By Kate Suddes
Mama, why are your boobs like that?
Can I count the pimples on your face?
Why do you have lines on your tummy?
Will my body look like yours when I’m older?
These are all good questions. And someday, my baby girls, you may wonder why I chose to be photographed in a bra and underwear for (some of) the world to see. Someday I’ll be gone and you may wish we had some of our conversations in writing. About many things. One of which may be bodies.
My body is never the same size. It’s never made up of the same things. It changes in an afternoon, in a night’s sleep, after a snack. Bodies can look any number of ways. You will be told that your body is your primary currency. A tool to negotiate, persuade. An advertisement (totally and completely, at that) for who you are. For what constitutes your soul, your mind, your heart. You will be made to think that your body can prevent you from doing things, from loving people, accepting love from people. You will be asked to stay small – even if you are literally small or big – especially big. But what your body says about you to others (are you listening?) is 100% totally and completely about them, their bodies and what they have been taught about bodies. It is not about you. It is NOT about you. It is not about YOU. (Kate, are you listening too?) When you pass up a third cookie, you are not good. When you have a fourth piece of pizza, you are not bad. You are good and bad for a million other tiny reasons. None of them have to do with food or your body.
All big bodies are not unhealthy and all small bodies are not healthy. And healthy is a moving target anyway. A cigarette and a blue raspberry slurpee will not kill you. But being reprimanded over and over again that any one thing like that will? Being shamed and guilted into a body that’s “acceptable”? That’s dying a slow death of a different kind. That breeds a voice of shame and guilt that rings in your ears constantly. That’s a monster not so easily outrun. And it will rule every part of your life. So I want to level the playing field of poisons for you. Cigarettes, slurpees, tequila, marijuana, gluten, sugar, shaming judgments, biting comments. Any cocktail of these things can enact destruction. You must choose wisely.
You will be surrounded by voices. They will make food a moral object and in turn, a moral judgment about you. Food is not naughty, forbidden, sexy, powerful, dirty or clean. You will be told that it is. That certain foods will make you a better person. Certain foods should make you feel shame, self-righteousness, sadness or guilt, right or wrong. But you can’t use food to cheat or win or lose. Someday you may bake a friend a cake and she will jokingly say “omg I hate you.” But what she’s saying in some abstract way is that she hates herself. Because she loves cake and wants to eat it. And to eat the cake is to be weak or indulgent or a pig. The cake is a bomb, meaning to hurt or maim. That gifting it to her is an act of war. And her “joking” response is about her judgment about that cake, her body. But a cake is a cake. And it’s a lovely thing to give someone.
I love food and I have pretended not to. You may be tempted to pretend you’re not hungry when you are. You may be tempted to choose a “healthier” food over another because people are watching. You may not swim, run, dance or play a game of h-o-r-s-e because of who is looking at you. I’ve done things like this a million times. And they are all times I wish I could do over. Because it would have been fun. Because nobody is really watching. And if they are, and they’re judging you for it? It is about them. It is not about you.
I would never talk to your body the way I talk to mine. I would never look at your soft tummies and your marshmallow thighs and tell them they were wrong for showing up. For being here, for taking up space. So in talking to you two, I’m also trying to talk to myself. About worth, agency, beauty. About a body that is mine but also not something I can take credit or blame for. You are not your body. And you are your body. You can be gentle with it, loving toward it, proud of it. And it’s ok to be hard on it. But only sometimes and in little spurts. And then you dust it off and you get on with your day. And during those times, try your hardest to hear my voice. I love you and I love your body. It’s so perfect and complete in all its imperfections and details. I love looking at bodies. Every kind. The differences – the perceived imperfections – are my favorite parts. The scar that ran down my grandmother’s thigh. The small patch of hair missing from my mother’s scalp. These are the parts that hold the stories, the details, the you.
So much of my relationship to my body is not about learning new things, but unlearning old ones. The thoughts that are rusted in your brain and veins. The real stubborn fuckers that run in families like blue eyes or handedness. The ones passed down from generations of generations. I am trying my best to minimize what you will have to unlearn. I am trying my hardest to tell you that you are not your body. And you are your body. In that your body is yours. It’s your vessel and your home and the only place you have to land while you’re here. But it’s not your spirit, your intelligence, your sparkle. It is not everything. It is one thing. There are a million things you will have to unlearn. Someday I will make you a list.
People will want you to be hard on your body. It’s a way to commiserate. They will expect you to name flaws you want to fix. Try not to play this game. It’s hard. And it’s constant. But try. Because you can do it for yourself. And maybe someone is watching. And they will learn to do it for themselves. I learned from other radical women. Like my friend Hilary says, those women are on the transition team; the warriors paving a new road.
You have to look very closely for the real, safe people who get it. There are many who say they do. But they’ll say one thing and live another. They’ll throw around phrases like “cheat day” or “cleanse” or “paleo”. This is about them. This is not about you. Ok? Please still order what you were planning to order from the menu. And for the record, I don’t care if you want to go paleo or vegan or gluten-free. I don’t care if you do a cleanse or juice your vegetables someday. But don’t talk about it like it is your identity. And don’t think about it like it makes you better or worse than someone else. Or better or worse than yourself from six months ago. Because it is none of those things. Food is an inanimate object that you choose to put in your body. Like air or ibuprofen.
I chose to be photographed with you and tell the story of how we are connected. My body is better for bringing you into the world. I love that our bodies were captured in this brief moment in time. I did this because I want to give permission – to you, to me, to women with bodies. I want to be on the transition team. I want to tell our story because I believe stories save people from their lives. I want to learn to look at this photograph and not see flaws first. I want to see a body that’s been lived in, survived, mourned and mothered.
This shit is a drag. It’s a rat race. And you can stay in it until your last breath. Or you can wake up 35 years old, circle April 13th on your calendar and show up in a bra and underwear. I arrive with the body I have today and the one that represents where I’ve been before: prepubescent, pregnant, postpartum, damaged and whole.
Learn more about the 4th Trimester Bodies Project and read Kate’s story here.
Kate Suddes is a writer and a mother. Her work has been featured on Cup of Jo and Brief Encounters. She has a BFA in Studio Art and an MA in Counseling Psychology. She is an avid reader and podcast listener living in Portland, Oregon. Kate thinks she would make a pretty good First Lady.
There is great wisdom here, and many points resonated deeply with me, but I have to disagree with the author on the following point:
Food is an inanimate object that you choose to put in your body. Like air or ibuprofen.
Food is not inanimate. It is most certainly alive. And it is a complicated metaphor. It caries the stories of the place it came from, the people who produced it, whether or not it was produced in reverence or in spite of the earth and so on. We live in a sea of millions of choices about what to put in our mouths and how, and I agree that a slurpee doesn’t make you bad inside or out. But at some point, in some way (maybe not all at once) we have to take responsibility for the other stories we are consuming. They’re the stories that come pre-packaged in our food, stories that connect the shaming of our bodies with the shaming of our other, greater mother. We need reverence for our earth as much as we need it for ourselves–they are one in the same. Omitting this aspect of nourishment, if we know it, is a great disservice to our daughters and our sons.
I say all this as a mother (of a 15-month old) who has known first-hand the complicated realities and the great satisfaction of producing good food, but currently relies on lots of store-bought frozen vegetables for her, and more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for me than I’d like to admit to survive the baby and toddler years. I know this does not make me a bad mom or a bad person. I’m giving myself lots of grace to get through the constant time crunch that is being a mother to a small child. But I do know that as time allows I must teach my daughter how to see the landscape on her plate–and in her body–and to be respectful of both. But perhaps that is another blog post entirely.
Thank you for being courageous and sharing your perspective and your photograph. You are beautiful indeed–inside and out.