Mon 9 Jul 2007
pssst. come in a little closer. i got a secret. or a confession. or something to shout from the rooftops, i’m not sure which.
i bought a bathing suit. first one in about four years.
and the experience did not send me into paroxysms of self-loathing. not when i bought it, not when i think about it, not at all. i’m stunned. confused, even. i’ve been awkward in my skin since puberty, alternating between cringing shame and brief bouts of defiant exhibitionism. i have lived with the excruciating self-criticism of a negative body image for so long that i hardly know what to do when i find myself…um…redeemed? saved? ransomed?
praise the Lord. i bought a swimsuit, and i think i might be able to wear it without major mental effort.
evangelizing metaphors are, erm, unusual for me. but this placid indifference to the prospect of public summer semi-nudity is rather precisely like being born again. rescued, and not by my own long battle for balance and self-acceptance, my slow surfacing over bulimia and anorexia, the mastery i wrung over those demons. rather, while i wasn’t looking, the demons seem to have finally slunk out of the building.
i may be the one woman in a thousand who can say this, but i think childbirth and mothering have deeply improved my relationship with my body.
now, granted, i haven’t actually worn this bathing suit for its god-given purpose yet, nor actually outside the Old Navy dressing room. even Dave hasn’t laid eyes on it, and i most certainly have not had to parade my pasty flesh up and down a poolside or beach sporting it, thanks to the unseasonally craptastic weather that’s marked the late spring and early summer so far here in
sunny frigid eastern Canada. but, y’know, the day will eventually come when it will actually be nice enough to take O for his long belated first swim, and i’m thinking that the muumuu i’d prefer to wear for the occasion would perhaps risk getting both of us caught in an undertow. so the bathing suit is on notice, ready to be donned any day. and i am cool with this, for perhaps the first time in my life.
nothing particularly magical has happened, which is why the fact of my own indifference puzzles and interests me. i did not accidentally wake up in a supermodel’s body one morning, long though i prayed for that precise occurrence. i am, in fact, not much changed, at least not for what an objective party could call the better.
i am thirty-five years old, and getting a little veiny about the legs. my people are of underground stock, so white we glow blueish, and my skin either repels the sun entirely or burns beet red. i don’t exercise nearly enough, and i jiggle in parts. my girls are lopsided. my belly, which stretched out to accommodate two babies in less than a year, curls up next to me like a silvery-striped pet slug when i lie on my side, despite that two weeks of diligent situps i did last March. and you don’t even want to know what the horrors of a post-prolapsed bladder really look like.
but when it actually gets warm enough out to go swimming, inshallah, there i’ll be, rocking my tankini, probably even without proper depillation.
because for the first time in my life, i think i’m actually living in my body, fully and daily. i’m not precisely sure how and when that happened…there was no single moment…but i suspect it was largely the immediacy and physicality and vulnerability of pregnancy and motherhood that triggered the shift. until i stopped nursing last month, i haven’t been able to ignore my damn body in the two-and-i-half years since i first got pregnant with Finn…every day, there it’s been, present and accounted for. and doing something necessary, something i’ve depended on for the sake of my child(ren). it has become, for the first time in my life outside of the blessed window of sexuality, an instrument for me. a demanding instrument, which has announced its efforts in ways that have forced me to eat far more fibre than any human being should really have to, true…and a very flawed one, which has failed profoundly. gravely, even, Shakespeare would pun. my body failed Finn, in the most literal sense possible. and would perhaps have failed Oscar too, had it not been for those eleven weeks of bedrest that robbed it of any core muscles it may once have possessed. yet somewhere in the brutal grief and hormonal haze and sleeplessness of the past two years or so, i seem to have forgiven my self/body not only that greatest of failings, but all the other litany of petty failures and imperfections that once were the only lens i knew how to see it through. i have pitied this body, my turning it inside out to try to become a mother, and made peace with it at long last. i think the Cartesian duality of mind/body that once nearly threatened to destroy both me and it, inescapable one as we are, is healed.
healed. i never thought i’d ever feel safe saying that.
my body has brought me to motherhood, twice, made possible for me the wonder of positive pregnancy tests, the swelling of belly that freed me for the first time of trying to suck myself in, the joy of holding my newborns in my arms. this in itself, even had there only been Finn, only for those hours, would have been more gift than i was owed from a body i’d given so little love to. but the shift and healing go deeper than just what my body has wrought or allowed me…rather, in coming into motherhood, i have come into myself – in all senses of the word – in ways i couldn’t have even told you i was missing, before. my body has become primary to me. this body rises every morning when my child cries, despite the fact that it craves more sleep. my breasts fed that child for over a year. these things matter. but most important, i think, is that for the first time in my post-adolescent life i am in a relationship that is truly bounded by the body. Oscar does not really know a me that can be distinguished from my physical self…ours is not a relationship that could grow long-distance, through words alone. my hands are safety for him, my arms comfort, my voice…home. he doesn’t give two shits for the wit and intellect of my online communications. and this daily intimacy, my need, ultimately, for what it has brought to my life, has made me unable to maintain the external position of judgement i rebuked and reviled myself from for so long.
so…bring on the summer, folks. i am going to be that mom on the beach, in the bathing suit…the garish one, with the funny sunhat and the cottage-cheese thighs. the one who doesn’t seem to notice what she looks like. i will be oblivious, playing with my boy.
praise all the gods. i am so ready. i am so glad.