I’ve been reading a lot of stuff lately about that woman from California with the rock hard abs and the “what’s your excuse” photo. Angry stuff, “you go girl” stuff, and everything in between. None of it really spoke to me, though. No offense, awesome bloggers who I follow, it just didn’t speak to me. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I felt about the photo, and I have rewritten this post a lot, because I feel like talking about the issue of body image is one of those things where it’s easy to stick your foot in your mouth. Or at least, it’s easy for me to stick my foot in my mouth. But whatever, if you’ve hung in with this log this long, through an link to an Al Jazeera article, a martini without gin, and the love affair between Handy Manny and Kelly from the hardware store then this probably won’t drive you off. Here goes…
When I was pregnant with The Girl, I gained over 50 pounds. While nursing her, I lost all that weight, so I am now a little lighter than I was when I got pregnant, and in a healthy range for my height. All that weight gain/loss has left my belly looking like a butt. There’s all kinds of loose saggy stretch-mark-covered skin on there. At first, I looked at my belly in the mirror and said “What the fuck is that?” It was like seeing someone else in the mirror.
But now, I look at my belly and don’t really think anything of it. Like, it’s just how my belly is, and I don’t feel proud or ashamed or whatever. There are two big reasons for that: first, nobody sees me naked really except my husband, and he says he likes seeing me naked, so if he’s happy, there’s no one Judgy McJudgersoning my butt-stomach. The second reason is, I don’t define my value as a person around my body, especially parts of it I can’t control. Like the elasticity of my skin. I mean, we get older (or we die–getting older seems like the better of those two options) and our bodies change. Things sag and wrinkle. We get scars. That broken toe sets a little off and now it looks different. We start growing hair places we didn’t used to to have it, or stop growing it where it used to grow. All that is perfectly normal and natural and completely out of my control. I can’t stop my body from aging, so, I just don’t worry about it. I notice changes, sure, but then I get used to them, and that’s pretty much the end of me thinking about it.
I feel like in all the conversations around body image, there’s still this underlying assumption that what people look like under their clothes is important, or, that it’s even relevant to anyone who isn’t seeing them naked. I mean, I have no idea what most of my friends’ bellies look like. Maybe they all have butt-bellies, maybe they have fabulous rock hard abs, I don’t know. And even if I did, why should I care? Why should I care that that lady from California has rock hard abs? Why should she care that I don’t?
I mean, look, that woman clearly worked hard to look like that and she’s proud of that hard work, so, good on her for being happy. BEING HAPPY. Because, being happy is a good thing. It’s not the abs that are the good thing, it’s that she’s happy. Having rock-hard abs wouldn’t make me happy. It’s just not the relationship I have with my body. How my body looks doesn’t make me happy, or sad. I think the reason why that photo set off so many emotions for people is because it suggested that our abs are what all of us should care about. I would like to suggest that it’s OK to have a different perspective–to just not care how your body looks.
One of the things the Cult of Perfect Motherhood tries to tell us is that in addition to being completely dedicated to our kids, we also have to try to have a perfect-looking body too. Which is crap. Looking perfect does not make you a better mother. Feeling good so you can be there for your kids is what makes you a better mother. So, if working out on your abs makes you feel good, then great! Do it! If it doesn’t, and you’re happy and you feel good, then don’t let what other people might be thinking about your butt-stomach worry you. Because, unless they’re Judgy McJudgersons, they don’t care about your how your belly looks.