I opened up the newspaper last week to find me and my daughter in a large photo on the back page. "Rose and Magnolia hula hooping at the art opening," the caption read.
At first, I did not notice the beautiful way our skirts swayed in tandem, the green grass, or the art installation I had just finished helping with in the background of the photo. No. There was only one thing that I saw in that image, and there was only one horrendous thought.
My stomach. You can see my stomach skin. Everyone can see my stomach.
It was only a small sliver of flesh--a pale strip where my tank top had slid up about an inch on my left hip.
I wanted to hide.
Not that anyone could see the stretchmarks that had invaded my once smooth flesh, but I knew that they, and the pregancy drapes were there. I was completely humiliated that I had allowed my body to be shown in public. I cried in the bathroom, ashamed of my body, ashamed of my vanity, ashamed of it all.
I gained 100 pounds with each child. My body looks as though it was made from far too much fabric which hangs about in the most intimate places. There are not enough ab routines or lotions to undo the warzone that is my body.
And now, as a single mother, the body-image challenge is even harder to overcome. Who would/could love a body that resembles a wasteland. Standing naked in front of a mirror, Vonnegut rings through my ears: "It was like the moon."
A link arrived in my inbox today. It was a kickstarter for 'A Beautiful Body' Book Project done by photographer Jade Beall. The kickstarter sight features some of the images in the book. One in particular shook my everything.
The image shows a woman with a body like mine. A body that looked like the moon--only it was beautiful. I lost what little composure I had. That is my body, and it is ravaged and I honestly couldn't keep myself from feeling shame for her. But it wasn't this beautiful and brave woman's shame, it was my own. I wear the extra-long tank top under my everyday life in hopes that no one will know. I keep my shame concealed.
But there, on the computer screen, in from of the world, was my shame and fear of being alone for the rest of my life because of it.
And it had nothing to do with the photo.
Jade Beall is rattling the cages of society. Silently through joyous images of visctorious mothers, she is shouting,"wake up! You are beautiful and there is nothing wrong with the way you are!"
She is activism through truth, and I thank her for it. I just wish I could believe it.
I stretched out on the carpet and thought over the images of mothers--these women-goddesses in their flesh. My son, now seven, jumped on me, pulled up my shirt and played with my belly. My children always play with my belly and pull and prod my skin like taffy or putty to which I squirm and fight them off. Tonight was no different. "Stop!" I squealed in laughter and embarassment, "Why do you always play with my belly?!"
He stopped, patted my loose gut and then rested his head on it. "I love it. It's just so good. It's my favorite place of you."
My daughter, eleven, came over and kissed my stomach in the same way she had kissed it when it held her baby brother. "It's where we came from. It's comfy. It has that 'safe' feeling."
I grabbed them tightly, squeezing them toward my stomach. Holding on to my two babies I realized that I would take a thousand more stretchmarks just for this one moment. I may not be able to overcome my shame yet, but there, on the rug in a cluttered bedroom with two wonderful children, I took a big step forward.
I love them and I am loved, I thought. How lucky can you get?