By Nicole King
On November 10 of last year, I gave birth to our second son. And on December 6, well before I’d lost all the pregnancy weight or begun sleeping normally, we had a new family picture taken.
Still wearing maternity clothes and with dark circles under my eyes, I wasn’t feeling very pretty that day. I’d even taken the time to put on make up and blow dry my hair. But still, no pretty feelings. Afterwards, my husband asked me, seemingly out of the blue, why I’d worn the lipstick I had.
“Why?” I snorted indignantly. “Don’t you like it?”
I sniffed. He had. Most gently, and kindly, I might add, and probably at my prompting. And I had remembered that before the pictures. But really. The gall of the man. I actually put some effort into trying to look nice, and he comments on my lipstick color.
“Do you want me to keep my hair tied in a top-knot, too?”
“I just . . . . Why do you want to look drastically different in a picture than you look all the time?” he asked innocently. “You look good.”
It took a few weeks, but finally, the beauty of what he had said started to sink in. My husband, bless him, actually thinks I look good most of the time. To clarify “looking good,” by the way, on most days, I’m wearing an oversized sweater (remember that post-baby weight?), my hair is tied up, and I have no or little makeup on.
This is not meant to be self-pitying. So many describe motherhood of young children as something horrific, in which a woman can barely manage a weekly shower and is usually covered in some combination of spit-up, baby poop, and mac and cheese. Those things do happen, and I have sported that combination on more than one occasion. The reality, however, is that a woman can usually find time to work on her appearance, though it might mean leaving the baby to cry and the toddler to terrorize the dog for a moment.
But as women, we tend to have an image in our heads of what we “should” look like, and we are cranky because we can no longer achieve that ideal. Once the baby weight comes off, or once the children are a little older and we have more time to ourselves, or once we have an extra dollar to spend on beauty products or some new clothes—then we will look OK again. Until then, we trudge through, in stretchy pants and baggy shirts, feeling rather unpretty and sorry for ourselves, and considering this new point in our lives as something non-normal.
Somebody or other—I think it was C.S. Lewis, but for the life of me can’t find the quote—once wrote to the effect that only a silly woman discovers she is pretty by looking in a mirror. Women really come to appreciate their own physical attractiveness through the eyes of others, particularly their husbands. It’s a horribly non-liberal notion that would make my former colleagues in the English department wince. (The dreaded Male Gaze!) But it’s also a blessedly liberating notion. My husband finds me pretty—as I am, without further altering or weight loss or pinching or prodding.
The “pretty” that he finds now, however, is a very different “pretty” than he found when we were dating, or first married, and a very different “pretty” than anyone would have found when I was in my teens. My looks now center on what is practical, and thus have changed much in the past few years. I have two small children. This is not the time in my life when I can luxuriate in leisurely showers and an hour-long makeup and clothing session with my morning coffee.
Quite frankly, I don’t mind, partly because the joy of having those babies quite trumps the feeling I used to have of feeling “put-together,” and partly because feeling “put together” now involves getting two children out the door fully dressed with a well-stocked diaper bag, or finishing dinner without anyone melting down, or getting my house cleaned, or accomplishing some outside-the-home work or writing. Things are different, but still good.
But my husband’s comment that day made me reflect, and realize that beauty, like most other things in life, has its own seasons. My physical appearance now is OK, even though it is strikingly different from my physical appearance five years ago, and even though it involves three different sizes of pants that I now store in my dresser to accommodate my constantly changing body size.
I have since thanked the Lord for the lesson my husband taught me that day, and the peace I have felt since then about my own appearance. It’s a small thing, but it helps on days when I pull out yet another oversized sweater, only to realize it has spit-up stains on it.
And I’ve thrown away that lipstick.
Nicole King is a writer and the Managing Editor of The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy, the quarterly publication of The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society. She is also the wife of Michael and the mother of two little boys and a needy German Shepherd rescue. When she isn’t writing or tending to children, she enjoys running, cooking, drinking coffee, feeling guilty about how said coffee is affecting the nursing baby, and pinning projects which she will probably never get around to.