For most of my life I have been filled with insecurity around body image, ugh! There is a saying that “beauty is wasted on the young.” This is so true. Over the years, I’ve looked back at old photos of myself from a time when I thought I was too fat, short, crooked-toothed, thick-waisted. Holy crap—I was gorgeous! Even now, when I look back at photos from four years ago, when I was a size 6 and at least three bra sizes smaller, I think, “Damn! What was I complaining about?”
My beautiful thirtyish daughter is going through something similar right now. She had a baby 17 months ago. Disappointed that she doesn’t look the way she did before her pregnancy, she has recently been bemoaning her perceived “mom body.” Maybe the fear of being outdated and out of shape is a universal phenomenon among new mothers, or possibly it’s hereditary, because it sure plagued the hell out of me.
I was 26 when I gave birth to that daughter. She weighed in at 10 pounds 14.5 ounces, and when I stacked her up next to her Cabbage Patch doll, they matched like a couple of book ends. Not knowing I had developed gestational diabetes, I gained 50 pounds during my pregnancy. The weight hijacked my face, leaving me looking like a squirrel with nuts packed away in its cheeks. Not only that, but my ankles were as thick as piano legs. Yes, I developed kankles.
I felt miserable and invisible, and I needed a quick fix. My hairstylist was a former roommate and a good friend, and he assured me that all I needed was a fresh, new, un-mommy hairstyle. I have always been a slave to fashion, and—I’m reluctant to say—also a bit vain. I was feeling immensely fat and frumpy, so the thought of looking cute again was exciting. All I needed was a new ’do. I was clearly under the delusion that a simple new hairstyle would fix me.
My First Nations heritage meant that I was born with dark, straight-as-a-string hair that lacks even a hint of a bend or cowlick. It was the mid-’80s, when spiked hair was in vogue. My friend had been my hairstylist for years, and I trusted that he knew what he was doing. Excited to be fashionable again, I let him go to town, but to my utter horror, he cut off my entire perm and gave me a short punk style that accentuated my squirrel cheeks. Pat Benatar meets Mama Cass.
I had an appointment for my new baby’s first checkup the following morning. I jumped out of the shower and attempted to spike my bangs with gel, like my friend had done at the salon.
I was mortified by the result.
There in the mirror was my high forehead jutting skyward beneath a wall of hair that shot straight up, like a rocky cliff on a sandy beach. I panicked. I was going to be late if I tried to fix it. My only other option was to wet it down and go to the doctor with my hair plastered to my head like a drowned rat. I opted for the sheer cliff look.
I entered Kaiser Hospital and went straight to the appointment without making any eye contact. I went up the elevator and down the long hall to the doctor’s office, cursing my former friend under my breath and hoping I didn’t see anyone I knew. I felt the stares on the back of my neck like a cool breeze.
My embarrassment reminded me of a similar humiliating experience from a few weeks before. I had been getting situated in the hospital room I was to share with three other new mommies. My husband was sitting just outside the door when one of the mothers rushed into the room gushing like she had just spotted Jon Bon Jovi. She looked at her friends and said, “Who’s that hot guy sitting in the hall?”
“That’s my husband,” I said.
All incredulous eyes turned to me. They didn’t believe that I, the bloated one, could have such a good-looking husband.
The witch said, “That’s your husband?”
They had completely ignored me when I’d entered the hospital room about 10 minutes earlier. It was obvious that they had already formed a new mommy click and I was an unwelcome addition. They didn’t want anything to do with me—that is, until they spied my husband. I felt like Cinderella, being shunned by the homely stepsisters who assumed I would never have a chance at the handsome prince. I wanted to say, “If you had only seen me nine months ago, bitches!” But really, I was just humiliated. I kept my head down and said nothing.
I drove home from my baby’s check-up, bangs still sky-high, in what was probably the ugliest car on the planet at the time, an AMC Spirit. (Its only competition might have been the AMC Pacer.) Not only did it look like a space ship, but it was also beige, the color of an anemic mannequin—the most uncool color known to automobiles. I was sitting at a traffic light, probably thinking about how stupid my hair looked, when I heard and felt a ping as an empty pop can bounced off my car and rolled across my hood.
At first I paid no attention. Then I heard yelling. “Hey you! Ugly!” There was another ambush of pop cans and laughter. I looked over my shoulder. Behind the vehicle next to me was a car full of teenage boys hanging out the windows and yelling, “Yeah, you! Ugly!”
They were yelling at me! I was incensed. How dare they, the little bastards. I’d been a babe just a few months earlier. If they’d seen me then, they would have been gawking instead of mocking my space mobile and Joan Jett impersonation.
I raced home and called the police because a serious crime had been committed. A very understanding highway patrol officer came to the house, where I explained that I had been assaulted and insulted. I can imagine how hard it must have been for him to keep a straight face while looking at me in all my gel and indignation.
“They called me ugly!”
He kindly agreed that it was wrong for the teenagers to throw cans at my car, but it didn’t go much further than that. After I gave him the plate number, what else could he do but assure me that he would call the little pricks’ parents? But I think that he really did pity me. After all, I had a new baby and I was ugly.