Beauty and Body Image (AKA Embrace the Dinosaur)

I hate having my picture taken.  There, I've said it. 

I went from being a camera-mugging child to an attention-seeking young adult cheesecake model to someone who hates having her picture taken.  I mean, if I happen to be very well-rested and well-groomed and not pregnant, and looking from a certain angle with the right lighting, I can look halfway attractive.  In a picture.

Now, now, I know what you are thinking.  My polite friends will respond, "No, you look wonderful!  What are you talking about?  You glow!"  My realistic friends will respond, "Well, you don't look perfect.  But you're pregnant and tired right now.  So what?"

While I love my friends to death, I am not looking for reassurances or flattery.  I am looking for permission: I want to be told that I don't have to look "beautiful" (whatever that might mean) and still feel great about myself.  Because I do feel great about myself.  I am happy, reasonably healthy, extremely fortunate, and probably more confident now than I have ever been before in my life.  The older I get, the less I feel that I have to prove to everyone, at least when it comes to outward appearances. 

I must admit, when my husband took me out for our anniversary, I felt beautiful that night.

But what does my inner voice say about the "negatives" of how I look?  I'll list a sample of complaints:

1. I have a belly, butt, and boobs that have now been pregnant five times in six years... with huge weight gain, weight loss, and breastfeeding.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what that would make my body look like.  Copious stretch marks are one thing, but the flabby, toneless skin and wrinkly belly?  I will never wear a bikini again.
2. Put that on top of a body that was pasty and fleshy, with spider veins and cellulite before the pregnancies ever began.  (A homeless man at a bus stop once stopped to tell me, "You need to get a tan!")

3. Almost constant acne blemishes that I've had since childhood.  Plus, chicken pox scars, moles, wrinkles, and ever-so-lovely excess facial hair.

4. Toenails that look ghastly.  You will never see me in a pair of sandals, flip-flops, or open-toed heels.  (Twice, dear friends have taken me to a salon to treat me to a pedicure, and I was so embarrassed that I refused and got a manicure.)

5. Tooth problems, including crooked front teeth that cause me an inordinate amount of embarrassment.

Things could be worse, but let's just say that I won't be winning any pageants anytime soon.

I want to feel like the dancer on the right.

Sure, there are things that I could easily do to make myself look better, if I tried them.  I could get more sleep, get more exercise, drink more water, eat better foods... and actually condition, cut, and style my hair one of these days!  I could also wear stylish clothes that matched and fit me well.  Heck, I could shave my legs, tone my skin, and wear makeup.  I mean, even if I didn't personally care how I looked, everyone knows that people - even nice, nonmaterialistic people - judge appearances.  It's just a fact of life.  If I look less attractive, people might unconsciously perceive me as being older, poorer, less competent, less popular, and less desirable.  (Plus, I am a woman.  This counts more.)

But the truth is, I don't care.  No, I am not depressed.  No, I haven't "let myself go" like the stereotypical housewife label said would happen.  (So don't go feeling sorry for my husband, who is satisfied with me, thankyouverymuch.)  I've just weighed the alternatives, and I don't think that those things are worth spending time and money on right now, even at the risk of being perceived as less attractive.  I mean, I have daughters and sons who will be looking up to me to find out about what women are like.  Should my example be that I spent a lot of time on my appearance?  As if it really counted?

Not a glam appearance, but a happy one.
I also don't want to be lectured on how I should feel beautiful from the inside, or be told that there is womanly power in my stretch marks, or that gray hair and wrinkles are a sign of wisdom.  No, I don't want this.  Like I said, I don't need reassurance or flattery.   I don't always feel beautiful, not to society or to myself.  But that is okay.  I don't get my self-esteem from that.  

How do I want to feel?  I want to feel respected (and liked, I'll admit) by others.  I want to feel that I am kind, honest, generous, friendly, hardworking, and all of those good things.  I want to feel smart and capable of doing things by myself.  I want to feel like I am a good wife and a wonderful mother.  Is there a kind of beauty in that?  Okay. 

I've had some friends who have had cosmetic procedures done (some surgically), and I must say, they do look great.  They look beautiful - fresh and confident and sexy.  That is great!  If they feel better, then I am very happy for them.  However, those procedures are not for me.  I am what I am.  If, in twenty years, that means turkey waddle on my neck, a head full of gray, frizzy hair, a bottom like the side of a semi, and teeth like a picket fence, then okay. 

I still feel sexy.  Frankly, a lot of that has to do with the maturity and love of my feminist husband, who wants a kind, responsible, intellectual equal, and not a gorgeous, lusty co-ed.  (At least, this is true 99% of the time, and I don't fault him for the other 1%.)  Who else should find me sexy besides myself and my husband, who is the only one who has to sleep with me?  Why should I bother looking sexy for strangers, friends, men at large?

There was a time in my life when I did not feel this way.  In my late teens and early twenties, I was eager to look desirable to everyone.  I put a lot of money into making myself look good enough for auditions and any old classified ad modeling job, sketchy or not, that I could find.  I wanted to look as sexy as I thought Marilyn Monroe looked, and so I put a lot of money into my looks to become - you guessed it - a Marilyn Monroe impersonator for hire.  I thought that perhaps if I looked like her, then people would like me like they liked her.  I was seriously insecure about myself... so much so that it wasn't even good enough to look like myself.

For a very brief time, I almost pulled it off.  But I still didn't feel any better about myself, because obviously, I could only keep up the beauty charade for so long, and it wasn't me.  (I bleached my hair every week for a year!)  Plus, the concept of beauty is a fickle thing, isn't it?  For everyone who thought that my version of "Marilyn" was great, there were others who didn't like her looks, or who thought I looked nothing like her and wondered why I was even trying.  For every modeling gig I got, there were 100 girls who looked far better than I did, and I hated myself for stooping to try to get paid when it was all a joke.  Same with pageants: the only pageants I ever won were those "achievement" pageants that had no score for beauty.  I couldn't win on my looks.  Call it genes or call it laziness.  It was just reality. 

But someday, age will catch up with all of us.  We are either old, or we're dead.  There is no shame in that.

If my butterfly thinks I am beautiful, I am cool with that.

I still don't like having my picture taken, but I am worth more than the sum of my pictures.  I want people to know that I have a great laugh, complete with an unladylike snort.  I want people to know that I dance with wild abandon when I am hugely pregnant, and I look like a crazy fool.  I want people to know that when I get out of the bath, I am smiling. 
Let no one ever say that my smile is not big enough.  It matches my joy.

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