This originally ran on Eat The Damn Cake. Republished here with permission.
Absentmindedly, while watching TV, perpetually breastfeeding, I am playing with a roll of fat on my side. It is a new addition. My skin is looser now, around the middle, more pliable, softer. It feels nice to touch. It looks—well, whatever. I’m not thrilled about how it looks. My midwife said, “Yes, it will look tighter, after six months or so. No, it will never look the way it did.”
The new moms I meet are always talking about their bodies. First we talk about our babies, then we talk about our bodies. We are a little uneasy about them, they seem unfamiliar, they have been changed and then changed again and what will they even do next? Who knows! The babies are cute, though.
“I have stretch marks on my boobs,” I was telling a friend. You know, just making conversation.
She said that her husband didn’t know what stretch marks were at first and he thought hers were pretty. And I remembered that the first time I saw them, on a guy, not a woman, I thought they were pretty, too. Silvery and iridescent. They have a magical sheen. It’s funny and random how we learn about ugliness—where to look for it. Where it’s supposedly hiding.
My husband, Bear, said the other day, “You used to get really upset when you saw a bad photo of yourself.”
I remember—I would feel abruptly hopeless. It was like tripping into a deep hole—a hunter’s pit. Oh wait, I would think, I was wrong. I am not good. I was mistaken.
I didn’t even want to think about beauty. I just wanted to like myself. And somewhere along the way, I’d learned that looking a certain way meant you could like yourself more and not looking that way meant you should probably like yourself less. I got this feeling that I wouldn’t even have to think about my appearance if I only looked better. Stupid, stupid, I told myself, every time. Why can’t I just get over it? Why can’t I be smarter? It was so embarrassing to care.
Sometimes I see pictures of one of my beautiful friends with my daughter, Eden, and I think, why don’t I look like that, holding my own baby? And for a second I wish that I looked different so that there could be this awesome legacy of my youthful beauty for Eden to look back on one day. She’d be like, “Wow, my mom was so gorgeous!” And she’d be proud of me for that instinctively. Being born of a beautiful woman is a pride thing. It’s like going to an Ivy League school or something. There’s cachet. But the next second, I am thinking about something else.
That’s what’s new here. I find I can’t manage to care enough to get really truly upset the way I used to.
It’s amazing, really. And I should take a moment to celebrate it. Because once I thought I’d never get over this. I thought this sort of shit goes on forever, and you just keep pretending it’s getting better, but really, come on, really, it’s still always the same.
It’s not the same. Here’s my heavily clichéd observation about life for the day: You always feel like nothing is going to change and everything is always changing.
Someone rephrase that so it’s catchier and put it on a mug, please.
When I started writing my blog about women and beauty, I really, really wished I looked different than I do. So I told myself over and over that I had to get to the point where I could accept my own beauty. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL THE WAY YOU ARE, I was practically shouting at myself as I typed. That’s the campaign they’re doing in New York City now. And I think it’s really good. I believe in diverse beauty. I believe in complex beauty. I believe in beauty that not every single person agrees on. I believe that every girl has a right, actually, to feel attractive.
“The world doesn’t actually owe anyone that,” Bear said once, when we were having a little debate about this stuff.
“Sure,” I said, being all cool and not getting over-sensitive like usual, “But the world also needs to back off telling girls they don’t look good enough. The world needs to stop obsessing over the way girls look in the first place. The world needs to back the fuck off of girls and…” OK, so I got a little sensitive.
The world doesn’t owe us a big compliment about the way we look, but we should be able to feel good about ourselves, and it would help a lot if we weren’t being told all the time that our appearances were really important. Maybe the most important thing about us. In practically every book I read as a kid where there was a male protagonist, his love interest would be the prettiest girl around. It was like that was the baseline requirement. She had to start out effortlessly being the prettiest, and then after that she could have a personality. Beauty sounded like something all the really awesome girls automatically had.
It’s taking me forever to get over that. I’ve always wanted to be awesome.
And recently I catch myself feeling relatively awesome anyway. Or at least not minding quite as much when I don’t.
“Do you think it’s because of the blog?” Bear asked me, after we discussed the possibility of it being at least in part because of the baby.
When I started writing, my mom was like, “I’m worried about you. You might be thinking too much about the way you look. It might depress you.”
Which was fair.
But I felt like I had something to say. I felt like I had to say it. It was like a tiny, personal crusade. I had this weird urge to publicly wrestle my demons on the Internet. You know, to tweet the pain. I had this annoying urge to talk about stuff that people kept telling me wasn’t really important enough to talk about.
I’m really glad.
When I started writing I just wanted to get to the point where I could feel beautiful. And now here I am, 27, a new mother, living typically in Brooklyn, feeling tentatively good about my career, in love with my husband, craving yet another pulled pork burrito from the cart at the edge of the park, still neglecting to put my damn shoulders back, and not feeling particularly gorgeous. But not wanting in a serious way to look any different than I do.
Beauty is important. The way the world works now, it seems much better to have it than not to have it, as a girl and a woman. It gets inflated. It gets overemphasized. It gets obnoxiously consistent top billing. But it is never, ever the only important thing. It can’t be.
It’s such a relief to recognize, for real, that it isn’t.
I feel forgiving toward my body right now. It did a lot of crazy stuff recently. The stretch marks on my boobs just crack me up, because it’s not like I’m busty now. My boobs are maybe a B cup. So I make fun of them for that.
The roll of fat on my side when I sit is sort of sweet. It’s OK that it’s there.
I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself to do more every year until I’ve become fantastically impressive and also, hopefully, enormously clever. But one of the best parts of living for longer is that I get a tiny bit happier over time. I get a little bit more forgiving. I get more distracted and more forgetful and I let my old obsessions slip until maybe one day they will slide off entirely and I will step out of them, naked, fresh, silvery and softer and deliciously free.
I’ll take it.
Kate Fridkis blogs at Eat the Damn Cake. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Salon, Tablet, and many more. She lives in Brooklyn, where it’s not totally weird to be as obsessed with sandwiches as she is. You can follow her on Twitter here.