We always had an open door policy at our house when our own three kids were younger. No one stressed over who saw what as people moved from shower to their rooms to dress. We were a little family unit and naked bodies were a regular feature of the household. Perhaps this came from my own growing up years in a house with seven people and one bathroom. That said, as our children have grown so too has their need for privacy.
Nevertheless, recently my youngest daughter saw me get changed out of my night clothes. Glancing at me she innocently asked “Will I look like that someday?”
An innocent query for sure but one which instantly provoked body anxiety in me.
“Well, possibly” I stammered, unsure of whether she was gazing at my sagging bosoms in awe or horror. The surety of the seemingly endless delightful hours of my life I had given to breastfeeding faltered.
“If you end up having three kids and you breastfeed each of them for two years then by the time you’re my age they might look like this.” I responded meekly trying to cover my bases.
I tried my best to sound loving and confident in my response to her, but inside I was reeling with mixed emotions.
I was only twenty six years old when I began breastfeeding my first child and it’s been over seven years since I stopped breastfeeding our youngest. I am currently forty-one years of age… there has been a lot of water under the bridge since my breasts were still youthful and perky. Undoubtedly I gave to a good cause, I remind myself. My breasts, as they currently perch upon my chest deserve to sit a little lower and lean a little further to the sides. Don’t they? And shouldn’t the fact that they served such a lofty purpose as nourishing my very offspring warrant them continued adoration? Why then should I have paused, even for a moment, feeling inadequate in my own skin?
This was not the first time in recent weeks that I’ve been confronted with conflicting feelings about my body image. Ever the social critic, I have been challenging my own conformity to society’s norms regarding how women should look in order to be considered attractive. Much of what we bow to is outdated and unhealthy for our bodies, minds and souls. Not to mention the devastating toll the beauty industry has on the environment.
Many, many years ago I gave up on nail polish, and beauty/ body care products that were not naturally sourced. But I still find myself feeling shameful and apologizing profusely if someone catches a glimpse of me and my legs or armpits are not cleanly shaven. I do so in much the same way that I used to apologize and feel badly back in the day if my fingernail polish was chipped or in need of attention. Seriously!?! I don’t want my daughters to grow up feeling less than worthy based on such ridiculous notions as the ones I had been harbouring.
I say this, yet recently when heading out to drop my youngest off at dance lessons I decided to roll up my pant legs to help cool down on a warmer than expected mid October afternoon, but soon found myself thinking in horror:
“What will all the other mothers at dance think of me and my daughter if I sit with my unruly leg hairs peaking out from beneath my jean cuffs? As homeschoolers we are already considered alternative.”
Arrgh!?! Do I really care what other mothers think of me? Besides, who’ll be looking and why do we shave our legs anyhow?
I later ran this by my oldest daughter, now in her mid teens. I casually said that I thought I would give up shaving for a while. I gave her a run down of the environmental costs of hot water, razors and shaving lotions and I went on to tell her how ridiculous I thought it was that women are slaves to such ideas.
Despite her being very thoughtful and progressive for her age, she instantly freaked on me groaning:
“Please mom don’t stop shaving. Anything but that!”
I calmly asked her why the idea bothered her so much and her reply was that shaving is an important part of personal hygiene.
” Personal hygiene?” I wondered aloud.
When I asked her if she thinks men are less clean because they don’t shave their arm pits she didn’t have a reply. Just walked away with a frightened, albeit thoughtful look on her face.
I know too well that my refusal to paint my nails, dye my hair and shave my body hair won’t save the world. But each time we challenge an accepted norm it increases our ability to question the status quo.
And besides, I read this fall that calf hair is in style. So I am currently “en vogue” with my hairy calves. Unless, as a quick second glance at the article led me to believe, it was baby cow hair accessories that the article I read was referring to (insert gasp and look of horror here). Alas. I will just have to love myself for how I am in the world, not what I look like. Drooping breasts and hairy calves included.