When my friends and I were in middle school we used to sit around wishing we could change different things about our bodies or faces. Higher cheekbones were frequently wished for, as were longer legs. About one thing we agreed: if women ever had a way to completely change the shape of their bodies, a lot of them would probably overdo it. They’d make some things so big, they’d look like monsters. And imagine if they could go back and forth, making things bigger one day and smaller the next, constantly readjusting.
We’re all in our forties now and watching the gorgeous women of our youth making those very mistakes. In fact, if we haven’t seen a female star in a few years, we’re almost hesitant to look at a recent photo: so many of them cause us to gasp, and to wonder: why wasn’t perfect good enough?
And it isn’t just celebrities making too many alterations. Several women I went to school with have had things lifted, tucked, stretched, filled, and botoxed. Prior to getting any work done they looked pretty. Then they went through a period of looking a bit strange, in a way you couldn’t quite put your finger on. Then it was a short jump to the grotesque, which they themselves surely recognized, and which they tried to remedy with even more surgery, even stranger fillers.
Even the weight issue is more confusing than it was before. Those of us who grew up hearing a breakfast cereal commercial asking us if we could “pinch an inch” (meaning if you could, it was fat, and you needed to lose it) now read stories in movie magazines about actresses and models proud of their pinchable inches. OWNING them, to use the modern term. Of course most of them happen to be young, and therefore kind of naturally attractive anyway. I’m not sure it’s as easy to be middle aged AND trying to OWN your curves.
I wonder what it could have been like for my mother, to step on a scale and not care what the numbers said. To maybe not own a scale at all. To enjoy eating dessert and wearing whatever bathing suit she wanted. I imagine in such a world my mom would have worn a bathing suit much more often, and might have felt free not to hate other women thinner than herself. In time she might have been able to spot, from a distance, a woman she knew, without commenting under her breath about how the woman looked.
It’s strange to imagine such a mother. But in my imagination I notice I have her smiling almost all the time. And what the heck, maybe I can imagine her noticing all sorts of differences in people without feeling the need to rate them. Who they dated, what kind of car they drove, what they did for a living, whether they had a nice looking lawn.
And this dream mother, the one who would maybe spend time admiring instead of judging, might have extended that friendly glance to both of her daughters. The time she used to spend focusing on my big sister’s clogs alone would free up space to find out all sorts of interesting things about her. Why, for instance, my sister had a crush on Alice Cooper:
Actually, maybe it’s better that one remains a mystery.
Amie Ryan is the author of Green Shoes Mean I Love You, Starfish On Thursday, and Marilyn: Loved By You, available at www.amieryan.com