Friday, September 12, 2008

(Pt. 2 of 3) On Missing Genealogies, Or How I Learned I Was Ugly

Part Two: My Belly Button

(Please read part one first.)

Last week I found myself looking at before and after pictures of tummy tucks, wondering whether I might want to get one.

This, despite the fact that in the past year I’ve discovered, and embraced, the fat acceptance movement. The central concepts of fat acceptance have shed light on so many lies I’d uncritically accepted, among them: that fat necessarily equals unhealthy and thin necessarily equals healthy; that most fat people can become thin if they just try; that fatness and thinness tell you something meaningful about that person’s diet and behavior; that fatness is intrinsically aesthetically inferior to thinness; that fatness is intrinsically morally inferior to thinness; that fat people eat very differently than thin people; that fat people are far less active than thin people; that it’s innocent to impress upon women that their beauty consists in their being small; etc. etc. etc.

It now makes intellectual sense to me – in the light of evidence – that all of those things are false. And yet, it’s very threatening to actually live as though I believe it. Because, before, there was always the hope that someday I’d actually look pretty, as “prettiness” is commonly defined. Oh, sure, that hope came with one hell of a stinger: namely, I believed that the things keeping me from looking nice were reprehensible character traits on my part. Clearly, since I wasn’t thin, I was a BAD BAD BAD eater of BAD BAD BAD foods and had BAD BAD BAD character and a YUCKY BODY EW EW EWWWW.

In theory, though, I could change that, right? I just had to stop being such a loathsome person with no impulse control. Whereas now I’m realizing: crap, this is just how I actually look. I’m simply not a slender person. I’m fairly active, I eat a wide variety of foods I like in reasonable amounts, and this is how I look. Not thin. And even if I were thin, I still wouldn’t be pretty. I mean, I could lose 30 pounds, but my body structure would still be kind of dense and lumpy; I’d still have thick and stumpy legs, uncooperative hair, a square jaw, and breakout-prone skin. (And, oh, the post-two-kids belly. There are no words for my feelings about that.)

Not only that, but I’ve recently realized: I’ve probably already been the conventionally-prettiest I’ll ever be (it was in summer 2001, if you’re interested) and I will never again come that close to the ideal. For instance, I'm beginning to notice the early signs of middle age: already my weight is settling at a higher number than it did before kids, and increased activity no longer brings about weight loss. (Good thing I exercise because I like to, in other words, because the scale sure isn't providing any motivation.)

So I've been struggling deeply with this in the last few months. Oddly, though, I think my recent sense of urgency surrounding this struggle represents a step toward – rather than away from – self-acceptance. Frankly, for much of my life, the issue of prettiness has been so painful that I simply refused to think about it. I Just. Would. Not. Go. There. Over the last few months, by contrast, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, going into the shameful and secret places where before I would not go. And indeed, it’s painful as hell; when the pain gets to be too much, I find myself in the midst of an intense inner backlash. “NO!” a crazy mean-girl voice inside me screams. “No, it’s not TRUE! Prettiness IS within reach. Okay, so it can’t be combined with a healthy and happy life in your case, but it’s still possible. You could eat only 300 calories a day. You could get surgery.”

Hence, the before-and-after pictures of tummy tucks.

Aside from the cost, it seemed just possible that I'd be able to justify getting a tummy tuck. After all, I reasoned, it’s not just cosmetic. They actually go in and stitch together the muscles that become separated – permanently, for some genetically-unlucky women (raises hand) – after pregnancy. With a tummy tuck, I would regain the muscle strength I’d lost in my abdomen; why, then I could jog without wearing some form of back support. It’s a quality of life issue, right?

But then I read this: “Your surgeon will cut a new opening for your umbilicus (belly button).”

And I started to cry. I mean, I just started sobbing.

My belly button is where I was connected to...

(dang it, I'm sobbing now)

...connected to my mom. Absent any name to signify my connection to her (and her mother, and her mother, and her mother), what I’ve got is a belly button.

A belly button I was considering letting a surgeon re-do, because I didn’t like how my belly looked after I’d become a mother. And because I didn’t like the body I’d gotten from my mother.

This is fast becoming too difficult to write, and too long. Part 3 will come later tonight or tomorrow.


Alex said...

This is a beautiful post. I know what you mean, and you said it much better than I ever could. You have a very pretty brain, A. Sarah, and there's no surgical procedure that can achieve that result for someone who was not as fortunate when the brains were getting handed out. If there were, I'd sign up for it!

bon said...

I used to look at cosmetic surgery websites, like an addict stares at porn. I dreamed of a day that I could get the miracle of the old nip and tuck. I have desired a breast lift before I knew what they were... pretty much the day after I GOT my boobs.

I don't anymore.

Maybe it's just the fact that I am pregs, and have that physical satisfaction that come with creation that women sometimes get. But I don't think so. I think it's just been getting more OK for me to be me. And by the way, I have you to thank for part of it... I followed some link or another on this blog (earlier incarnation) and found Shapely Prose, the revelations of which have CHANGED MY LIFE!

Awaiting part three.