On (not) seeing ourselves

A friend of mine who is six months pregnant just posted on Facebook that after days of running around in sweats and not showering, she kind of forgot she was pregnant.  But once she got glammed up again, and into regular maternity clothes, she was reminded.  (I know, I know; she’s CLEARLY in the blissful second-trimester-so-not-everything-hurts-yet stage.  We honor her by not pointing this out in reply.)

And I was just thinking today, while strolling down the lawn with a son’s hand in each of mine, that my favorite thing about having kids (at least my kids, at least on a happy sunny afternoon) is how totally ME they make me feel.  With them, I am funny; I am loved; I am wanted — regardless of how I might actually look. In fact, I am often surprised to emerge from some enjoyable interaction with my family, where I’m feeling smart and engaging and magnetic, and wander past a mirror.  Good heavens — who is that wrinkled frump with the atrocious bedhead?

I suppose there’s a pretty obvious down-side to this phenomenon, but mostly I just love it.  I mean, as an American woman, I’ve spent most of my life a little unhappy about how I look.  (I say “a little” because I’m one of the lucky ones — my genes tend toward slimness, in what I hope is a decent tradeoff for the cancer and alcoholism that they also seem eager to share.)  Forgetting how we look to others is one of the great pleasures of life AND one of the great signs we’re living well.

The all-girls summer camp I went to and worked at had very few mirrors, and I remember being startled, sometimes, that I HAD a face and a body.  My time was spent making friends, making things, learning skills; my body was always running and swimming, canoeing and hiking, singing and dancing.  I was an energy, a personality embedded in a physical competence that was always stretching; I relied on that body for what it could DO for me, not for what it looked like.  I still love watching women athletes at their sport, because it’s one of the only times we get to see female bodies in peak form, carried with a sense of expertise and comfort rather than self-consciousness.

And of course all this shifts somewhat once we have babies (IF we have babies; the same argument applies to the general process of living on the planet, too) — the sags and the bags, the wrinkles, the stretch marks.  But it’s like that meme I saw one time: these aren’t stretch marks.  You’re a tiger, baby, and you’ve earned your stripes.  (Yes, I’d copy the meme here except I’m unclear about meme copyright AND the belly pictured doesn’t look quite like mine…)  There are myriad reasons our bodies are even more amazing now that they’ve grown and nourished little lives.  But what’s even cooler to me is this: forget about how our bodies look.  Just forget about it.  They do the hard and constant work of feeding, cleaning, sharing, amusing, and teaching our people.  They are where we need to be, and let’s hope it’s comfortable there.  We do what we can to take care of our bodies, but our focus is on our intelligence, our compassion, our creativity, our patience.  The joy of building.  The sacredness of what we’ve built.  And it’s absolutely delightful that we are often invisible to ourselves precisely because we’re too busy living all that beauty.

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