At every. single. pixel.
I've stared at the professionally lit wall behind Ms. Kang. I've stared at it from corner to corner, trying to decide if it's been photoshopped to perfect smoothness or not. If it's in her gym or her home. If it's at a photography studio. I've wracked my brain for a single place I go in my life that has a blank wall large enough for this photograph. There isn't one. Not a one.
I've stared at her hair. At the careless way it falls against her shoulder. I've imagined what kind of incredible barrette must be holding it back behind her head. I've stared at each wave, imagining how much product is in there, how much time with a curling iron it took to get those perfect waves.
I've stared at her eyes, the judiciously applied pale shadow, the smizing that lasts for miles. Her superhuman eyebrows, with nary a stray hair.
I've stared at her teeth. Her bright, white teeth.
I've stared at her adorable little breasts.
I've stared at the sweet chubby arms on her baby. The confused toddler. The happy three year old.
And most of all, and as she absolutely intended, I've stared at her flawless stomach.
Whether it was her intention or not, her stomach turns mine into knots. First of self loathing, and then of anger. Because I've spent an embarrassing amount of time looking at my body, too.
|"Lea in Blue" mixed media|
I see the bones of my hips, protruding in the way I always liked. Only the skin hangs off them, dimpled and textured loose. Soft. Maternal.
I look at my c-section scar, and it screams to me of failure, it gives me flashbacks of waking up soaked in blood, or waiting for hours in a hospital bed while my uterus tore inside of me.
I look at the black hairs that grow sparsely between my belly button and my crotch. Hairs women who show off their stomachs would be sure to pluck, or wax, and I simply can't be bothered to care about.
With my clothes on, I feel pretty good about myself. I feel good about my hair. I love my bushy eyebrows. I feel pretty okay about my teeth.
But there is nothing I could do- nothing on this earth- to have a stomach like Ms. Kang's.
That's not an excuse- that is a fact. I could have the best plastic surgeon in the world work on my stomach, and it still wouldn't look as good. The whole top row of her six pack would be obscured by my breasts. Her dainty hips could slide inside my skeleton and walk me around like a Halloween costume.
I don't have an excuse. I eat healthy, I exercise. I don't prioritize fitness over a lot of my other activities- Ms. Kang and I have different lives.
I can't afford childcare while I go to a gym, and I sure as hell can't afford a personal trainer- I can't even afford cable. Ms. Kang is a physical trainer. While she was studying the mechanics of the human body, strength training and endurance, I was arguing with my colleagues over the more ethical treatment of the poor, of ways to organize a public housing system that didn't facilitate the emergence of ghettos.
|"Odalisque" Oil on Canvas|
I would rather make a pizza with my kids from wholesome, homemade tomato sauce, fresh vegetables, and goat cheese, than have them sit on my back while I do push-ups.
I would rather make art projects with them, and read with them, or ask them questions that stimulate their imaginations and their sense of wonder, than run in silence as I push a stroller ahead of me.
I don't want them to see me struggle with my body. To see me fight to mold my body into something it can never be. I don't want them to think that there's only one way to be a woman. Only one way to look. Only one way to treat yourself.
And then, I look at Ms. Kang's picture again, and I see her three sons, and I wonder...
Would she be making a different statement if SHE had daughters? If she was raising girls into women, girls who so often attack their bodies, assault them, starve them, mutilate them?
I wonder. I really do.
I wonder about everything in this picture.
As the sort of mom who considers three showers in one week REALLY nailing it, I wonder what kind of life she must lead to look this way, not just her abdomen- but her skin and hair and teeth.
As the sort of woman who goes to the chiropractor weekly to get past the back pain of having an improbable chest, I look at her sports bra and laugh at the intense uselessness I would get from it. I wonder at the ease and accessibility to just that most basic necessity of a decent workout that she has and I lack.
As the sort of woman who believes that love of self comes before love of your body, I look at the blank wall behind her and wonder what shelves of books are missing. What prints of painted masterpieces. What stacks of old records. What stained collection of recipe cards. What family heirlooms.
I have no excuse, Ms. Kang.
My body is a story of kneading challah with my daughters, of soft lumps that act as pillows and limbs that envelop my children when they have nightmares. It's a story of injuries and survivals and allergic reactions and marathons of costumes constructed instead of miles run. It's a story of counting chapters in my book instead of counting calories.
That's not a judgement, and it's not an excuse. It's just a fact. I have a different life.
I'm not you. I'm me.
And it is, quite literally, the best I can do.