As I was gathering up our supplies for the beach, my 16 year old daughter and one of her best friends came out of their bedroom wearing bikinis. They looked like the fabulous athletes that they are. I stood there in my Lands’ End bathing suit blinking at them. It was like we weren’t the same species.
“Ok, girls, here’s the situation: y’all look wonderful in your bathing suits. However, I’m going to need you to stay about 50 yards away from me on the beach. In fact, you should give this courtesy to any mom you see in a Lands’ End suit, especially those of us wearing suits with skirts,” I said.
“Oh, mom,” my daughter said. “I wish I had your butt. Mine is tiny.”
What was happening? I hadn’t mentioned my butt specifically. Why would this otherwise bright child of mine talk to a middle aged woman about her backside? Besides, I don’t think our family says “butt”; I’m pretty sure that is a gateway word to hard cussing. Had she lost her mind?
“Seriously, mom, yours is well-defined. Big butts are in,” my daughter said to me. I made a wounded-animal sound.
Her friend nodded solemnly and then decided to chime in at this point. “It’s true. Big butts are in style. You can google it,” she said.
In my best Exorcist voice, I said, “Stop talking. Both of you, just stop talking.”
Big butts are in? I don’t care what Google says is in! Did they think I wanted their opinion about my body? There were so many things wrong with this conversation.
First, my daughter needs to cut out this kind of talk if she wants to be friends with other women. Her small bottom will be her silent cross to bear. Also, as a woman who has wanted to be smaller than I am since about 9th grade, I certainly don’t want to hear my petite daughter complain about not being bigger or taller. I suppose it was nice of her to pretend like my body was preferred. After all, everyone on the planet knows that no teenage daughter wants to look like her mom. I really don’t think she was fishing for compliments when she complained that her butt was “tiny.” I just think very few women are satisfied with how we look, which is such a shame. Worrying about how our bodies look takes up so much of our energy and takes away so much of our joy.
A few years ago, I can remember being at the pool when a girlfriend of mine said, “I wish I looked like my daughter.” I totally understood. I spend so much time around my kids’ friends that I sometimes forget that I don’t look like them. Then, I’ll see a picture of myself in a bathing suit and think, “Not only do I not look like my daughter, I look like I ate her for lunch.” It’s a brutal and unavoidable truth: our bodies will never look like our teenagers’ bodies. That ship has sailed. That’s the bad news.
The good news, though, is that you hopefully won’t care so much. You will be grateful that your body works and you’ll be kinder to it. You will see it less as something that needs to be fixed and more as your co-pilot, helping guide you through the world. You need your body to work, not so that other people will determine if you are beautiful or not, but because it is your vehicle to see and do some wonderful things.
In the past decade, I have found it pleasantly freeing to not be so mad at my body for looking like itself. This conversation with Caro and her friend would have devastated me ten years ago, but I think I’ve finally accepted that this is my body. I could have done worse. There are people all around me dealing with health issues, including people much younger than me who are battling cancer. Am I really going to complain about cellulite when my body is healthy and strong? I mean, I sometimes do complain, but I appreciate that my body is doing the best it can.
Sometimes, when I see Caro running or Caleb dancing, I think, “How did this baby, that I grew in my body, turn into this glorious person?” How can I show my body disdain when it did something as amazing as giving birth to and nourishing these healthy children? My body does not deserve my criticism; my body deserves praise for the ways it has sustained me and my children.
It’s such a privilege to watch these babies grow into strong and healthy teenagers. If they want to survive to adulthood, however, I would suggest they stop informing middle-age moms in bathing suits that big butts are in. They should just take their tiny tushes out to the beach; they should give us moms plenty of space to enjoy ourselves.