Monthly Archives: November 2012

On Body Image

Friends, I’m excited today to be corresponding with one of my all-time favorite people ever in any category EVER IN THE WORLD. She’s also one of my favorite poets. If you are wondering what me and Catherine Calabro think about our bodies, well, you are in luck.

Dear Catherine,

Ah yes, the body image post, at long last. It’s taken me a while to write it, because it’s taken me a while to get a handle on my body. When you have a baby, your body goes through a completely amazing and totally ridiculous series of changes. My uterus went from the size of a plum to the size of a watermelon and back to a plum. My boobs went from B-cups to C-cups to DD-cups. My brain went from normal to crazy to I’m not sure what. I remember at one point in my pregnancy, turning to Jason and lamenting that I was living in a body that wasn’t mine, with a brain that wasn’t mine, and yet I had to go to work and pretend to be my regular self every day. THAT was the tiring part of pregnancy.

I gained about forty pounds while I was pregnant. One week after I had Violet, I had lost twenty of them. I had three stretch marks. I had an enormous rack. I was running on adrenaline and love, and I felt amazing. I felt like Superwoman. I had always thought the whole “nine months in, nine months out” adage made sense, and yet, my super-human body was going to put that to shame.

And here we are, eleven months out. I’m about ten pounds over my normal weight, and while I can squeeze into my regular pants, the key word here is “squeeze.”

Here’s the rub: As women, we KNOW HOW TO DRESS OUR BODIES. You ask any woman what her body shape is, she knows, and she knows how to dress it. In my “normal” life, I’m pear shaped. I’m a S/M on top and a M/L on the bottom. I know to wear prints on top, solids on the bottom; dresses that are tight to the hips and then flare out. I know that my large, square-shaped ass is weirdly flat, and looks better with pockets that have flaps. In my “normal” life, if I ever got to ten pounds overweight, I’d rein it in and be my regular size relatively quickly.*

A couple of months ago, I spent some time feeling a little lost when it came to my new shape, and feeling bad about it. Feeling like my body would never be the same again, and worrying what another pregnancy or two might do to it. Feeling like I had no idea how to dress THIS body, or, at the very least, no clothes in my closet that would work.

Today, though, I’m happy to report that I’m feeling pretty great. I weigh more than I want to, sure, but I’m breastfeeding. I eat what I want, and a lot of it, because there is a (possibly irrational) fear that I have that if I’m craving something, it’s because my body NEEDS it to make the milk. When your body makes the food that sustains another life, you want to make sure it’s well fed. Also, Catherine? IT FEELS GOOD TO EAT WHATEVER YOU WANT, IN WHATEVER QUANTITY YOU WANT.

Furthermore, I’m learning to dress this new body. Yup, my ass is bigger than ever, but do you know what’s also bigger than ever? MY BOOBS. And they are magnificent. And now I have this sort of hourglass figure, and I can rock that. I’ve always been more of a Peggy, but suddenly I’m a Joan. And Catherine, I don’t think you know this, but IT FEELS GOOD TO BE JOAN.

One of these days I’ll stop breastfeeding, and then I’ll probably be an A-cup, and I won’t have any excuses to gorge myself. When that sad day comes, I’ll re-learn self-control. I’ll stop eating around the clock, bread at every meal, huge bars of chocolate. And all my old pants will fit (Hello, old friends! I’ll say happily as I zip them up without inhaling.). I’ve always assumed motherhood would look something like this:

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But maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll wear baggy t-shirts and swimsuit-dresses and tell myself that it’s not that I’ve let myself go, just that I’ve stopped caring about such superficial things. I HAVE A DAUGHTER TO RAISE. High five!

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I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

How’s your body, Catherine?

Yours,
Amy

* I could go on, ad nauseum, about my “normal” weight, as I’m sure most women could. But for the purposes of this blog, and brevity, it seems right to keep it to my “mom” weight.

Dear Amy,

I remember when I was a Girl Scout camp counselor in high school, one of my fellow counselors said “I’m so comfortable with my body that it’s not even funny.” It wasn’t even funny — but it made me feel funny. We were, what, maybe 14? 15? and I’d never really thought about my body being any different than it was — small, short, hairy, but there was my coworker, who had been through enough with her weight and height to have come around such a seemingly steady stance on her own image. In my mind’s eye I remember her as completely lovely – a year or two ahead of me, taller, curly haired, freckled – and I looked up to her in the same sort of teenage worship way that often look up to you now, Amy. I never for a moment imagined her to have any kind of issues with confidence at all until she said that. To this day I can’t decide if it was self-confidence or a strange defensiveness that led her to say that comment in the camp pool that day. It’s not even funny, which means, well, nothing, does it? Empty words. So, was she comfortable?  You know, Amy, I’m almost thirty, and I go through bouts of comfort and distress, too. A dress didn’t fit me this summer. My underwear doesn’t cover my butt. My breasts are stretching out more — they’re hairier than ever – why, why? My thighs. Good lord — somehow, they’re always making me look squat and even though they’re on my mind anytime I do any kind of exercise, they won’t get toned. My legs are never going to turn into the svelte muscular spindles of Olympic athletes. I can accept this intellectually, but something in me won’t ever let the idea go.

One of my new year’s resolutions was to care more about my outward appearances. I stole it from my friend, who vowed the previous year to work on “keeping up appearances.” For a few years, I was a grad student who wore a steady wardrobe of jeans and graphic tees, sensible snow boots and a ponytail. I think I got my hair cut once a year if I remembered. I owned two and a half cardigans. One of younger cohort-mates even said to me, “Why did you start dressing like a mom when you started teaching?” (which is funny to think about in the context of this particular blog, huh? Amy, when someone says you look like/dress like a mom now, what do you make of it?). I think my frazzled look started to actually frazzle me. So last year, I started with paying real money for a real haircut (a “style”) and more real money to put “product” in this “style.” It involved “bangs” and the upkeep (frequent trims) of said “bangs.” I’ve tried to wear just a little make-up most days and, because I’ve learned that my figure looks infinitely less dumpy (remember my squat thigh fixation) in skirts and dresses, I’ve basically followed our boss’s footsteps and disposed of all my pants. I guess I’ve only actually figured out my body shape in the last few years, because I just started paying attention. Why? Well, probably because keeping up appearances on the outside is something we can control, right? Tangible change. Things can be spiraling and syrupy inside, but it’s easy enough to put the energy into applying hair gel and looking put together on the outside. And maybe, I think I hoped, if I could get it together on the outside, the inside would have to follow suit.

Keeping up appearances! I think this is something my mom has wanted me to do for a long, long time. And maybe that’s what all moms want when they tell their daughters to put on some make-up and take care of their hair – they want to know that daughters have got it together, inside and out, and that they care enough to know themselves. Maybe that’s hard to imagine for you and Violet right now, or maybe it’s something you think about all the time? Gurl, let me know what you think about that.

Love,
Catherine

Dear Catherine,

My mom literally puts on lipstick to get the mail. She puts on lipstick to go downstairs. She puts on lipstick to look out of the window. She puts on lipstick to get something out of the trunk. Of the car. In the garage. I think you get the idea. I hate lipstick. I don’t know why. Because good girls like me and you rebel against what our mothers want for us in the smallest ways possible? (But ones that are, in our mind, tied to larger issues of generation and liberation and gender roles changing…?)

I don’t think about it too much with V yet, or maybe I should say I TRY not to. Right now, I’m enjoying the fact that I’m the center of her world. I know it may not last for much longer.

Gurl, I have three things for you: 1) I think you are petite and pocket-sized and adorable. 2) Your haircut and bangs are amazing. You may recall that my husband called you “a dish” post-haircut, and he hates bangs. 3) Thank god for razors, am I right? Can you imagine being born before they existed?? I guess, at least, you’d be warm in the winter.

“At my age” (I hate starting sentences like that, and, for the record, 36), I’m battling this whole “I should stop caring what I look like” with “I need to take care of myself so I never look my age.” What’s wrong with looking your age? I don’t know, because I’ve never had to do it, but I do know the concept frightens me. Thanks, society.

Love,
Amy

Catherine is a poet and a friend of Amy Sumerton. They work at the same non-profit and they both live in apartments with two cats. This is Catherine’s first experience with “blogging.” She is not a mom, although she sometimes dresses like one.

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On Hair

Over the summer, my friend Lauren invited us to an annual crawfish boil. It was weird and wonderful and, because we have a baby, we had to leave before any crawfish was consumed (but not before meeting a fair number of them).

At the boil, Lauren did one of those “you totally should be friends with this woman” things with someone named Ellen Butler Lawson. We had a pleasant conversation with her and her husband; we became facebook friends; today, we talk about our hair.

Dear Ellen,

Over the weekend, we had dinner with friends. The subject of hair came up, which the ladies in the group sparked to instantly. My friend said something along the lines of: “Don’t get me started on my hair. I could go on FOREVER,” and I had to agree. What is it with women and their hair? (My mother, by the way, can dive into a pool without getting her hair wet, which has amazed me for my ENTIRE life.)

Two weeks ago, I got my annual haircut. It was a humbling experience. I wanted a trim and some “shape.” When the stylist asked what I usually do with my hair, I said, “I wear it in a bun-type thing.” And he asked how often, and I had to say, “Um…every…day. Every day.” And then he asked why I wanted it to be shaped if I was just going to wear it in a bun every day. It was a good question.

Mom hair is different than Not Mom hair, literally and otherwise. Little hands like to grab hair and pull it out, so a bun makes sense. I just want it out of my face. But there’s something about Mom hair that no one told me about until about my third trimester. When you are pregnant, you stop shedding hair, and your hair gets thick and lustrous. But, after you have a baby, your hair falls out. In clumps, Ellen. In clumps. Every time I wash my hair, there’s a drowned rat in the drain. Every time I brush my hair, I have to clean out the brush. I have developed a hatred of walking around our apartment barefoot because there is hair all over our carpet, no matter how often we vacuum.

I GET the Mom Haircut now. Because: 1) part of the problem with the hair everywhere is that it’s so LONG, and 2) the hair falls out, and then — guess what — it grows back. So about a half inch of the circumference of my head is maybe an inch long. It is GOOFY looking. That said, I have vowed not to ACTUALLY GET a Mom Haircut. I’m stubborn, so this will probably stand.

I admit it: I’m vain about my hair. It’s a vanity I’ve developed over time. I spent my teens and twenties dyeing the crap out of it, cutting it often (sometimes with kitchen scissors), and mistreating it. Around thirty I grew out the color, and I realized: DAMN, I have nice hair! (File under: Your Thirties: So Much Easier Than Everything Before It.) It’s soft and there are lots of reds and browns and blondes in there; I’ve never found a gray hair (although I have found some white ones). It’s not the boring “mousy” brown the teen in me loathed so much.

As begin so many sentences in mom-hood, THEN I HAD A BABY. My hair fell out. Its texture changed. I lost the desire to perform ANY amount of maintenance. And then I went and got it trimmed, and the hairstylist did THIS to it:

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Jason calls this my Author Photo shot.

Ellen, I literally took like twenty pictures of myself that day. My hair was GLORIOUS, there is no other word for it. But IT TOOK TWO MEN WITH BRUSHES AND BLOW DRIERS AN ENTIRE HOUR TO DO THAT TO MY HAIR. Which is like, my hair’s cruel joke on me. Do you know what it’s like to know that you have THAT on your head, and yet, every day, you walk around with THIS:

Photo on 2012-10-31 at 10.41

It’s got…wings?

It’s like, having a closet full of beautiful dresses you never wear. (OMG this is happening too.) It’s like, um, having a Ferrari covered in mud and and and you can’t clean it off, or you could, but it would take all day for some reason (maybe you only have a bucket and a toothbrush?) and so you never drive it. It’s like a bunch of other clever and witty metaphors that I can’t think of right now because ALSO I’M TIRED THE BABY IS TEETHING.*

Ellen, how’s your hair?

Love,
Amy

* The baby has been “teething” for, like, six months.

Dear Amy,

It seems cruel and unfair that the universe would say, “Hey, you, take care of this tiny creature—give your whole self to her, ensure her development and happiness. Great, thanks, good work! Oh, and also, you’re going to have to lose your hair.”

Not cool.

I, like you, also went through a recent hair renaissance: I stopped dyeing it (a painful process that is a testament to strong will), and, after mostly having it short since I was about six years old, I’ve started to grow it out. Now, this is an endeavor I’ve tried before, which usually ends with me running out of patience and heading straight to the salon chair, where I watch the pathetically not-long pieces fall to the ground as the stylist chops away. At times like these (and yes, there have been multiple), I simultaneously think, “This is the BEST,” and “Oh, Ellen, you did it again.”

Here’s the thing: the majority of guys don’t understand short hair on women. They just…don’t get it. Nor do they seem to like it—at all. This reality I don’t understand. “Hello! I look awesome! Have you seen how this bob accentuates my cheekbones? DUH.” And then you ask around and realize that guys aren’t really that into cheekbones. Perhaps this would explain my rather dismal dating history in college with short hair, as compared to my more successful dating history in college with long hair. I’m not claiming causation here, of course (my Psychology professors are twitching as I write this), but the correlation is definitely there. My hair, amongst other things, wreaked havoc on my college mind, the one that thinks both, “Screw men, who needs them?” and “Dear god, why don’t any of them find me attractive?!”

Then, I met my husband. He is in the .00001 percent of men who love love love that short hair. Boy howdy. One of my first “gifts” to him was showing up with about three inches of hair chopped off from what I considered long at the time (aka not even touching my shoulders) to about chin-length. But somewhere along the way, I decided it was time to grow it out. Long hair has always fascinated me. I’ve constantly marveled at female friends with long hair: How do they get it to do such fancy things? How do they…keep it all together like that? How do they wrangle that wild mane? As with other things in my life, I decided not to ask anyone for answers, but rather figured I may as well dive right in and find out for myself.

Here I am, a little over two years after setting out on my “hair journey,” we’ll call it. At last measure, it was about an inch or two past my shoulders. This is a milestone. And in lots of ways, it’s been revelatory. That bun-type thing you describe? It’s a saving grace for moms and not moms alike, I’d say. I implement the bun-type thing about 70 percent of the time, and it’s the best. With short hair, no dice. If your cowlicks are being all wacky—and trust me, I know, I have plenty of them—the whole world is going to know about it (and mock you quietly, of course). But with long hair, you can mask these atrocities with your OWN HAIR. Fix your hair problems with your hair!

I think what really helped me stay on track with this growing out process is having a goal: I plan to donate my hair once it’s long enough. If you back out on donating hair to cancer patients, you are officially a terrible person. I’m not a terrible person, Amy, and I’ll be damned if someone can go through cancer and I can’t wait for protein strands to grow on my head.

I officially volunteer myself to serve as someone you can lean on when the mom haircut starts to look like a good option. Don’t do it. Please, don’t. I’m from Iowa, perhaps one of the best states around, but also a state where about 80 percent of the women are stricken with mom hair. It seems to be associated with white capri pants and necklaces with flip flop and/or martini glass charms dangling from them. It’s almost a borderline mullet, but you’re more likely to be distracted by the streaks of highlights that can in no way be naturally occurring. Trust me: having never had long hair before, really, I can attest to its annoyances. I wish I’d never known how much it hurts to shut one teeny tiny strand of hair in a car door, or how obnoxious it is to have static-y hair clinging to your face and mouth. Whenever I scoop my dog’s poop, upon righting myself after picking it up, hair always—ALWAYS—gets in my mouth. There’s something about holding poop in a bag in one hand and having hair in your mouth that is just…unsettling. Sorry, was that TMI? I digress. Long hair = annoying. Mom hair = catastrophe. Stick with the bun-type thing. If you want to play it like you know what you’re doing (which is how I roll most of the time), call it a “top knot.” All of the blogger girls will think you’re the coolest.

Love,
Ellen

Dear Ellen,

We don’t know each other well, but I think our mutual friend Lauren is right: We should be friends. A few thoughts on your thoughts:

  1. Men also do not understand BANGS, which is a source of almost constant sadness for me.
  2. My hair has two states of being: Just Cut Off and Growing It Out. JCO has a honeymoon period of between thirty seconds and two weeks. Then I start GIO. My goal FIVE YEARS ago when I started GIO was bra-strap. It’s there now, so my new goal is…waist? I don’t know. I just know that I need to have a goal, and once it’s met, I need to have a different goal.
  3. Growing out hair dye? The WORST, although I imagine the hombre craze has made it a bit easier.
  4. Good for you for donating your hair. It’s not that I’m not a good person, it’s just that I haven’t met my goal yet. But dear lord I respect people who do it. (Props to my friend Dannielle who donates her totally gorgeous hair…REGULARLY.) That said, IF I opt to chop it, I WILL donate it, so maybe I’m not THAT awful.
  5. Hair in your mouth, I think, is ALMOST as gross as hair wrapped around your toes.

Let’s have dinner.

Love,
Amy

Ellen Butler Lawson shuns hyphens and embraces semi-colons. As the daughter of an editor mother and an English Major father, she gets excited about the opportunity to write. She is Accounts Manager at Quack!Media, a yoga teacher at Sun Moon Yoga, owner of a tiny sweet dog named Juniper, and wife of a sweet man named Kyle. The quickest way to her heart is through hot fudge sundaes from Dairy Queen.

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