Yesterday I overheard an interesting conversation in a department store check out line.
I was with my three littles waiting to pay for the new shorts and shoes that my oldest daughter needed for camp. The people in front of us were dropping piles of clothing and accessories onto the counter and the cashier was frantically removing security tags, taking off hangers and unknotting necklaces. As a result, the line was stalled and beginning to wrap around the store. The kids and I decided to pass the time by admiring a newborn baby and making small talk with her mama who was standing next to us.
Shortly after we finished exchanging words and smiles, two women (each pushing strollers of their own) walked by. The first in line “ooh-ed” and “aww-ed” as she maneuvered her own cutie pie on wheels through the crowd that was gathering behind the register.
AND THEN (and this is where it gets interesting…)
SHE REVERSED THE STROLLER
LOOKED OUR NEW BABY MAMA FRIEND IN THE EYE
AND SAID “THAT’S NOT YOUR BABY, IS IT?”
The scene progressed from there:
BABY MAMA: “Yes, she’s mine.”
OTHER MAMA: “Well, you didn’t have her though, right? Like – you didn’t give birth?”
BABY MAMA: “Oh, I did. It was me. I’m sure of it.”
OTHER MAMA: “But you look so good. I’m so jealous.”
BABY MAMA: (smiles with raised eyebrows and a little bit of WTF in her eyes)
OTHER MAMA: “Wow. Wow. Good for you. I’m so jealous right now. How did you do it?”
What happened next will remain a mystery because it was at exactly this time that a manager guided me and my babes to an open register. But, what happened next isn’t important.
What’s important is that we notice how women are viewed, even by other women.
What’s important is the realization that this sort of dialogue happens ALL OF THE TIME.
What’s important is changing the conversation.
Too often, we women look at others’ bodies and project our own insecurities and aspirations all over them. Sometimes, we even open our mouths and voice those feelings aloud, in public, with a captive checkout line audience. We size our sisters up and compare ourselves to what they’ve got – taking note of where we’re “ahead of the game” and where we don’t yet “measure up” to the arbitrary cultural standards and best practices that tell us how to have a body as a woman.
We look at someone who just pushed a live human being out of her body- under any number of complicated, messy and downright frightening circumstances – and instead of giving her a hug or a high-five and telling her what an amazingly brave miracle woman she is, we tell her that her weight loss is on point and give her praise for losing the belly. Rarely, if ever, do we stop to consider her story. Maybe it’s because we’re so consumed with our own.
As I drove away from the mall yesterday I wondered about BABY MAMA.
I wondered if maybe she had her daughter prematurely and went through dramatic, painful NICU experiences before bringing her infant home from the hospital and out into a world full of women jealous of how her body “bounced back,” little knowing that she was 3 months post partum and only recently allowed to hold her baby girl without the tubes and masks. I wondered if maybe she had ever suffered from body image issues or disordered eating and if comments like the ones she received were triggering. I wondered if she didn’t particularly like being analyzed on the basis of her body and felt uncomfortable with the attention. I thought about her economic status, whether or not she had enough food to eat, if she had experienced a recent tragedy, or if she simply wanted to buy her 75%-off picture frame in peace before her daughter woke up and milk started leaking through her t-shirt.
I wondered about her story. And I hoped that it was a beautiful one.
I thought about OTHER MAMA too.
I thought about all of us.
And I thought about the fact that weight loss talk isn’t always (or even usually) a compliment. Body size is so much more complicated than the assumed equations of:
SMALLER = BETTER
LESS = BEST
Because not all lost pounds are praiseworthy. And not all thinner bodies are healthier ones. You can’t read a book by it’s cover and you can’t assume a woman’s story (nor her worth) by her weight.