Wrinkles. Sunspots. White hair. A stout waist. Flabby arms. Hers was a body I loved.
The sunspots once had been freckles, gained through countless summers on the beach; the wrinkles signs of laughter, of worry, of a husband who left her a widow at age twenty-eight. The stout waist testified to her children, the miscarriages and the three who lived. Her body told stories, and I wanted that. I wanted to grow up and be proud of my laugh lines and shrug my shoulders at the loose skin around my neck and hold onto the extra layer of fat around my middle and call it love handles—with a smile.
Now I am thirty-two. Hardly old, but I have borne two children. My body has expanded and shrunk, and, like a rubber band, used a few times too many; my skin hangs a little. There are extra pounds that have refused to budge, that no number of crunches or yoga routines or three-mile runs have managed to whittle away. I have two lines like train tracks etched upon my forehead. And my arms. My grandmother indulged us as kids when we asked her to extend her arms, as if she were pretending to fly. She laughed when we got what we wanted: the chance to jiggle the extra skin and fat under her triceps. I can see it now. One day I will have those arms.
I thought I would see growing older as a badge of honor, and I thought I would stop caring about the gaze of the world. I never wanted the options of age-defying cream and hair coloring and intense aerobic exercise well into my golden years. I thought that once I had given birth, I wouldn’t mind when a bikini no longer looked good. I thought I would be able to see it as a worthwhile tradeoff: “I don’t have a flat stomach but I do have two children.”
I realize now my grandmother never embraced aging. At age eighty-two, she has her hair and nails done once a week. She visits the dermatologist regularly to make sure those sun spots don’t turn into cancer. And she can still tell me, with a sigh, how much she weighed on her wedding day. She never wanted to grow old, and she never wanted her body to bear the marks of time. And yet, even now, I think she looks beautiful.
A few days ago, my three-year-old daughter was watching me get dressed. I stood in front of the mirror, silently naming my imperfections. She paused from reading Curious George, looked up at me, and said, “Booful, Mama.” And flabby waist, wrinkles and all, I believed her. Perhaps it is being well loved that makes us beautiful, not smooth skin or blond hair or taut triceps. And perhaps, thirty years from now, I will be able to smile when they ask me, “Grandma, can we jiggle your arms?”