Last weekend my niece and my daughter danced naked in the living room. They waved their arms and shook their bottoms in random, spastic movements. They roared crazily and laughed with their mouths wide open. They have chicken legs and pot bellies. Lila had a bruise on her forehead and V had two scraped knees. They were the picture of the perfection of imperfection.
When you are 1.5 and 3 years old and every adult around you loves you madly, you feel no shame about your body. About your messy hair or your silly dancing. Seeing this lack of self-conscience is a beautiful thing to watch.
Raising a woman in this insane culture is a stressful job. When I look back at my own body image over the years, from when I became aware that there was such a thing to this very moment as I sit braless and frizzy-haired, it’s hard not to wish I had been able to skip through some of the harder times. The times when I felt so awkward and unfeminine and too fat and too short and too much or not enough of so many things that never mattered at all.
I look back at the times when my self-esteem regarding appearance was at its lowest and I can only chuckle sadly. I was healthy. And young. And strong. And prone to poor choices in fashion.
It wasn’t until my mid-to-late 20’s, when I had gathered enough objective information and possessed an increasing level of self-confidence, that I finally started to be able to turn negative thoughts about my own body into criticism of cultural expectations put upon women. A middle finger to the man. I dressed more like ‘me’ and less like…whatever was currently on the stick figure mannequin at the mall. I danced my signature moves (elbows out and butt swinging, in case you must know) and gave off the impression that I think I’m a good dancer instead of pretending that I was being ironic. I wrote this three years ago and I feel ever more strongly now. I DON’T HATE MY BODY, AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU. I mean, do I want my jeans to fit the same way from day-to-day? Yes. But I don’t hate my hips, just the devil denim and it’s refusal to understand my morphing form.
As I keep marching on into my 30’s my body conforms less and less to the Western standards of perfection. Luckily this ‘decline’ coincides with my ability to give a shit. Of course there are moments when I look down at my baby-bump turned skin-flap and wish it away. Sometimes I see pictures of my pre-breastfeeding cleavage and feel a twinge of nostalgia. And occasionally I stare at an obviously heavily photoshopped image of a model and pretend there is a universe in which that is even an option for any human woman let alone me. But instead of leading me to pledge never to eat carbs again, these moments make me outraged because I am in great shape, I treat my body well, I am healthy and active and yet still it’s not good enough. Celebrities with my body would be on the cover of a supermarket mag with their cellulite circled in red. Sad and sickening.
Those low moments aside, mostly I just feel good. I feel healthy. I feel undaunted. I feel beautiful. And I say that knowing fully that women are not supposed to feel so boldly confident because that’s just CONCEITED AND SELF-CENTERED AND VAIN. But could it be, maybe, that if we feel good about ourselves (our WHOLE self) that just means we are satisfied and proud and tired of wasting time on self-loathing?
Lila and V are little girls now but they will be women before we know it. And they will watch their mother and their aunts carefully. I want them to see women who love being healthy and eating well and being active and using sunscreen. But I also want them to see women who don’t feel ashamed of their flaws , who eat cupcakes when the situation presents itself and who balance the desire for fitness with the realization that life is short and no one is perfect so let’s just laugh about it until we get some crow’s feet.
They will be watching their father and their uncles. I want them to see men who treat women with respect and rise above the demeaning cultural vernacular to describe feminine appearances and who use the word beautiful liberally to describe people of all genders, sizes, shapes, colors and dessert preferences. I want them to see men who, just like the women they know and love, are works in progress with open hearts and open minds.
A girl can dream. Of dancing naked with such reckless abandon.