Standing at the mirror, I take inventory of the day and of my face. I play back the conversations I had at work and my train of thought on the solitary drive home. I scan the shape of my face and find it's more angular than before. I am not sure when the dissatisfaction with the planes of my face started, but it has been a constant throughout my life. I remember biting the lower corners of the inside of my mouth to try and make my cheeks look hollow. I studied makeup tutorials on how to accent my cheek bones. I pored over magazine articles about how to apply makeup to your specific face shape.
Nothing seemed right. I always felt shame because whichever shape I chose, when the makeup was done, it never looked like hers -- the woman I thought I should look like.
Here I am, raising three girls, and I think, I hope, I strive to no longer be seeking her. I want to be satisfied with me, I have to be. These girls are masterful in their studying. They catch every sigh, every tense muscle. Their comedic timing has benefited from the company we keep and the access they have to our friends and the ways that we interact. It's cute when it's something like a fist bump or the spot-on mimicking of a character from a movie. It's less charming when it's bedtime and Avery is relating to me with hunched shoulders all that she has to do the next day and how very concerned she is that she cannot manage it all.
"It's OK, sweetie. You mentioned art and music -- you love those subjects," I tell her, rubbing her shoulders to try and smooth out the worry.
"And library!" she squeals.
"Yes, library. It will be a great day."
"Yeah, but there are other things, so many in fact that I can't remember them all." She turns her eyes downward. My brow starts to furrow, but I loosen it and say, "You know what, honey? I think that you are going to do fantastic. Anything that ends up tipping into the 'too much' category, we can work on together when you get home. Sound OK?" I ask. She looks up at me and considers it. When she nods I think that maybe she was just trying my worry on for size. Or maybe she wasn't, maybe it fits perfectly and she knows it.
Down the hall in the bathroom, I look into my own eyes. Though framed by lines, they are exactly as they've always been. Not blue, not green, more than hazel. They are not the eyes I see in my daughters' faces. Somehow, as a mother, I have come to understand how everything is precious, everyone. The color of a person's eyes, the way the bridge of a nose is kissed with a smattering of freckles or that little hitch in a step. Miracles abound as I look around me, but the lesson doesn't always stick as I view myself. I can still hear the comments, sometimes from women, other times from men, peppered throughout my life that suggested I wasn't enough:
You have feet like a guy.
Your hands are huge.
Sure, she's pretty and she's only five grand from a nice rack.
These won't suit you, you don't have the petite build they look best on.
I spent years trying not to put myself in a position where my size could be judged. Public weigh-ins at the beginning of track season destroyed me, knowing as I did that my weight on the scale was always more than what people expected. I've worked hard to get beyond the shame of numbers on a scale, but when a woman is 5'10", there are times when people feel entitled to judge.
Why on earth are you wearing high heels? I wouldn't want to be that tall, and, It isn't fair that you are wearing heels, that should really be reserved for shorter women.
My shoulders are broad. In high school, they embarrassed me, and ever since then, they've carried three babies thousands of miles. They've torn down walls and helped power me through swimming from one side of an island to another. When I stand in a dressing room and try on a top or a dress, I try not to let the label define me. Yet there is still a part of me that sees the "large" or the "10" as a failure. Too big. The idea of not fitting goes beyond the shirt; somehow, it's about me. I don't fit. When the shirt comes off, I see myself in a better light. The familiar lines of my shoulders, of my waist that has expanded to carry life three times, they are, after all, precious to me.
Somewhere, between mom and woman and dressing room and dinner table, I need to once and for all shake this idea that I am supposed to be a way other than I am. It's fine to try on other personas for fun, but the body I have, the talents I do and don't have, these are things to cherish, not hide. Thirty-nine years into being me, and I revisit this theme with great frequency, although I am getting closer to understanding that there isn't a miraculous finish line to cross that will herald my having become a grown up, or having figured things out, or that I will ever truly outgrow the awkwardness that is living. You and I, we will be unsure. There will be foibles and face plants, but there will also be moments when we each feel alive with the knowledge that we are a kind of strong, beautiful or amazing that has never come before.
Maybe the hardest thing to do is to face that not being her is the best gift in the world, because it means that I am me.