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