I can’t remember where I read it, but a blogging mother recently dared to post a picture of herself that her son took. It wasn’t a flattering shot. She was lying in the sun in her bathing costume, one arm thrown over her face at an awkward angle, and a very white bare leg in all its post-pregnancy cellulite splendour stretched out front and centre.

Why did her son take that shot, right at that precise angle, in that unguarded moment? Was it to prank his mum? Embarrass her? Build some counter-ammo for that proverbial threat about silly stories making it to the 21st birthday speech?

No. He had taken it because he thought she looked beautiful. Out there, resting and relaxed in the sun.

I don’t know if Arddun had thought I looked beautiful when she took this one, but this is my unguarded-moment photo that I’m rather embarrassed about:

Velle changing Atticus's nappy in bedroom

EEEEEAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH! Avert your eyes!!! Do you see it? DO YOU SEE IT? My muffin top! My post-pregnancy, too-much-chocolate-too-many-late-nights-too-tired-to-exercise muffin top. The secret body of a woman who doesn’t live in Hollywood (or Asia) and who grew and birthed a 9-pound bubba 7 months ago. My body hasn’t bounced back, and my preschooler outted my disgrace with her new camera.

Except all she saw was her mummy doing a diaper change. All she captured was my joy with the mundane. That look on my face was one of surprise and pleasure — I was thrilled that she was starting to get the hang of her camera, and touched that she wanted to take photos of me. In fact, she took lots of photos of me because she adores me. Just as I take lots of my children because I can’t take my eyes off them.

She sees my body, cellulite and all, every day. They both do. But they don’t see the stretch marks, the bags under the eyes, the freckles. They don’t look at my body and think that I’m fat. They don’t wish I have a sharper nose or a butt that looks great in jeans. They don’t think I’m ugly. I’m Mummy. I have pretty hair. I give good cuddles and tickly kisses. I sing silly songs. I am like no other.

In a sermon two Sundays ago, Paul had suggested that we do massive clean-ups of our house before guests come over, all because of pride. And I had disagreed out loud – mostly because I do massive clean-ups because I’m trying to spare our guests having to wade through our filth (imagined or real). But there is an element of pride – of course there is. We want to be seen as put-together. Civilised. In control of our environment.

And it’s the same with our bodies – we don’t want to seem slothful. Slovenly. Ill-disciplined.

Being Chinese puts me in a slightly more *unique* position than my non-Chinese friends in Australia because my body is always held to a higher standard in some ways. For whenever I meet an Asian woman – even a complete stranger – there’s more than half a chance that she will comment on my body. I’ve been told I looked fat and that I should get a corset a mere fortnight after giving birth, while my body was still swollen from shock and water retention. I’ve been warned that I shouldn’t let myself go (the inference being that I already have). For my birthday this year, I had bought myself a full-length navy blue dress peppered with sweet yellow-white flowers, with an empire waistline. I absolutely love it because it’s pretty and comfortable… but every other time I’ve worn it, some Chinese woman somewhere was bound to pat my tummy (for real) and ask if I was pregnant and if not, that I therefore needed to lose weight. Never mind that I was jiggling an infant in a pram while they were doing and saying so.

It’s almost enough to develop an eating disorder.

I’m almost used to it now. It’s definitely cultural, this kneejerk reaction to tell another woman why she isn’t trying hard enough. And it’s not just looks – it goes into childrearing, housekeeping, you name it. But the looks are where it starts, because it’s the first and most obvious thing when you meet another person. I don’t know why my culture perpetuates this cycle of women crushing other women with the weight of vanity and expectation, even with those we love. I know it’s very seldom done maliciously. I know it’s done unconsciously.

(Or perhaps it happens in all cultures, except Asians lack subtlety. Certainly true, if the nastiness of parenting forums are anything to go by.)

I don’t know. I suspect the Looks thing has a lot to do with vanity and that notion of Saving Face that is endemic to our culture. And my shame in showing others my flabby bits is part and parcel of all that. But I reckon if I see myself through the same lens that my children use, I’d be a lot happier with myself and my body. And in turn, I’d be teaching my son and daughter valuable lessons about looking right past the outsides so they can recognise true love and real beauty.

Here’s to breaking free.

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