Friday, April 20, 2007

My Body, My Self

I’ve always enjoyed looking at myself in the mirror. As a child, I hurried to the mirror anytime I cried, fascinated by the creeping red blotchiness, the suddenly vivid green of my bloodshot eyes. There was a kind of fusion of the inner and outer selves, my nebulous emotions suddenly made tangible in the outpouring of tears and snot that I’d watch myself wipe lovingly away.


Everything about my physical appearance has always felt right to me. I have dark hair, like Jane Eyre, Laura Ingalls, or Maggie Tulliver. Smart girls in fiction are always small and dark, always prettier than they realize even without the yellow ringlets sported by flashier rivals like Blanche Ingram or Nellie Olson. With brown hair and glasses, a book tucked perennially under my arm, I always felt like a Norman Rockwell painting; I barely needed the floral-print dresses to convey my old-fashioned-girl status.

I am equally contented with my flaws. My skin is pale, almost transparent; I never tan and I freckle easily. Bub has the same luminous, ghost-like skin, innocent of freckles, though perhaps this summer will throw the first smattering across his nose, snatching my baby away for good. Pie, on the other hand, has her father’s skin: olive-toned, capable of tanning deeply. Beside her brother she looks almost orange – as she splashes in the bathtub I look at her creamy skin and wonder if I’ve been feeding her too many sweet potatoes. I imagine her as a popular, sporty teenager, emphatically not-me with curly hair and long, tanned legs. I won’t have to give her moisturizer or Sally Hansen Crème Bleach as my mother did to me; I won’t counsel her to choose colours with blue undertones, sharing my palette of black and scarlet, white and navy blue.

Most of my life I have been thin, but with a body that doesn’t wear thinness well. I am a pear; even at my skinniest my thighs have always met in the middle. But I like the squareness of my shoulders, the slenderness of my wrists. Since the Pie was born, I’ve had time to get used to my evolving shape, the weird wrinkly feeling in my back when I twist or bend, the bulgy, cushiony bit above my waistline, a phantom womb outlined on my body.

I hide from mirrors now, carefully arranging myself each morning before inspecting my outfit, making sure my shirt is long enough to tug down past my waistline, never glancing at my reflection as I sit down to pull on a sock. I feel vaguely convinced that if I never look at myself from certain angles, nobody else will either.

But for all that, I still feel as though I look like what I am. Smart. Nice. A mom. Someone who prefers reading to jogging and won’t say no to a second brownie. Someone whose fashion sense is still more Anne of Green Gables than Christina Aguilera. Somebody more-or-less comfortable in her own pale, freckled, manifestly imperfect skin.

29 comments:

Mommy-Like Days said...

I have just come back from the store, where I purchased a mirror! Friend or foe? Who knows. I have been obsessing lately over my (aging) looks. I have come to the conclusion that I don't have to look amazing (whatever that is) but neither do I want to scare away small children.
Searching for the balance in this. . .

Julie Pippert said...

Oh AMEN to this!

The interesting thing is adjusting to this changing body, changing not just in appearance but also in function.

It's interesting how set in my mind I have myself, and how difficultit is to shift that mental image of my physical self. I suddenly understand what people in their 70s used to tell me when they said the thing about sometimes being surprised when they saw photos of themselves or looked in the mirror.

I have recently begun looking in the miror again, and adjusting, becoming okay to the altering shade of my hair, the new shape of my body, the shift to my features as my face adds drag and wrinkles. I have begun trying to mentally project how it will look in twenty years time.

It's okay. It's not at all bad. In fact, it can be rather good.

I love this affirmation.

It's lovely to hear you speak so kindly about yourself. We need to do this more often, I think.

Mary-LUE said...

I love when a blogger treats us to a picture!

And there must be something in human nature (or at least a little girl's nature) that leads to that crying in front of the mirror thing. I did that and I have at least one other friend who did. Maybe that need is a subject for another post!

Terri B. said...

It is good to be comfortable with ones looks. It is inevitable that they change with time and we get the chance to become familiar with the "new" person in the mirror. I've always had dark auburn hair which is now lightening (graying). And of course gravity is doing its work as well. So I'm in the process of getting to know the middle-aged me. I am a wife, a librarian, and a grandma and it is OK to look like it.

Terri B. said...

And by the way, you look GREAT in your picture!

Kyla said...

Beautiful! The words and the photo, of course. I miss the old me, but I know I'll never see her again...2 children have made that certain. I'm learning to like this new me, and I'm trying to treat her better. We'll be together a long while. *lol*

cinnamon gurl said...

Looking in the mirror these days is a bit like hearing my voice on a tape: surprising initially and then I remember that that IS me.

Great post and LOVELY photo!

Suz said...

I've always loved looking at myself in the mirror, but more out of simple curiousity than of love for what I saw. It's no different now. I'm still accepting, still finding out what me, the mom, looks like.

Lawyer Mama said...

A picture!

It is so refreshing to hear a woman say that she's satisfied with the way she looks. I am too and sometimes I wonder if I'm some sort of narcisistic freak!

P.S. My husband insists that women who wear glasses are sexy. I completely agree.

Aliki2006 said...

Great post! Sometimes I do miss the "old me" but I have to say that I am, lately, content with myself overall.

erin k said...

Catherine, over at Everyday life as Lyric Poetry (sorry, I don't know how to link in comments...) has started a discussion on postpartum body image. Interesting stuff.

Yes, you are beautiful. (and look remarkably like a dear friend of ours from Scotland...)

Jenifer said...

Love the photo! You look exactly as you sound in your writing if that makes sense. I have seen a photo or two before so this just confirms it. It is all right as you say and I could never imagine you blond with contacts - never.

We are very similar in our style I see. I have various uniforms I stick to:

Winter = jeans and either black or grey turtleneck

Spring = jeans and either a black or grey long-sleeved t-shirt

Summer = jean capris and a black or maybe PINK t-shirt

I pretty much stick to the above on most days. I think since I wore a uniform in high school I tend to stick to a set of clothes for each season. I also never wear shorts in public except on vacation or when I was pregnant. My very white skin shows every vein - yuck. It was liberating in Florida to see all shapes and sizes in shorts it made me feel a bit better about it.

Glad you like you - I sure do.

slouching mom said...

This is one of the more beautiful posts of yours that I have read. So evocative.

And you look wonderful in the photo, and, more important, friendly and open.

Mimi said...

What a beautiful picture! I've never seen a bad photo of you here ... but then I guess I wouldn't, right?

I'm a pear, too. We're healthier. Hold onto that.

I've recently noticed in the mirror that I have wrinkles. I'm still processing that information (we pale girls wrinkle easily) and trying, if not to avoid mirrors, to avoid facial expressions while looking at one.

I'm friends with Norman Rockwell's grandson.

Yours non-sequiturily,
Mimi

PunditMom said...

Come on over for the second brownie!

nomotherearth said...

We share a lot of common traits: pear, pale, freckles, glasses, dark hair. I joke that the Boy is "Caspar the friendly baby" because he's inherited my ghost-white skin.

I do think that you can tell a lot about a person just by how they look. Not whether they're pretty or not - that's irrelevant, because you can never be ugly, except to those who don't understand - but I think kindness and kindred spiritedness shines through in a person's face. Your picture is lovely.

Beck said...

You DO look smart and nice, which is, of course, the best possible way to look.
My daughter is a big fan of crying in front of the mirror. You can almost see the thought bubble hovering above her head: "Oh, that poor, sad, underappreciated lovely girl!"

flutter said...

I think you are completely lovely, not to mention intellectually sexy as all get out!
In other words, awesome.

Mad Hatter said...

Smart, kind, lovely and ... wait. What is that baby wearing? Seriously. It looks as if you are a 21st C mom with a 19th C baby.

Mirrors are NOT my friend at all these days. The wrinkles, the sags, the jiggles. Oh well, I wear my life on every freckled speckle of skin I have.

bubandpie said...

Hehehe. We used to call her the Strawberry Shortcake in that outfit. I think the two or three inches of chubby leg sticking out the bottom really makes the outfit. That and the disgruntled expression.

Gwen said...

I love how you can be so kind to yourself and still communicate your underlying humility. If I wrote anything like this post, about three sentences in, my readers would be throwing things at their screen and harumphing at how much I sound like a stuffy jerk. You need to add, "talented writer" to how you look, although, hmmm .... can you tell a writer by her appearance?

It's not the mirror that shocks me these days; it's pictures. I am always astounded to see photographic evidence that I am no longer a smooth skinned 21 year old.

mamatulip said...

I love this post, B&P. I did the same thing when I was a kid -- I'd stare at myself in the mirror when I was happy, sad, mad...I'd watch how my face changed, how the tears welled up, how the corners of my mouth crinkled when I smiled and my nostrils flared a bit when I was mad.

Sounds too like we have the same complexion. Everything you said about your skin I could say about mine.

Seeing the face behind the words is a real treat. Thank you. :)

Bon said...

you know, you look as i imagined you, really...and just right. friendly, smart, interesting.

i always was happy being the dark-haired girl, too. who would have thought Edwardian children's lit would have such an impact on the self-image of daughters of the 70s?

the acceptance you speak of is a little contagious, and i thank you.

kgirl said...

I always loved Laura Ingalls. And you've seen my nose; I might not have the body I always 'wanted', but it sure is nice not to care that much anymore.

mcewen said...

To be comfortable in your own skin should be the norm. Well done you! So how do we ensure that our daughters feel likewise?
Best wishes

Steph said...

Terrific post!

KC said...

I love this post.

Mirrors and I have always been close- studying with a magnifying eye. Not always reverent but lately, satisfied. Still fascinating.

Kelly said...

I've always been supremely envious of people with skin like yours, because usually people with freckles have clear skin. And clear skin is something I've always been in search of.

Mirrors are kind of a foe around here. Even as a child, I remember not being fond of my reflection.

So even if you're still getting used to you, post-children, I hope your children, the Pie especially, inherit your sense of comfort and confidence. It truly is priceless.

Lady M said...

In ballet class, you look at yourself in the mirror for hours. It took a while after giving birth to be willing to do that again, but I am also adjusting to my "new" look.

You look lovely and the two of you look perfect together.