Getting out of the shower today, I caught a glimpse of myself in the medicine cabinet mirror. That same bathroom medicine cabinet that is filled entirely with products meant to highlight this and hide that, smooth this and lift that. Every product’s purpose is to address the imperfections which are just a tiny part of the imperfect whole. So it’s no wonder that I am dismayed by what I see projected onto the bathroom mirror. The swell of age and babies, the wrinkles, the scars, the bulges. The aged skin stretched awkwardly over underworked muscles, looks tired. Tired as the face that stares back and sighs. I wish I was younger, forgetting I will get older. And I wish I was bigger here and smaller there, smoother here and also there. Every part of me seems to hold some opportunity for criticism, an opening for attack. Smallish toes, inappropriate scalp, improper arm pits, inadequate knee surface area, unseemly nails, unsightly calves…pieces and parts of a Dali painting, putrid crayons melting on asphalt.
Recently I have had particular distaste for my stomach. It’s bigger now than it was a decade, or perhaps two, ago. It reminds me of leftover biscuit dough. I love biscuits, but this doughy mess makes me sigh. Maybe I could use my belly button to store flour, or acorns. I open the medicine cabinet door, so the mirror faces away.
Just this morning, my daughter said, without provocation, “You look good, for someone who’s had three kids. ” and I’d possibly agree….but there’s that modifier. And others. “For my age”, is another one. These are good and real compliments, that feel rather like getting a free sample of uncooked chicken skin.
It’s not as though I am simply a decoration that has seen better days, a balloon animal that has come untwisted. I am certainly more than the sum of my thighs, my weight, my age. On good days, I don’t need to be reminded of that. But I am often caught off guard by what I see in the mirror, in the curve of a spoon, in photographs and then I’m brought back to the universe where my body is the sun and all of, what might be remembered as amazing parts, are just distant planets orbiting around.
My womanly frame, of wrinkles, and unwanted bulges and sags and curves and joy and creation, needs a break. It is not as though having better thighs would make my life easier anyway. If my hair was thick and curly (which I wish for almost exclusively because it is flat and frizzy) I wouldn’t accomplish anything more. Larger boobs wouldn’t make me smarter, or more compassionate. Having toned triceps won’t get me any closer to finishing my prize winning novel. And anyway, these wobbling bat wings embrace my lover beautifully. These over-sized thighs lift me with ease upstairs and downstairs and all around. Belly laughs and gestures and hand puppets and scowls of disapproval are all possible because of the wonders of facial muscles and skin stretched over bones and cartilage. I can still do magnificent things with this flesh suitcase of mine. It is the case that this amazing human machine has created the three people I love most in the world. How much more impressive can a bag of skin and bones get than that? It makes people! I’ve got a blender than can make kale smoothies that I give more respect and adoration than my whole body.
But I’m not writing an essay about learning to love the sags and bags and wrinkles and fat. I’m not headed out to have midlife nude pictures made, I’m not going to hang inspirational quotes on my bathroom mirror reminding me that I am a beautiful flesh portmanteau capable of amazing things. Twenty year-old feminist Ami, I’ve got disappointing news–you are never going to learn to love your body. I appreciate women who do, and women who are trying. Bless each and every one of you. It’s hostile territory to even consider self-love, for many people. I can admit that there are several parts of my physical appearance that I tolerate. I attempted to love my body, mostly by trying to change the shape of my body, but it seems that loving my body is just another unattainable goal. So, I think we are going to try to just be friends. And as friends we are going to agree that there are many, many more important areas of the universe that we should be putting our energy into. Fighting Sexism, for example.
The simple act of learning to love your body is a radical act in a society that makes a living off of telling you that there is always something wrong with you. But I have begun finding the task of learning to love my body as exhausting as hating it. So instead of putting up inspirational quotes about loving myself, I am going to tack up a photo of a penguin. Penguins could give two fu$ks about the size of their beaks, the amount of black spots verses white spots, or that they make a weird noise when frightened (it’s true, look that up). This is the year that I turn my attention to something other than embracing my wrinkly elbows and I stop trying to love my laugh lines. These are, after all, just things. And if, periodically, I am startled by the unwelcome sight of my monstrous thighs, my bellowing belly, my pizza dough triceps, I will offer a figurative tip of the old fedora and go along my way. As long as the sun shines, perhaps the most radical act of all will be saying, “what body? I have a body? Huh, I hadn’t really noticed, but now that you mention it I was wondering how I was able to dance to that funky James Brown song, make this delicious Quinoa and resist this crazy patriarchy.” So lets get our thighs out there, whale-sized or bird legs, and raise our pendulous arms to those things that are greater than our flesh duffle bags. Do something really radical today. Don’t think about your body at all.