Eye of the Beholder: Amanda Byzak’s lovely entry

Leonardo Da Vinci's enhanced rendering of the super model Twiggy

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall…You don’t no Jack

Literati,

Ours is a harsh and fickle culture, one in which women are more critical of their own bodies than are the men who love them. (back me up on this guys) Old enough to remember Twiggy?  Perhaps not old enough to remember Leda and the Swan, by Leonardo Da Vinca. Leda: full and plump and not even considering joining the gym or weight watchers. Leda–you can tell by her smile, quite content in her own skin. As we all should be.  Here is a lovely story by Amanda Byzak.

 

Eye of the Beholder

 

“Oh god, you’re ugly.”

The shock of the insult punches her gut and creeps up into her heart that aches like a day-old bruise.

“And stupid,” she chides. The woman’s eyes glare at her, dissecting her into fragments of imperfections, cataloging each one as they burrow deeper, down through the layers of smoke and mirrors, to the darker recesses of ego, character, and soul.

They stare at each other, waiting for the next insult.

“You’re just an angry old woman.”

A hand reaches out and opens the medicine cabinet and the haggard image swings away.

Floss. Face wash. Tweezers. Expensive face cream.

“None of it will do you a bit of good.”

The woman returns as the cabinet snaps shut and she sets to work removing the previous night’s plaque–carefully avoiding eye contact for fear of instigating another confrontation.

Toothbrush. Toothpaste. As she begins to brush vigorously along her tongue, her eyes look beyond the woman into the background and she catches sight of a stranger’s bare backside, pasty white and bent over.

Her eyes widen as she takes in the enormous amount of inventory.

She gags. Spits and spins around to confront this stranger head on.

“What have you done to yourself?”

Disgusted, the woman turns her body from left to right evaluating the damage from different angles. Her hands slide along the rise and fall of her plump and sagging belly, pressing it into place and watching it bounce back in defiance.

She lifts her breasts three inches up to their rightful place–their previous residence before children tugged, teethed, and kneaded them into flat tear drops–and lets go, watching gravity reclaim them.

“You shouldn’t care so much,” the woman tells her. “You were always too vain.”

She looks away to the framed picture on the wall. A smiling woman stands on a beach; the sun behind her draws a line along her ripened hip, narrows at her waist and sets fire to her cascading mane of gold and copper. She is laughing, hand drawn up to keep her hair at bay as it flies forward. Her eyes, piercing and playful.

She studies this woman as one studies a new girl that enters the room. She’s beautiful. Confident. But there’s something else. What is it?

She closes her eyes and reaches back into her memory. Ah, yes. She remembers this woman.

Wild.

She had not yet given herself away to love and responsibility, nor settled for the comforts of conformity.

Her throat constricts.

A thud hits the door and the sound of spring with it. “Mommy!” Little fingers reach through from underneath, like tendrils of a vine, trying to find their way in.

The woman sighs, reaches for her robe and unlocks the door.

The blossom enters with books tumbling down. “Mommy, book!”

At the rocking chair, they sit. As the book opens, tiny hands reach up to caress her cheek, and adoring eyes, all-seeing, twinkle with affection; her heart soothes to the sound of her name, whispered… “Mommy.”

mother reading

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Fortunately, we men are not concerned about our own body image.

How the editor-in-chief perceives himself.
How the editor-in-chief perceives himself.

 

19 comments

  1. Mac Eagan says:

    And would the gift some Power give us To see ourselves as others see us! It would from many a blunder free us. – Robert Burns
    This story is a great example of the truthfulness of Burns’ words. We not only need to be able to see our faults, but (sometimes more importantly) we need to see the gifts we bring to this world as well.
    The only line I took any issue with was, “You’re just an angry old woman.” Without any prior context it had me assuming the age was “old” – as in grandparent, not parent. Perhaps it could have been written in future tense: “One day you’re going to be nothing but…”
    And by the end of the story I had it figured out so maybe it’s not that big of a deal, anyway.

    • Amanda Byzak says:

      It is interesting that you caught that. I was at 500 words and was having a hard time sacrificing any of the other words to clarify the age of the woman. So, I hoped it would become apparent by the end of the story and not stand out too much. Thanks for the feedback!

  2. Laura G says:

    The most beautiful thing in the world is a mother. Loved the inner dialogue and hope the mother knows she is redefining a new kind of wild now. And will find the old wildness again.

  3. Diane Cresswell says:

    Okay some one was listening to my morning conversations with the mirror. This hits a little too close to home. However, where me and my mirror self have come to amenable balance, this story brings out the beauty that is always there for others see what we at times cannot. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder – no matter the size of the beholder. Lovely and very well written.

  4. Brian says:

    Amanda
    Just read this, yesterday I noticed on Instagram how all the girls have mastered the pout.
    Or the enhanced body.
    Or the super fit.
    Or the overly embellished.
    Real beauty is the powerful, wonderful, successful lives of our children as they grow up.
    The price tag?
    Everything………and well worth it!

    Well DONE…..

    • Amanda Byzak says:

      I’m so glad to be a generation ahead of all the selfie nonsense. I can’t pout very well and too many embellishments make me feel like I’m play acting as someone else. And thank god motherhood saved me from becoming that girl. Yes, it is all worth it!

  5. Barb Keeling says:

    At 83….. I understand the view of sag-ness that comes to old bones . While reading your story I did not think of the young/old view. What a touching surprise ending for me . A lovely tale to remind us to “get over it” when stuff like “mom-ness” speaks to us with a voice of what really is important. Thank you adored your story.

  6. Michael Stang says:

    Three inches, how I look at my body and wish it was there, and wish it was not there.
    A lovely tale of twinkle affection, secured by physical consequence.

  7. Jon Tobias says:

    I like the transormation that takes place in this story. First we have the dehumanizing inventory of a person that suggests our main character is more a collection of faults. The close up detail really packs a punch. Then the child re-humanizes the main character simply by not understanding what those faults are or how to identify them. Nicely done.

  8. Mike Casper says:

    Kids are sooo very worth it. I think our eyes grow dim and blurry as we age to see ourselves as we were, and how we still are, in our own heads. Great story.

  9. Kathy Derengowski says:

    This is a wonderful commentary on the tyranny of the youth culture. My 25-year-old granddaughter wants the birthdays to “STOP”! Poor thing. With any luck at all, we outgrow that mentality and get on with life. Very well written!

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