Where Beauty is Found

The stretch marks have arrived. As I was examining this new phenomena on my body this other day, it occurred to me that I will look different after my baby is born. I plan to be fit and eat healthy, because I feel better about life when I do that and it’s a good example to set for my kid. That doesn’t say much about my appearance, other than that I probably will not be way overweight. Even with being fit and eating well, I will still have stretch marks. My abdominal muscles might permanently separate. I might have varicose veins. I will not have the body type that we define as beautiful.

What if, after having a child, my body looked like I’d had a child? Is that so awful, really? How much of my time, energy, money, and mental capacity should I spend trying to make my body look like I’ve never been pregnant? I completely understand the motivation for doing just that, trying to re-shape the female form so we look like we’re younger, thinner, and less mom-like than we are. Everything we see and hear tells us that’s the only way to be attractive, to be considered beautiful.

The economy (for lack of something more specific to blame) has a motive for convincing women that we are constantly falling short of an impossible goal for attractiveness. We spend a ridiculous amount of our expendable income buying products to get ourselves closer to that goal. One of the ways this happens is that we see that impossible (for most people) goal all the time and almost no others. There is one very specific body type that we see in movies, television, commercials, and other types of media that is considered attractive. Not only are we very sure which girl is considered the “pretty” one in media, but it is extremely rare to see a girl who looks much different than her at all. It’s not just that the pretty girl is held up as desirable, it’s that her counterparts aren’t seen at all. It is a well-supported fact that the human brain develops an affinity for things that it’s familiar with. That’s why mom’s cooking is always the best, because it’s her cooking we’ve had the most exposure to. Since we have a ton of exposure to this one body type, and nearly no exposure to any other body type, we will naturally prefer the one we see.

A while ago, I was watching Fur: And Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, which is a gorgeous film about a photographer who takes pictures of “freaks.” The movie opens with the main character approaching a nudist colony to take some pictures. This circumstance sets up the movie to give us a view of some non-traditional body types. The photographer meets with the couple who runs the colony. They are a couple in their fifties or sixties, rather normally shaped, sitting in wicker chairs and having a normal conversation. I particularly noticed the woman. Her slightly cottage-cheese thighs, her large breasts, and the soft look of her white skin. Very different from the flat, tanned, perky, pointy, women; the only kind of women I’ve seen naked on the screen. This woman was lovely.

I have searched and searched for a still of that particular woman, but I can’t find one. Instead, I found this image of a nudist couple which is very similar.

I would not mind looking like this woman in thirty years. I hope that I will be able to view my own naked body and appreciate the years that are in it, the experiences buried in the folds of my skin, the softness that is meant to be there for our comfort. I hope to appreciate beauty in more than one form, but particularly in my own.

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