Beauty is in the … mind of the beheld
“She gave me soap!” Her blue eyes, though dimmed with age, still manage to flare in indignation. “Does she think I’m dirty? Does she think I don’t wash?!?”
My elderly neighbour, Mrs. L., is in full battle-cry against her sister-in-law. Again. Being a well-brought-up woman, I don’t argue with my elders. I don’t know the sister-in-law, despite all the tales of offense and infamy I’ve heard. What Mrs. L. tells me won’t hurt this woman, since the much-scorned SIL lives in a different city.
The offense is clear, however: The scorned sister-in-law gave Mrs L soap for her birthday!!!!
I like Mrs L, I really do. She’s a feisty old thing, determined to live her life till the last breath as an independent woman. She still drives her car — only in brightest daylight, as her vision fades, and it won’t be long before he license is taken away, I’m sure. She lives in her own home. She has supportive family, who see that her fridge is properly stocked and that she gets to doctor’s appointments. And she has attentive neighbours, myself among them, who note whether she’s walking her little dog every day, and that her mail is not accumulating worrisomely.
But she’s also a cranky old biddy, only too willing to take offense, to see offense where there is none, to be OUTRAGED by something as simple as a gift of soap.
I listen and nod, listen and nod, until Mrs. L runs out of steam and totters back into her kitchen. Then I breathe a sigh of relief, shake off her negativity and willful self-absorption, and move on to my day.
I never argue with Mrs. L. She’s old, and, despite her brave front, she’s frail. The days that she can continue to live on her own are numbered. Though she’s in denial, I suspect much of her rage stems from this awareness. (Even if it doesn’t, even if she’s just a cantankerous old biddy, she’s old.) I am kind.
A frail, cranky old lady who, despite herself, sees the writing on the wall, is one thing.
I am less patient with the gazillions of healthy young things who do this sort of thing day after day. Today I came across this post.
I’ve been pregnant, three times. I meet a dozen or two pregnant women each year; on average, one of my clients becomes pregnant each year. When I taught prenatal classes, I saw hundreds of pregnant women in a year.
This sort of article wearies me. The woman who wrote it doesn’t like to be asked when she’s due, and doesn’t enjoy the ‘wow’ comment. Okay. So she doesn’t. But you know what? Lots of women do. What’s the poor hapless bystander to do? You say ‘wow’ to one woman, she’s offended. You don’t say it to the next, she’s disappointed.
When people make complaints of the sort this author makes, they are assuming that all people feel as they do. Therefore, what they need, is what everyone wants, what pleases them is what everyone should be doing. And that just ain’t so. Since all pregnant women don’t respond in the exact same way to their pregnancy and to comments on their pregnant body, then what she’s asking of people is that they be able to read her mind. Which is hardly fair or rational. This exasperates me.
I could have stopped here. There would have been a certain amount of undeniable satisfaction in writing an acerbic, biting, sarcastic post on the self-inflated precious snowflakeness in our society, the incessant demand that everyone UNDERSTAND me, and react EXACTLY how I want and need. How dare you step on my delicate toes?
But you know what? Once that moment of exasperation had passed, compassion arose, and I just couldn’t be so unkind. Because what this woman is really expressing is insecurity. She’s not being fair or rational, but her distress is genuine, and I feel compassion for her.
And I am here to say to the author of this post, and to all of you who empathized with it, “Oh, honey. The problem is not with those people, even if some of them are tactless. You’re pregnant? Congratulations! And I will tell you now, even though I haven’t seen you in the flesh, you’re gorgeous.”
How do I know that, sight unseen? Because pregnant women are. Gorgeous. Yes, you are. Each and every one of you. Despite how tired you feel, how bloated you feel. Despite the bags that may or may not be under your eyes. Despite varicose veins and linea nigra and flatulence and stretch marks and the aches and pains and general weariness… You.Are.Beautiful.
Know why? Because you are a miracle on legs, you are. And that baby inside you? Is another miracle.
Those people who want to know when you’re due? It’s because they want to celebrate with you! Or perhaps to commiserate, and on a day where you’re feeling nothing more than “will I ever, EVER get my body back?”, a little commiseration is always welcome. Isn’t it?
Those people who look at your belly and go, “Wow!”? They are thinking, “Wow. Isn’t it amazing what the female body can do?” Or they’re thinking, “Wow. I’m so glad that’s not me any more!” Or maybe, “Wow. I can hardly wait till I get to do that!” Or, “Wow! Who knew a tiny woman could stretch so far!!” Some of them may even be thinking, “Wow. Why, why, why won’t my body let me do that?”
What they are not thinking is “Good lord, what a whale!” Do you hear me? They.Are.Not.
If you take offense or cringe in shame, when you hear that ‘wow’… Do you know who’s thinking that ‘whale’ comment?
Nobody else. Just you.
When you are pregnant, you gain weight. You do. It’s a fact. A biological necessity. 25 – 40 pounds is perfectly, deliciously, healthy. You are not “fat”. In fact, this is the one time in your life when gaining 25 – 40 pounds is the right thing to do. (If you gain more than that, you are not ‘ugly’, but you are making it harder on yourself. Pregnancy will be harder. Labour will likely be harder. Chasing your wee one after s/he is born will be harder. So, for your own sake and comfort, please keep the gain to healthy limits. But ugly? You’re Not.) And shame? It’s so unwarranted as to be ridiculous. Truly, it is.
Okay, we could all wish some of them would be a little more tactful. Sure. But I will tell you with 100% sincerity, no one who says ‘Wow!’ when they see a pregnant tummy is thinking ‘Ew!’. (Okay, maybe 0.0001% of them do. You can pay as much attention to those people as you do to people who think the world is flat. They are the lunatic fringe and should impact your self-esteem as much as the flat-earthers impact your travel plans.) So, please believe me: people are excited, not repelled. Pregnancy may not bring out the tact in everyone, but it does bring out the joy. People love babies. People love pregnant woman.
If you feel shame — seriously: shame?!? — when someone comments on your size, the problem lies not with the commenter, but with you. Because you don’t believe, in your heart of hearts, that your growing, blossoming, lush body is beautiful.
I’m here to tell you, it is.
When I taught prenatal classes, I would often hear women complain that they didn’t feel ‘feminine’ any more. And I would tell them, “Can you think of a single time in your life when you are more womanly? What man on the planet can do what you’re doing now?” You may not look like the pencil-thin 14-year-old models in Vogue, but you are as female as they get, sister!
All of it. All the aches and pains and lumps and farts and burps… and … beautiful skin and thick hair, blossoming breasts and lush, luxurient curves. You are beautiful. Utterly beautiful.
If you believed that yourself, if you really, really believed that, then every time someone asked, “When are you due?”, you’d be thrilled to tell them. And every time someone looked at your voluptuous belly and said, “Wow!”, you’d caress it with your mother’s hands, and you’d say, “Yeah. Isn’t it great?!”
Because it is. It’s great. It’s a miracle. It’s beautiful.