The Gritty

I found myself at the self-check out station in the grocery store the other day, my eldest doing exactly what those machines hate – taking the items off of the metal holding area prior to the last item being scanned, resulting in an annoying and constant message from self-check out lady:  

"Please put the last item scanned back on the scanner and wait." 
"Please put the last item scanned back on the scanner and wait." 
(Me, scrambling.  Told eldest that Santa is watching.  Put last item on the scanner and waited.  And waited.)

"Attendant has been notified to help you."

(Waiting, eldest and wee one now in a disagreement over which orange-flavored-no-name-brand chips to convince me to buy)

And then as soon as the attendant came over and decided I was not in fact shoplifting, my wee one made an executive decision about the chips without me knowing and not only threw the chips in the bag WITHOUT scanning, but sat on the bag area with a dirty diaper and yelled, "Momma! Diarrhea!"

(she did not have diarrhea, she just learned that word recently after having had diarrhea and has since discovered that it gives her the audience she so relishes)

"Please put the last item scanned back on the scanner and wait."
"Please put the last item scanned back on the scanner and wait." 

"Attendant has been notified to help you."

This time, however, the attendant looked right over at me with her weird old school remote scanner thing and said with her eyes, "Attendant will not be arriving to help you."

So, there we were.  Waiting and watching as the smart people in the actual check out lanes with real live cashiers blew past us and rang service bells in jolly spirits.  This wait period also gave me the great opportunity – once I corralled the tiny offenders in the shopping cart with the promise of orange chips when they turned 18 – to read all the many wonderful sources of information all around me.  And, side note, I don’t have cable, so I'm like your out of touch grandma but not that cool.

For the record, there are a lot of shiny celebrities losing weight and getting hitched and having babies and telling lies and being “real.”  Wow.  I am so missing out (not).  Anyway, after being tempted to read about how Julia Roberts departure from Hollywood is because she got abducted by a religious sect of aliens from Saturn after she had a torrid affair with John Travolta who lost 78 pounds thanks to a mystical berry fruit enzyme, I focused my attention on one cover.  There she was, Kim Kardashian in a white bikini, walking down a sandy beach with the triumphant headline:  “I got my body back!”  

Now, for the record, I barely knew she had had a baby, but I guess I had gotten some wind of it thanks to Kanye being the next Nelson Mandela (thank you facebook for updating me on the hour every hour with that bit of important news).   I looked her over pretty quickly and felt a sudden, disturbing urge to discover how exactly she did get her body back.  I was pretty convinced that pregnancy would do for her what it did to most of us.  Change stuff.  But, alas, there she was, boobs upright and in a string bikini.  Belly flat and smooth.  Booty, check.  

She’s not the first to be on a cover like this.  In fact, I think it is far more mainstream now that we comment on how quickly celebrities “bounce back after baby.”  And many of us get outraged, don’t we?  We chat about the injustice to each other over dinner with disgust.  Some of us even get more vocal - maybe we write about it, maybe we study it, and maybe we even join a movement dedicated to highlighting this disservice to and objectification of women.

But, I wanted to suggest today that perhaps outrage isn’t working.  These magazines are obviously still selling in big ways.  People are obviously still tuning in.  We read them.  Our friends, partners, and lovers read them.  Our daughters.  Our sons.  It’s become a cultural norm.   I notice this every time I’m out and about, in fact.  Without fail, at least once an evening, I get the following comment from women and men:  “You have two kids?  Girllllllll, you look good!”

What does that even mean?  I can tell you one thing, it’s NEVER feels like a compliment.  Why?  Because the statement alone disrespects the space that I have earned – in my body, mind, and spirit – when I became a mother.  And guess what, even though I’m a self-proclaimed skinny freak (genetics, I have pictures), I have that space in my skin too and I love it with my whole being.  In fact, I’m more comfortable with my physicality now then I ever was before.  I enjoy my body, its strength, and its pleasures/pains entirely, which I could have never claimed before kids.  And it’s not because I have triumphed over the changes motherhood brought to it.  I still have to tuck my belly button back in to its upright and locked position most days.  And even though my abs look rad in a standing position, when I bend over it would make a Shar Pei nuzzle for warmth.  I have stretch marks.  And I used to be a 32E and am now a 34B.  Deflation station.  Need I say more?

But, I earned all of this.  And I work hard to live in my skin as best as I can, through a combination of hard physical work and intense personal reflection.  Period.  Why?  Because I want to feel capable.  I want to be visible.  I want to not be in pain.  I want to feel alive.  I want to model to my children what it looks like to be a woman who is well.  I want to empower my inner risk taker.

And while we could maybe say that these magazines and those comments highlight the reality of how not far we’ve come in terms of appreciating true femininity, I think there is a deeper layer.  I think the celebration of celebrities triumphing over the seemingly destructive physicality of motherhood demonstrates something more important:  We are a culture that is desperate to keep forward momentum and desperate to keep our identities in tact NO MATTER WHAT.  We don’t want to face the fact that simple things like birthing babies or getting sick or facing failure might in fact throw off of the course of life, prosperity, and identity.  We are a culture afraid of the gritty, the transitional, the not-so-shiny parts of what makes us human.  And so we have grown to associate “good” physical appearances with proof that someone has got their mojo in tact.  

The problem with this is that in doing that we evade creating the sorts of help and support these moments of suspension demand.  We forget to revere the reality that a woman who just had a baby not only needs a community of people who hold her in that odd transition that is postpartum, but that she needs specialized training to reintegrate her body and her identity.   Beyond that, we sadly encourage the notion that it is sufficient to numbly erase the inherent act of bravery and risk that is sewn into choosing to become a mother.   And we certainly throw a blind eye to the fact that the essence of giving life involves the destruction of one you lived before.   It’s beautiful, yes, to be a mother.  Sure, we may have that “glow.”  But, it’s also gritty and it’s a daily test of resolve, focus, connection, self-awareness, and physical resilience.   It’s a privilege not to be taken lightly and should be treated with the same training and attention that we lend to our superstar athletes.  So, instead of outrage, I suggest a new focus on women's wellness that measures it's embodiment not by size or shine, but instead by risk, adventure, and resilience.

As for those magazines?  Well, next time I’m stuck at the self-check out making a scene, I’ll come armed with some stickers that read one of the following:

“Please put this item back on the shelf and wait."

"I take bigger risks as a mother than a white bikini."

"Pssst. Your kids are looking at you looking at this."

"My girly balls are bigger than Kim's ____."

(feel free to add some more sticker ideas in the comments below)