I can be fully present one moment, content with who and where I am, then, upon seeing my reflection, without even registering what I’ve seen on any conscious level, I become foul and discontented.
Next thing I know, one daughter or other comes into the room, stands too close to me, or asks me an innocent question, or– I really hate this– silently watches me get dressed, and next thing I know I’m snarling and snapping like a dog that doesn’t get enough exercise or attention.
“Stop looking at me,” I want to shout, but don’t. “Can’t a woman get dressed in peace?”
I’m not comfortable with them seeing my middle-aged womanliness. My sagging bits. My loose belly skin. What I really don’t want them picking up, is the message that any of this less-than perfect physical stuff should be a source of shame and self loathing.
Some role model I am. Oozing with irritable unease at being watched. By being treated as lovable and acceptable when I don’t feel remotely so.
It’s hard pin down the exact source of unease. I don’t always recognize the exact moment it happens. Then I remember, that moment just minutes before, when I saw myself in the mirror, or store or car window. It could have been the mere sight of my dreary hair, the lines around my mouth or, my newest obsession, stomach paunch that no amount of sucking in can make go away.
To be fair, it’s not always triggered by appearance. I can bring this shift on with a negative thought process as well. You may know the drill.
“I’m not good enough, not productive enough. I don’t earn enough money. My house isn’t clean enough. I’m not doing enough for my children. Other people have it more together than I do. Blah. Blah. Blah.”
And to be clear, this isn’t something that came up post-partum for me. My years as a competitive athlete, as fit as fit could be, I still found fault with myself.
It’s hard, nay impossible, to be a good mother when you’re your own worst critic. It’s hard to teach your children how to love themselves when you’ve been trying, and failing, for 40-something years. And it’s hard not to hate yourself even more for being stupid enough to keep on hating yourself,for such vain reasons, for so long.
The other day I had one of those moments of self loathing while getting dressed. I hated all my pants. They weren’t giving me the look, whatever that was, I was hoping for. I was doing this fashion freak show without my shirt on.
How did my stomach get so effing disgusting?” I thought to myself, or so I thought, as I pulled yet another pair of jeans on.
Just then I saw Isla in the mirror behind me.
“Hi Isla,” I said, faking a smile.
“What were you talking about just then, Mama?” she asked me.
I hadn’t realized I had spoken out loud.
The real tragedy of all this is my daughters who are still at that stage of life where they’re seemingly invincible. Especially Isla. She seems enviably free of the shackles of self consciousness. Nothing about life so far has given her any inkling that she might not measure up.
Where do these inklings start? Are they born or made? I don’t think all women succumb to them. Or do they? Reading a recent post about real mum's bodies, and seeing all the comments from women who are ashamed of their postpartum bodies, was an eye opener.
As was this post When Your Mother Says She’s Fat, written by Kasey Edwards.
If there ever was a time when my mother felt good about her physical self, proud of her achievements,she raised five kids, rather than compelled to focus on her shortcomings as a woman, wife and a mother, I don’t know about it.
I can’t and don’t blame her for this. No. I understand, perfectly, where she’s coming from.
Betsy Shaw has been blogging ever since she retired from her career as a professional snowboarder and found herself stranded in a remote living room in Vermont with a baby on her breast. You can follow her blog at Numbmum.com.