There is a viral video going around right now by bunch of current female comedians all joking about the fact that it is not acceptable to like yourself in Western female culture. It's definitely not acceptable to feel pretty and it is a massive sin to not put yourself down when someone gives you a compliment.
"I love your hair"
"It's so frizzy I can't do anything with it" (Even though you secretly know that you really are having a good hair day).
"I love your jacket"
"Me too but it sure looked better on me when I was 20 pounds lighter"
"You look great today"
"Ughh I'm exhausted, can't you see the bags under my eyes".
And so on. This is the inside story of female conversations.
Well I'm about to break that taboo. I feel pretty.
I've shed some weight over the last couple of months. Not on the scale but still some weight nonetheless. I clearly gained some emotional weight but let go of weight in terms of relationships. About 12 years from now I'll probably stop using the excuse that I "just had a baby" to justify why I still weigh what I do but that's a matter for another blog post!
So no that's confidence doesn't come from dropping the baby weight.
I used to have a really fantastic hair. I still generally do and I'm pretty proud of it because it took a long time for me to embrace my curls. I think most curlies agree. We are not a very Curl Friendly culture. We like sticks when it comes to our hair and our bodies. Curls and waves just aren't as acceptable. But I had pretty rocking hair. Post birth, it falls out in massive quantities and it's frizzier than it's ever been. I even think it has changed texture. Straw like isn't a texture is it? I still feel pretty.
None of my clothes fit. My skin breaks out worse than when I was 15. WHY wasn't I prepared for that part! The hormonal impact on my face is really a laugh. I still feel pretty.
I don't dress up more now. It's a good day if I put on pants. But lets be honest. That was a truth long before my daughter died!
These are all days I've smiled since Ree died. Really smiled, even on camera. I smiled. Genuinely. Not because I was worried it would be posted to Facebook. I didn't worry about makeup. Or hair. I cared about the people in the pictures with me. Or the recipients of the pictures. Relationships. Those were beautiful. I felt pretty, I feel pretty because I still had people to share the smile with, who didn't care about weight or makeup or the status of my closet. I feel pretty even when I'm alone at least somedays, because I have survived.
Despite my tiger stripes and cellulite and lack of much in my closet that is presentable, I feel pretty. Because I can smile. Especially when I can smile on bad days.
I don't fault people who feel this way, but it does make me unable to connect to people who say they are obsessed with shoes or a new purse makes them happy. I was never really that person in the first place but it definitely doesn't make any sense to me now. I don't care what color your shoes are. My daughter died. I don't fault you for finding joy in pretty things. That's normal. Those things are just not as pretty to me. Pretty changed.
When I hear people talk about bouncing back after a baby, it doesn't quite ring the same for me. Mine wasn't about my abs or the return of my figure. Bouncing back for me, the "return to pretty" after childbirth was always about the ability to live.
While I still sometimes feel like the biggest failure for not keeping her alive, I also have more confidence in some things than I ever did before Rhiannon. It really doesn't rattle me to worry about what I'm gonna put on today or how my hair looks or how my face might seem chubby on Facebook. So what. I feel pretty. I feel pretty because I lived. I feel pretty because I can still genuinely smile. I feel pretty even if you don't think I am because that really doesn't matter to me anymore. I don't really care if you consider me a post pregnancy success story when I can fit in my size 6 jeans again.
When I google "pretty after childbirth", the majority of the links that came up were all body focused. Postbaby work out plans. Diet plans. Flattering swimsuits. How to wrap this and lift that. Even the ones that celebrated a mothers body after birth, they were still all externally driven. There were articles about how to look good during birth, how to look good minutes after birth, about deflating tummies and boobs and thighs. Preventing stretch marks, erasing stretch marks, coming to terms with stretch marks! But even for moms who have children that live, isn't the emotional turmoil after birth far more extensive than the amount of stretch marks? Isn't that upheaval a bigger deal?
I'm not saying that liking your body is something to avoid or not focus on, but why is it the only focus? You can't tell me that there aren't plenty of women after birth that have to learn to smile again after becoming a mother because of the massive amount of change required. The transition and loss of self to become this new person.
I know that is at least one part of this journey on which I am not alone in the tribe of motherhood. I have lived and I have marks to prove it. Internally and externally
Beauty is the space where tragedy and living meet.
Beauty is finding joy even on the same days when you find tears.
Continuing to live beyond just existing.
Beauty is honoring pain and sorrow while not ignoring the smiles.
I will always smile and weep for her at the exact same time. They will coexist.
I feel pretty because I can do both.
It turns out that the media has been getting it wrong for a very long time. Beauty is an emotion. Pretty is an emotion. It's not an external state like large or small or thin or tall. It is an internal feeling. For you moms out there that have living children, ask yourself if when you look at your children, if you see beauty on the outside because of how they look or beauty when you make them smile, when they laugh. There isn't much on the planet prettier than a laughing baby.
Beauty is in the "I", not the eye.
I'll always hope I still have a daughter one day. I can't say that desire will ever shut down after losing two girls in a row. I hope that if I do have a girl that I somehow find the ability to pass on whatever this lesson is that I have learned. I know that it won't be effectively taught when she's 15 no matter how much I hope that it will. It probably won't sink in when she's 21 and getting serious about dating and trying to pick a partner for the rest of her life. It probably won't hit until she's 30, like me and life has roughed her up pretty good. Some experiences won't have words or emotions or descriptions. Or they'll have all new meaning. Some things won't even have names or words or description but she'll still know what they mean anyway. Beauty. Pretty. Those will change.
Of course the fact that I let myself imagine a child living to 30 is a bigger victory than you can probably even imagine. Kidowers struggle to believe our children will age as they should.
I'm sure this lesson can be taught to a son as well but I'm just not in that frame of mind quite yet and daughters are my only frame of reference. If I have a son, I'll cross that bridge when I get there. I'll tell him he's pretty too.