Next, I assess my features. Yes, there's that angular nose, those narrow set eyes. Check, check. I hear the Romans had long noses. I'm not at all impressed with my Roman nostrils. Though rhinoplasty could shorten my nasal passages considerably, do I really want to run the risk of looking like Michael Jackson on trial? I will not walk around with a Band-aid on my nose and blame it on a deviated septum.
I stand up and check my solar plexus. Morning is the optimum time of day for stomach tautness. Since I have just involuntarily fasted for the last eight hours, it's never going to look flatter than this. Here's the problem: My spine slightly curves in near my tailbone. Just be happy with the backbone that I've got, right? I wish I could be, but the curve in my spine directly affects the curve in my abdomen, making my stomach look a little bloated at the least and vaguely kangarooish at the most. No amount of pounding the pavement or crunching my abs is going to change the skeleton Mother Nature gave me. Bummer.
Creation also endowed me with a chest that caves in. There's actually a name for this condition: pectus. Yes, its sound conjures up images of pecks and fungus. I can assure you, I have not sprouted any plant life as yet. What I do have is a concave chest. There's a funnel-like cone somewhere near my rib cage that makes my breasts look like they have been separated by the Grand Canyon. Add the fact that I've breast fed three children for a combined total of seven and a half years, and one begins to see how tribal I feel. Stick a bone through me and call me something in Swahili.
Regardless of how many times my husband reassures me that I do not resemble a tribeswoman, I still look in the mirror. Not just regular old mirrors, either. I look in the windows of shops as I pass, the side mirror on the car while in transit, the rearview mirror for stop lights, the snack machine during hallway walks, walled-in bulletin boards in institutes of higher learning, glass doors by happenstance and shiny tiles floors if it's at all possible. I don't think I'm staring so much out of vanity (you may start singing that Carly Simon song any time now). I think my obsession is closer to neurosis than conceit.
It's just not logical. I'm a smart woman. Beyond that, I'm a size two and reasonably well proportioned, so why can't I let this culturally detrimental vision of beauty go? Rather than accept the ideals I do meet, I can't stop fixating on the ones I don't. In fact, I frequently trick my husband into conversations about my appearance. I begin with something like, “You know I've been thinking about something...”
His ears perk up. He wonders, what could it be? Does she want a fourth child? Then I unveil my profound angst: “What do you think about the bob? You know, the Katie Holmes haircut? I think I could really rock that style.” At this point, he rolls his eyes, takes a deep breath and walks outside to every man's safe haven: the backyard. How many times can one man be expected to talk about the inverted bob?
As it turns out, the only person a gal can really count on in times of a real image crisis is her mother. Unfortunately, whenever I express dissatisfaction with my appearance to my mother, she keeps suggesting she'll make an appointment for me with her “hairdresser.” However she cuts it, my coif always resembles a brown football helmet. No matter how many times I emerge from the shop looking ready to take the field, my mother always says, “That's perfect!”
And frankly, I'd be disappointed if she saw anything less than perfection. When I can tear myself away from my own likeness, I marvel at the beauty of my own children. My oldest daughter's nose resembles a ski jump – very Swiss, I'm told. My middle child has the most mischievous grin I have ever seen. It inspires fear and awe simultaneously. With my youngest child's rangy build, he looks like he's ready to scramble up a mountainside. Studying them through a mother's eye, I see so well each one's spark. It doesn't matter what body part I'm looking at, but rather how that feature fits into the whole fabulous person. Their beauty takes away my capacity for speech.
In the end, my mother was right. It shouldn't matter what we look like, it only matters who's looking. Who am I trying to impress? The people I love the most love me for who I am, not for how I stack up against Sandra Bullock's airbrushed image. And I love them, not for their perfections (although, Lord, my kids are cute). I love them for their very imperfections, the quirks that separate them from those woodsy kids inside L.L. Bean catalogues. Image isn't everything – it's one thing.
So what if I have a pouch? I carried three beautiful babies in that marsupial sac. Who cares about crow’s feet? Non-botoxed emotion went into those lines. Looking at myself through my mother's eyes, watching my children sleep, I'm starting to realize that being alive isn't about chronicling my every imperfection; it's about meeting my own ideals. Maya Angelou once said, “Hair is a woman's glory and you share that glory with your family. And they get to see you braiding it and they get to see you washing it. But it's just hair. It's not good or bad.”
That's what it's all about. The good, the bad and the ugly are distinctions made every day based on cultural quicksand. Who knows? Maybe in a few years Roman noses will be “in.” The better question is, who cares? Not me. Well, not much anyway.
When she's not barefoot and baking, Emily Morrison can be found running through woodsy meadows, teaching English at Bucksport High School and watching public broadcasting with her three children. Emily is busy penning a best-selling book on her favorite parenting style: survival. Oh, and she married a Greek God.