Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Real Women's Bodies: A Simple Definition

German Chancelor, Angela Merkel, recently brokered a tenuous ceasefire between the Ukraine and Russia, moving on shortly thereafter to begin negotiations with Greece about the terms of that nation's financial bailout. Last month, U.S. District Judge Callie Granade struck down Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage. And Malala Yousefzay's radical belief that girls are entitled to an education earned her the distinction of becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and a near-fatal bullet wound.

But, OMG, y'all, the 2015 Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition is out, and this year it features "plus-size" models! And did you see the un-retouched Marie Claire photos of Cindy Crawford? Sweet paunchy baby Jesus, she has tummy flab!

Cue the mighty social media yawp of enraged/delighted women everywhere!

Aforementioned yawps fall into one of two categories: (1) Finally! Real women's bodies! (2) Puh-lese. Those aren't real women's bodies.

Unlike the crisis in Europe, I think I can play a meaningful part in resolving the Real Body Internet Commenter Crisis of 2015, the root of which is a lack of an agreed-upon definition of a "real woman's body." @worldsbestmeemaw thinks real women have stretch marks and "birthing hips." @jagerbomb1996 thinks real women totally have, like, juicy butts. And @whatsyourexcusemom is certain that six-pack abs are the realest.

But we are no more our hips than we are our daily regimen of crunches. A "real woman's body" can't be found in any one part; it can only be understood by appreciating the body as a whole. So, without further ado:

real woman's body: (noun) the physical structure and material substance of a female

In other words, if you are a woman, you have a real woman's body. 

Ergo, unless Giselle is performing astral projection, she has a real woman's body. Unless Kim K. is some kind of booty snatcher, she has a real woman's body. Melissa McCarthy and Jenny McCarthy both have real women's bodies.

Fact: You don't even have to be a model or actress to have a real woman's body!

Your grandma has a real woman's body. Your mom has a real woman's body. Your daughter has a real woman's body. If you're a lady, then you have a real woman's body.

Another fact: Some women pay to change their real women's bodies. And now their real women's bodies look (wait for it) different!

Ladies with tummy tucks have real women's bodies. Ladies with nose jobs have real women's bodies. Ladies wearing makeup and Spanx have real women's bodies. Ladies with colostomy bags have real women's bodies. Ladies with dentures have real women's bodies.

True, cosmetic surgery is not the same as Spanx is not the same as a medically necessary device. But there are no degrees of "real." "Real" either exists or it does not.

Does a 20-year-old former A-cup who gets breast implants have a fake body? What about a middle-aged mom who gets implants after birthing and nursing four kids? What about a woman who gets implants after a mastectomy?

Are our bodies only real if every part (if the "material substance") is original?

You can inject your lips and your tits and your ass until you look like sexy balloon animal, but you still have a real woman's body. Why you would want to look like a sexy balloon animal is an important conversation for another time, but another time nonetheless.

Our bodies are varied. Our bodies break and mend and grow life and disappoint us and haul groceries and age and climb stairs and run marathons and comfort and ache and surprise us with strange hair. Our bodies are real.

When was the last time you heard a debate about real men's bodies? There are plenty of men out there who wish they were taller or thinner or more muscular. Yet the sight of David Beckham on a magazine cover rarely elicits an Internet war among dudes. Ask your husband, your brother, your friend if David Beckham has a "real man's body," and you will likely get a look that says, "Have you been sniffing the Sharpies again?" Because of course Beckham has a real man's body, even if his body looks different than most of the other bodies out there.

And isn't that really what we're saying when we accuse a woman of not having a "real woman's body"? That she looks different than we do?

So can we please stop debating whose body is real-er? Of course we want to see a greater variety of body types represented in the media, just as we want to see a better representation of people of color, older people, and differently abled people. Seeing people "like us" on TV, in advertisements, and in movies makes us feel included and valued.

Spending time debating which woman's body truly represents "real women's bodies," however, does nothing but divide us and distract us. Because while we're busy arguing about whether a size 8 is a "real woman's body" or a size 18 is a "real woman's body," real hard-working women are still earning 22% less than men in the United States. And while we're busy calling out models for being too thin or actresses for being too fat, colleges and universities are systematically under-reporting campus sexual assaults. And while women are shouting each other down about who has the real-est bra size, Senator Thomas Corbin of South Carolina declared that all women are a "lesser cut of meat."

Let me assure you that the more time we spend literally dissecting ourselves in the media, obsessing about each wrinkle or bulge, the more we sound like rump roast. The more time we spend critiquing the women in SI's latest Swimsuit Edition, the more free press we give to a magazine (supposedly dedicated to athletics) that features a female athlete on less than 5% of its covers. The more time we spend ogling Cindy Crawford's newly discovered cellulite, the less time we spend railing against Photoshop and a beauty industry set on making women look like uniform, factory-produced goods (self-tanner! diet pills! push-up bras!).

Photo courtesy of mourgefile.com

Can we please get back to the shit that matters? The debates that may lead to more money in our pockets or toward our education? The debates that will empower victims of violence even as they help to put an end to that violence? The debates that take the focus off of and the power away from Hollywood's unrealistic fantasy of what all women should look like? The debates that strengthen us?

The debates that prove we are more than just our very real, very powerful, very different bodies?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Best Story I Never Told

I like to tell stories, but this isn't my story. This is my son's story. And my son is suddenly 2. As in years.

There's no plot, no story arc. There may be a conflict, but really, when isn't there a conflict? There will be time enough to suss out the theme later.

Today, we went to a party. Not his party, just a get together at someone else's house. Twelve toddlers. Nine mothers. While the kids snapped crayons and jammed fistfuls of berries into their mouths, the grownups hunkered protectively over mugs of coffee and chatted about preschool admissions.

Kindergarten begins at age 5. Preschool at 2? That's pre-pre-preschool, which is at least one "pre-" too many for him. Or maybe for me.

My son came barreling at me, his brow furrowed with concern.

"Another muffin, Mama?"

I may dub this time period in my son's life as "The Great Baked Goods Angst of 2015." The crisis of his short life is a lack of endless carbs.

"How do we ask?"

"Please?" he shouted, before adding a preemptive, "Thank you!"

I handed him a mini muffin. He ran back to the herd. I scooped up a handful of candy for myself, slowly unwrapping a chocolate heart as I spied on my kid, who was dancing with a friend.

That's his word: "friend." As in, "I see friends today?" or "I played with my friend." I've heard him use the term "quotation marks," (he is, after all, an editor's son). I've heard him yell, "Oh, God bless it!" out of frustration. But "friend" strikes me as something particularly grown, a concept to be grasped a few years from now.

Does my son already have friends? I thought there might be a little more time for just me.

After the party, we drove home in the muscular cold of early February. The wind was mercifully calm, and, for the first time in weeks, the sun beamed unabashedly. February can be a real tease.

"Let's take the dog for a walk, buddy," I suggested, as I pulled into home.

"I wanna walk!" he responded.

He always wants to go. He always wants to be outside, whether it's sunny or rainy, warm or cold, the crack of dawn or 5 minutes until bedtime.

When the kid was just shy of 3 months old, a wise woman and trusted friend took one look at his fat legs, furiously peddling the air, his wide brown eyes, scanning the room, and said, "This one will need room. He's gonna be rough and tumble. Give him space."

The three floors of our house cannot contain him. Somedays, our neighborhood doesn't feel big enough. He's a runner.

I barely had time to slip a leash on our English Shepherd before the boy was off.

Two years ago, he was alien to me. Sometimes terrifying. As I watched him stomp-sprint ahead of the dog, making a beeline for the muck hemming the woods, I wondered, "When did he become so human?"

I let the dog off of her leash. High on freedom, she ran in wild circles around us. My son laughed until his eyes pinched shut.

"Come here, doggy!" he commanded, suddenly stern.

The dog, though, will no more come when called than will my son.

The dog panted and slowed to a playful trot. I plucked Pork Chop up under the armpits just as he turned with curiosity toward a thorny bush. Plunking him back down in a safer direction, we made our way to the playground — seat of toddler joy.

Here is where I should admit that I hate to be outside. The wind. The cold. The space. I'm always at a loss for what to do. But not my son. Every time we crest the hill that leads to the playground, he reminds me that being outside is a chance to run or to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" to the sunny sky or to pick up a seed pod and marvel at its existence. He reminds me that amazement is an option.

Low wooden beams sunk into the earth form an octagonal border around the jungle gym. Eventually, he'd scramble up the stairs of the gym and push himself down the slide, but first, always first, he took my hand and hoisted his little spark plug body onto the wooden beams. Like a gymnast, he planted one foot carefully in front of the other, balancing. Nothing makes me happier than when he wants to hold my hand, except for when he looks up at me, then down at his own two brave feet, and lets go.

He was wearing brand-new clothes. A gift from Grandma. I remember thinking that I should have swapped out his stone-washed skinny jeans (which is a real thing for toddlers) for a pair of sweatpants. Unfortunately, I had that thought one second before he lost his balance and toppled into a mud puddle. Cold mud, however, is simply the price he's willing to pay for adventure. I get mud on my boot, and I spend 15 minutes scrubbing and polishing. He gets mud in his mouth, and he spits it out while running toward the next puddle or soggy pile of mulch or piece of garbage swirling in the breeze like an exotic bird.

I had forgotten how exciting it is to be curious.

After almost an hour of scampering and sliding and caking himself in dirt, I told him that we should probably go back inside. His belly was audibly rumbling. As his mother, I take an interest in those kinds of things. As a little boy, he takes an interest in a yellow leaf or discarded soda can. Abstract concepts like hunger or sleepiness or bleeding don't concern him in the least.

I tried my best to steer him toward home. He could have fish sticks and ketchup, I promised. So much ketchup.

"No, Mama! Wanna walk!" Then he paused before adding, "Please? Thank you!"

With that, he was off again, stomp-sprinting back toward the playground to reacquaint himself with wonder.

Just for a second, I stopped to watch him, to take in my son, pumping his legs and fists with determination. "Damn, he's fast," I thought to myself, before sprinting after him.

"How can something so small be getting away from me?"

Happy birthday, my love. Your story is aimless and mysterious and riveting.