I never saw my mother naked.
Not even when I was a little girl.
With her clothes on, she was slender and supple. Her legs were shapely beneath black Gap stretch pants, and her breasts rode high underneath her cotton turtlenecks. She’d change with the door closed, and I knew better than to open the opaque glass door when she was showering.
She never wore bathing suits. Even when we went down to the lip of the sea where the waves licked our feet, she’d stand there in her leggings and a baggy t-shirt while my father and I would charge into the billows, our firm bodies buoyant in the waves.
I never saw the softness of her belly, or spider veins etching a life story on her thighs. I don’t know if her nipples were brown or pink or red or peach.
I never heard her use the “F” word. No, not that one. This one: Fat.
But all around me, pop culture did its thing, and I got the message loud and clear: Girls should be skinny.
I don’t need to give examples, right? Just turn on the T.V. Or look at a billboard. Or read a magazine.
The insidious thing is I don’t even remember when I learned this; when it’s all around you the message is subliminal.
Lose that belly!
Get your body back after pregnancy!
Colonics are a girl’s best friend!
Sure, we can talk about it ad nauseum til we’re nauseous, and even break it down with new ad campaigns that redefine beauty, but for so many of us, it’s too late.
For me, it’s too late.
Even though the scale says I’m slender, I’ll never see my body as beautiful and perfect. Hell, even before I birthed my babies, when my stomach was still smooth and my breasts were full and firm, I’d change in a bathroom stall at the gym, and avert my eyes when I’d get out of the shower.
Sometimes, I wonder how it would be if I had seen my mother naked. If she had said to me quietly, Saraleh, this is what a woman looks like. These stretches, these scars, these spider veins are beautiful and perfect.
I let them pull up my shirt and let them trace their fingers over my stretch marks.
“Your belly is so beautiful, mama,” my daughter tells me. “It’s so soft.”
I sit on the bed in a towel, and show them my spider veins.
“Your legs have pretty drawings on them,” my son tells me. “This one looks like a little star.”
I want my kids to understand that all bodies are beautiful in their own way. Yes, skinny is beautiful, but so are curves. A flat stomach is beautiful, but so is a stomach that jiggles. Smooth skin is beautiful, but so is skin that tells a story.
I have learned to make peace with my body. And I want my kids never to feel like they have to make peace with theirs.