and i firmly believe the difficulty i’m having with weight loss is connected to whatever else is going on with my body.
unfortunately in the cold light of day, or the harsh light of a fitting room…all that doesn’t really help.
there are bigger forces at play here: i am a mother of four daughters.
teaching them to be good, kind, industrious, thrifty, creative, giving, spiritual, intelligent women..some days i just don’t feel equivalent to the task. some days it’s just overwhelming and i think there’s no way i can do all i need to do. my girls range from 13 to 2. we have pimples to potty training, algebra to animal sounds, braces to blocks.
my brain sometimes doesn’t have the power it needs to make the mental leaps from one to the other every few minutes—or seconds. so as parents we sometimes have to pick and choose—the hills on which we plant our flags and refuse to move. i’ll stick to this principle or by god i’ll die trying.
so it goes for me and body image: model what you want your daughters to see. be the woman you want them to become. and i’m not claiming i do it all right: i know i’ve complained about my body in their hearing. i know i’ve used less than flattering terms to describe other people. but i am harshly conscious of never using the term “diet” in front of them. i tell them i’m going to the gym. i’m exercising because it’s important for health. i stress good eating—eat your veggies and fruits, stop eating when you’re full, you don’t have to clear your plate but you do have to taste everything once. i tell them they’re beautiful people, inside and out. but i never tell them they’re chubby (okay, except for elliot. she’s my chunky monkey. but i don’t think it really counts when they’re babies)
they seem to have all been awarded their father’s metabolism thus far, which i hope works to their favor. i hope that i can instill in them an appreciation for their wonderful god-given bodies that helps them never fall victim to the self-loathing, the eating disorders, even the lingering dissatisfaction.
they’re smart though, you know? it can’t be “do as i say, not as i do” because they’ll see through that in a hot second. so the appreciation for your body? the viewing it with love instead of hatred? has to start here. with me. with us.
and as a general rule we women tend to focus so much on our flaws that we can’t see the breath-taking beauty of the forest for the focusing on one little scarred tree. we miss the beauty we’re exuding—each and every one of us—to complain about our thick ankles or our flabby flying squirrel arms or yes, our flabby stretched out bellies. my stomach is only one part of me—literally, and figuratively. it doesn’t define me, and i’m sure it’s not the first thing people see when they look at me.
and yes—we can focus on our good sense of humor, or our generosity, or our talent for cooking or sewing. but we—as a sex—need to step back and look at ourselves in the mirror. and then instead of seeing all the flaws, see the beauty—the gorgeous deep brown eyes, the pouty lips that make your man melt, the graceful hands or whoa hey now legs. because we ALL have it. we just don’t want to or can’t see it.
so here goes. i’ll start, as long as you promise to join in. i don’t care if you leave your name or a pseudonym or just go totally anonymous. but tell me: WHAT IS GORGEOUS ON YOU?
me? yeah, i’ve got killer red hair. i have really pretty shaped fingernails. and, let’s face it: some nice legs.
no qualifications, no “i’ve-been-tolds” or “my husband says”. this is what i know.