My husband was soaping up in the shower, I was standing on the other side of the curtain: a pink floral fabric wall billowing there between us, an all-too-obvious metaphor. He was silent. I was screaming.
“I gave you my 20s!,” I shouted, exasperated. “Who is ever going to love me like this? Look at me! My body is ruined!”
My marriage was over, and I was sure I was done for. Unlovable. Grotesque. I felt sick, not just because everything I’d worked for my whole life up until that point had been flushed down the toilet, but because the prospect of moving on and finding another lover terrified me. Moving on with not just the emotional scars left from a tumultuous relationship, but a physical scar, too. A giant one. Right above the one part of me that I might eventually be able to lure some other man into poking at if I could manage to make the rest of me look decent in the meantime.
My impending divorce made me hypersensitive about my C-scar, but I’d been making jokes about it since my daughter was born. It’s not so much the scar itself that bothered me — I mean, I’ve been pierced in weird places and I have a few tattoos, so I’m comfortable looking rugged. But what a C-scar does to an already zaftig figure is a bit jarring, in that it turns what was once the gentle curve of the lower belly into an awkward speed bump. And I was convinced that a man would see that — after the years of therapy and positive self-talk it would take before I could start dating — and not just slow down but stop dead in his tracks, put his engine in reverse and drive away as fast as he could.
On the contrary: no one has even noticed.
Or if they did notice, they certainly haven’t mentioned it. And it definitely hasn’t stopped anyone from crossing the finish line. In fact, most men are so happy to be in the presence of a naked woman, they’re not noticing any of the very tiny, minor, minuscule flaws that we think of as huge barriers to entry. As a Facebook friend put it this morning, “I am open to viewing your C-sectioned, gravity-ravaged body … ANYTIME!” He was linking to a piece on Viewshound called Naked Irony, in which Susan Creamer Joy writes:
… As I reluctantly regard my mirrored replica, I am made all too aware that I am now left with a body that has taken one too many C-sections to the groin, sleepless nights that have registered as dark half-moons under my eyes, and years of maternal stoicism carved like a fine-lined topographic map of domestic and personal upheavals canvassing my vintage countenance …
Why would it be that just as our eyes have adjusted to the shining advantages of living by the Golden Rule and we now completely comprehend the brilliant logic behind the principles of letting things be, rising above pettiness and focusing our energies on giving more than we receive; He would order the commensurate deterioration of our bodies, consequentially disabling our ability to fully benefit from all that we have learned?
There is bottomless incongruity in the apparent fact that just when we reach the age and stage where we’ve got so much to offer, we are also at the age and stage when nobody wants it.
I understand how she feels. That’s exactly what I was worried about at the end of my marriage. Joy is married, so I’m not sure why she feels so unloved, though I hope it’s something she’ll address. I don’t know how old Joy is, nor do I know what her body looks like, but I imagine it must be more lovely than she thinks. (Women, a general note: we are all prettier and thinner than we think we are.)
As we learned this morning from Meredith’s post on moms without makeup, women are beautiful by nature. I particularly love the Harriet Beecher Stowe quote Meredith placed under my silly, fresh-faced/grey-wigged side-by-side: “So much has been said and sung of beautiful young girls, why doesn’t somebody wake up to the beauty of old women?”
What makes each of us beautiful, at any age, is knowing that we are beautiful. It’s cheesy, yes. But I say it because it’s true. Our partners may make us feel even more beautiful or remind us of how beautiful we are, but they are not the source of our beauty. It’s a trite aphorism, but nonetheless we know “true beauty comes from within.”
A few weeks ago, I decided to lay down, naked, and look at myself in a mirror. There was a small part of me that felt ridiculous, as if I were Kathy Bates’ character in Fried Green Tomatoes, exploring her womanhood for the first time. But I really wanted to see myself from an outsider’s perspective, and I understood why the man I was sleeping with liked what he saw. I mentally traced my curves as they gracefully intersected, the lines dancing. I was taken by the creaminess of my skin tone and the angelic way my face looks when I’m happy. I felt sexy. I looked sexy. Just being myself.
I loved my C-scar. And the speed bump it created. I actually thought it looked cute.
As I laid there, I recalled a glowy, postcoital conversation my man-friend and I had once. “You changed me,” I said, gazing up at him. “No,” he said. “You changed yourself. I’m just here to enjoy the ride.”
He was right. I had changed myself. Some time between that day in the bathroom with my ex and that night in my bed I stopped worrying about how I looked and started focusing on how I felt. I started to love myself simply because I exist. And it began to show. When I felt beautiful, I looked beautiful. When I started dating, I wasn’t thinking about my C-scar. And by the time I finally had sex with someone new, I was so happy that I was wearing a matching bra and panties, I didn’t care about anything else!
Three years ago, I saw my body as a wasteland. Like Joy, I thought my skin looked like a topographic map sliced in half on the spot that used to indicate buried treasure. Now I see myself as I really am: imperfect, but adorable nonetheless. My C-scar does show the world what I’ve been through, but like the motherhood it ushered in, it doesn’t define me. I may have been cut open, but my scar is only a tiny slice of the bigger, beautiful whole.