Lately I’ve been thinking about faces that only a mother could love. Or, more precisely, about the origins of that cruel and silly saying, and about how much YOUR mother most likely loves YOUR face*, no matter what your face happens to look like.
Your wrinkles? She is SO PROUD of the decades of life and love that you put in to creating those wrinkles. Pimples? Your mother thinks they are perfect. She can’t believe her little baby is so grown up! Oh, your snaggletooth, it just breaks her heart! It is JUST like the snaggletooth that used to peep out from below your grandfather’s wiry moustache, and it is a powerful reminder to her of family and blood and the inescapable links created by DNA.
I am incapable of seeing my children through a fashion editor’s eyes. Of imposing on them those bizarre, objective, unrealistic attributes that are supposed to combine to create “beautiful,” like long legs, wide eyes and full lips. I look at my baby's chubby little thighs and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything more delicious. Ralph wears a dopey, droopy-eyed expression when he’s tired that makes me want to envelop him in kisses. Scout has short little legs that will probably stop her from ever being long and lean, and I smile with pride every time I see them, because they are just like mine.
My legs, that I have hated for as long as I can remember being aware of legs.
I spent decades wishing my legs were longer and thinner and smoother and more tanned. Yet now I look at my daughter, who appears to have inherited EXACTLY my legs (DNA, baby!) and, on her, I think they are beautiful. Perfect.
This realisation is changing the way I look at everybody. First of all myself. How can I hate my legs, when I see them on my daughter? She certainly doesn’t hate her legs. (She doesn’t hate mine either!) As far as I can tell she doesn’t think about legs at all, in any capacity other than how good they are at running around, and twirling, and splashing in the bath. If someone was to offer to take Scout’s legs off her and replace them with a longer, leaner pair, I would want to scream at them, and thump them, and have them arrested. How could they infer that ANYTHING about her was less than exactly right, or dare to make her feel that way about herself? But if those legs are perfect on Scout, how can I hate them on myself? When Scout is my age, I will still think her legs are perfect, and want to tear apart anyone who would try to tell her she needed to change herself. Maybe, possibly, probably even, my mother feels the same way about MY legs, right now. Ain’t THAT something to think about!
It is also changing the way I think about other people. Not that I’ve ever been one to walk around judging people on their appearances. I have many faults but, thankfully, that isn’t one of them. But now, when I’m absently people-watching, I’ll play a game in my mind where I'll focus on a feature of someone, like their nose. And I'll imagine what that nose must mean to that person’s mother. How their mother must know that person's nose SO WELL in the interior of her mind, how deeply every contour of it is etched in her heart, and how she would change nothing about it. Not one cell.
And so nowadays I look at all the people around me in all their different shapes and sizes and colours and regular and irregular features and all the rest of them, and I think just how much their mothers must ADORE all of those faces and bodies. It’s actually a really fun and special thing to do. Instantly, the guy at the counter when you’re paying for petrol, the middle-aged woman crossing the road ahead of you, the bored-looking secretary at the doctor’s surgery… all of them, seen through the eyes of their mothers and now me, are perfect.
* I’m aware of course that not all families are the same and not all mothers and children have the same relationships that I enjoy with my own mother and with my own children. Not everyone has known the love of their mother and that is tragic and heartbreaking and, if that is you, I am so, so, sorry. Everyone deserves to be loved, unconditionally, from the very beginning. I hope you know deep love, now. Either way, I want you to know that if I ever look on your face, I will be looking at you and imagining mother-love and I will truly believe that you, too, are perfect.
Photo is by Milada Vigerova, licensed under Creative Commons