Oh Mama — The Fickleness of Wearing Skin
I already bear marks of motherhood. Aside from my growing belly, I have two scars on my right hand – cooking related, from an accident right before I took a pregnancy test. Currently there is also a stitched-up vertical incision healing on my right leg where a suspicious mole was removed. These scars are evidence of surging hormones and exhaustion; the incision, evidence of sacrifice and budding love. Taken together I see the path that lies before me as a mother: the hormonal haze, utter exhaustion, incredible love, and willing sacrifice. My body is going to produce another body, and that idea produces a feeling which becomes more amazing with each passing day. But, it is also taking a toll. I’m not as fit or toned as I was before. Feeling pretty takes much more work. Work that can dissolve my feelings of awe and leave me with distinct angst and depression, even as an entire life grows inside of me.
Taking our bodies for granted seems to be one part youth, one part immaturity, and one part human, and I’m losing my tolerance for it. I used to lay in the splits while I studied until I fell asleep , legs anchored down with the weight of my dad’s hiking boots. Once, early in my career, I ate only oatmeal for three days, experimenting with anorexia. All of this in the hopes of feeling more professional. Not long ago I read a journal entry that I wrote at sixteen in which I lament, for several pages, about my feet. Pages filled with complaints that I’d never be a professional with feet like mine (of all the things that prevented my professional success, my feet were not one of them).
And now? Now I hope this mole on my leg turns out to be benign. I hope that the ligaments in my left shoulder don’t get any looser so I will be able to hold my baby without causing further injury to my back. Today, faced with my own vulnerability, I am just hoping I’ll be healthy enough to raise a family and live a long and active life. But tomorrow? Tomorrow I’ll be worrying about my potential stretch marks and saving my pennies for the latest product that promises to make me ever-radiant and acne-free. I know this because I am human and fickleness is part of my condition. I ride the wheel round-and-round with the rest of you, at the hand of this demanding culture.
Not long ago I realized, to my surprise, that I never feel so beautiful as I do when I dance. It has to be a lovely, flowing ballet class, sans point shoes. When these forces combine, it is there–in my leotard, tights, and adorning rags–that I feel most at beautiful in my skin and most at home within myself. For me, this has been a remarkable antidote to the message that says beauty is about looking a certain way. My experience tells me that beauty is also about moving a certain way and connecting to life as an artist.
People I meet are always concerned about the eating disorder aspect of the ballet life. There certainly is that unfortunate aspect, but I also think we have an incredible advantage in relating to the body because of our training. For example, it is a rare privilege to experience one’s body so fully and intimately. Dancers are not awkward about skin or shy about touch, and we are among the fortunate few who experience our bodies as art. We have so much to contribute to the world on the topic of body image and relationship, so much to say about what it means to wear skin and be human. But we often fall victim to the tendency towards fickleness: fixating on this curve, or that inch, or my feet verses her feet. Unfortunately, when we do this we have nothing to say that culture isn’t saying already: you are the sum total of how you look, and if you don’t measure right you amount to nothing. But I believe that because we dance we should be able to communicate something more: a message that is empowering, healing, and refuses objectification.
I recently read the following statement: ‘If you are in good health now, realize that this will be a temporary condition.’ I love and hate this statement. It is simple and confronting. I hope to be the sort of woman that can live this mindful truth and appreciate my body in its various stages. It is the one I have, and it has been pretty great. I hope to communicate that appreciation in my role of wife, woman, artist, mother, teacher, friend, and Christian. I’ve got about 10 weeks until my baby arrives (ahhhhhh, may I enter the transition gracefully and gratefully). At least I can revisit the sort of woman I hope to be via this blog when fickleness gets the best of me! I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience – please share them with me!