Love it or loathe it?
If my body is only worthy of love if I alter it to meet whatever arbitrary standards I — or the people and things around me — have set, can I call my love genuine?
My face started looking weird about seven months ago. It, or at least my awareness of it, began with a hand mirror and one of those good-looking but persistent salesmen in the mall.
You’re probably familiar with this scene. They’re working the kiosk, standing in the middle of the thoroughfare, playing a game of Red Rover you didn’t know you were in — one you always lose.
You’re just trying to find the food court to get an Aunt Annie’s pretzel or a hot dog on a stick, when you look up to discover you’re being accosted. Your skin, you’ve just learned, is everything that’s wrong with the world, and you’re going to need to fork out $427 to even be worthy of showing your face in public again.
I had my eye on the MAC store (lipgloss) when his blue eyes and golden-brown skin barricaded the entrance.
“You must be about 25,” he said.
“I’m 41. Nice try.”
“Your skin is exquisite,” he said.
“No. It’s not.”
“No, it is. It’s exquisite. But wouldn’t you like to resolve your rosacea?”
Wait. I have rosacea?!
And so I gave those blue eyes and golden-brown skin a chunk of change — to “resolve” the rosacea I didn’t even know I had.
When I got home, I got close up to my toothpaste-splattered bathroom mirror, a thing I don’t often do. There I found a network of tiny red veins, spreading over my cheeks, my chin, the furrow of my brow.
By the state of my nose, I have three years, I figured, before I look like an elderly alcoholic grandfather or Ruldoph... one of those.
There are wrinkles, age spots, dryness, oiliness, blackheads — and they are everywhere. I panicked and started to plan my attack against aging.
The Art Of War (Anti-Aging Edition).
Going down the rosacea/wrinkle horror spiral, I start with the fancy mall face cream/exfoliator/serum — throwing the cleanser in for good measure. I buy an additional facemask exfoliant that has green clay and visible pieces of mint in it. I add hyaluronic acid for cell regeneration, salicylic acid for cell turnover. I buy some face masks with instructions and ingredients written in Japanese. I buy two additional serums, one night, one day, I don’t know what they do, but someone at Refinery29 said they are worth every penny of the $175 price tag.
My horror spiral heads south, to the breasts that meet my belly button. The belly button that sits atop my stomach that is folded so far onto itself that it’s becoming a curtain for my pubic hair, which I have elected to leave unkempt. The horror spiral becomes a horror black hole, in which there is an imagined breast lift and a full lower-body overhaul — maybe laser hair removal for good measure.
This is real.
Gravity pulls me back into my bathroom, to face the rosacea I didn’t know I had, to see my body, changed by weight gained and lost and gained, and babies, and life.
And I’m reminded, looking at my reflection, despite my disappointment, how opposed I am to altering my body. I am reminded how important it is to me to instill a sense of self-worth in my kids that lies outside the realm of what is visible.
Where does my love for my body stop and my vanity pick up?
I’m reminded of how hard I’ve worked to love the body I used to loathe, the articles I’ve written, the self-love I’ve preached to anyone who would hear.
I’m reminded of the movement I call myself a part of, the one that helped me love what I saw in the mirror when the mirror was my enemy.
And I’m reminded of my aging face.
As it turns out, the Mall Miracle Gel — a concoction of grape extract and unicorn blood, 2 ounces of apparent magic — is not magic at all. Neither grapes nor unicorn blood can defy the map of veins on my nose — or at least not by the time the $126 is used up, washed down the drain.
What am I left with at the end of the jar?
My face of rosacea, and -$126 I could have spent on something worthwhile.
And the lingering question: How much is too much?
How much is too much to spend? How far is too far to go? How much can I change, improve, “fix,” before I’ve changed into something else? How much before I can no longer say I love myself, accept myself?
Where does my love for my body stop and my vanity pick up?
If I’d spend $126 in a futile attempt to “resolve” the rosacea I didn’t even know I had, then why not $500 on laser treatment to effectively repair the damage of time? If I’d whiten my teeth, why wouldn’t I spend $4000 on braces? If I’d wear Spanx, would I have an abdominoplasty? A push-up bra or a breast lift? It Works wraps or liposuction?
At the end of the day, when it's just me and the toothpaste-y mirror, I’m left holding the bag of, “I love my body. Well, except for all the parts of it I don't”?
If my body is only worthy of love if I alter it to meet whatever arbitrary standards I — or the people and things around me — have set, can I call my love genuine? Is it capitalism from which the loathing is born? Media? Misogyny? What is the origin of these feelings?
Are these feelings wrong?
Our feelings about our bodies are often complicated at best, consuming at worst. And the feelings we have about the feelings? Even more complicated.
If you’re living on the front lines of the body acceptance movement — even if you’re living in body acceptance boot camp — there is pressure, self-imposed or otherwise, that makes us question the sincerity of our feelings towards ourselves and others.
It makes us question how much self-love is enough.
What if I’m just OK?
I’m living in a movement that expects that I’ll regard my own body as perfect, or, at the very least, acceptable. It’s the movement that expects that I’ll regard other human bodies with the same reverence I am presumed to regard my own. A movement that proclaims that “all bodies are good bodies,” without leaving space for bodies that don’t feel “good” to the people inhabiting them, disabled bodies, bodies that don’t match how their inhabitant feels, fat bodies, wrinkled bodies.
Can I call myself part of the movement I live in the center of, if I don’t love all of my body, all of the time?
Where am I left if I love my body but still want to change it? Where am I left, if, at the intersection of self-love and vanity, I choose vanity?
Do I lose my credibility?
And if I don’t want to change my body, but you want to change yours? Is my self-love more real than your self-love — the self-love infused with breast augmentation?
Can I claim superiority?
Can self-love and vanity co-exist?
I’ve finished the hardest work of learning to look at my body without loathing. I’ve arrived at the place where the sight of my body isn’t devastating. I’ve landed safely in the space where my scale never sees my feet, and I never see its numbers. I’m OK with my body how it is.
What if I’m just OK?
What if I can’t celebrate every roll? What if my stretch marks never feel like a “badge of honor?” What if I can never label the grooves etched in my face as “laugh-lines?” What if I can never wear shorts because the sight of the back of my legs, decorated with varicose veins, is too much for me to allow the world to see?
What if I can never let my partner see me fully naked without worrying that he is seeing all the flaws I see?
What if I can never look at myself without seeing those flaws?
What if I decide to “fix” them?
What if I don’t?
What is the right answer?
What if there isn't one?
Our feelings about our bodies are complicated at best. Vanity and self-love necessarily co-exist in me.
My body is worth celebrating some days, and other days, is the source of profound anxiety and loathing.
Some days, every wrinkle is a memory, every mark evidence of sickness, health, creation of life. Some days I can’t look at it at all, without profound disappointment. Some days I can’t summon that piece of me that loves it all.
On those days I just consider my body as the vessel moving me from place to place, a facilitator, a shell I thank for keeping me alive.
My rosacea, my tube-sock breasts, my abdominal drapery, wrinkles, saggy/baggy bits, age spots, varicose veins: the list of imperfections grows with every birthday. I’m making a conscious choice to leave my body alone to age as it will, without intervention.
I’m OK with it.
And I’m OK with you deciding what you need to do for your body, too.
Maybe we can’t always love our bodies — maybe we can just learn to love to live in them.