As a young child, I would sit on the side of the bathroom sink and gaze up as she transformed into a black beauty. It always began with two squares of stacked toilet paper. She would stick the eyeliner wand in, stir, and wipe it twice on the little white cushion, making that black X faster than I could blink.
Big hot curlers in her lush black hair, her hands nimble, and in one straight sweep, her eyes sang.
I will always remember that black X.
I didn’t realize it then, but she disliked how she looked. She still does.
But I was enamored with my mother. She was gorgeous and sweet and loving.
Many days instead of playing with me, she got ready for work. I would perch myself next to her, seeking emotional closeness by sheer proximity, and watch.
I would look at her, then I would look at her reflection in the mirror, examining how she would change based on this back-and-forth game.
I didn’t see the flaws. I didn’t understand what she meant when she would look into the mirror at my reflection, telling me I was the most beautiful thing about her. I just stared at her softness, her transfiguration from my sun to working mom, in awe.
All those black X’s remind me of how each one of us women are decidedly marked – we get two the moment we are conceived.
I hold you up next to me in the mirror. I summon all my love for myself to show you that I love my appearance. “Look – It’s Momma and Baby,” I say as I press our cheeks together. Your smile undoes me. It’s genuine and calming. You’ve got it right now.
Then I sink into what’s ahead for you.
Please don’t lose it – this ability to be free, to be graceful with yourself, unhurried in the judgments, the weight of comparisons unknown.
You have yet to be taught your body is an object offered up for constant evaluation by others. You have yet to be encouraged to spend copious amounts of energy shaping your body (through diets, fat talk, posing on social media) instead of shaping your real life. You have yet to know that while we are progressing in this arena, by the age of 12, girls feel more empowered yet more objectified. You have yet to align your eyes to what other people see when they look at you instead of remaining in your own body. You have yet to be taught to search for validation outside instead of valuing yourself.
You have yet to be marked (again), my sweet baby girl.
At almost 40, I am just learning to sift through these cultural mores to find my center.
I don’t want to hand down this tangled mass to you.
I want to be unknotted – my lines free of tension, my heart unbounded from this body image chaos, my understandings as smooth as eyeliner.
As much as I fight it, this is a part of life for women, and I want you to be prepared.
Things I want you to know:
Bodies are about change: From babyhood to post-baby, they carry us through life. And they transform to each new season all on its own. Appreciation for this powerful body and what it can do (make a human for one) is the at the core of my relationship with my body. Human bodies are only alterable to a certain point so accepting and loving what I have is integral and this approach is a process that may take awhile.
Weightloss is not the path to empowerment. Losing weight, gaining weight, altering my body does not make me more kind, less selfish, more joyful, etc. Body size does not measure my humanity. Science has proven diets do not work: they actually slow down weightloss longterm, don’t affect a central psychological concern – our relationship to food, and create a tension around food, which raises our stress response to food.
To love my body is an act of rebellion: True ownership of my body is vital. I decide what clothes look good to me. I decide what my body likes to eat. I decide how I move my body. I decide how much skin I want to show. I do what feels good to me instead of someone else controlling my destiny. I understand that others not liking my choices about my body are really issues about their unexamined need to control and/or issues with their own body. Resist, baby. Resist.
To understand the difference between performance and embodiment: I am worried social media is making this worse. To embody something means to live it. It’s the difference between “Do these hiking boots make my legs look short?” versus “I am enjoying this hike – look at those birds, smell that mountain air!” Or “If I lie on the boat like this, do my hips look big?” instead of “This is so fun.” It’s the difference of looking at my life out my own eyes or looking at my life through someone else’s. The constant judging, seeking feedback, the goal of image first and foremost limits my world. If “performing” eclipses my experience or if my concerns about doing something are hindered by “how will I look” while doing such experiences, I am not living my best life.
I haven’t put on make-up as much lately, but I still play the back-and-forth game with my own reflection, watching as I shape-shift, through all my different bodies, through all my different selves. Watching as you begin to watch me.
I wonder how to present all of this to you, how to help you make sense of it all, how to teach you to line your eyes. Oh how I want you to love yourself. Most of all, to grab hold of your self-liberation and paint X’s all over town.