My Grandmother departed her body this past weekend, at the tender age of 91. She was a woman of grace. A nurturer in every sense. She was beautiful on the inside and out. Her body’s imperfections had long been a source of comfort and beauty to me. Not because they looked like anything in mass media. Not because she manufactured herself to present in any given way. Nor did she do much (other than dye her hair) to attempt to make herself look younger. I live in Berkeley, so I feel I need to qualify this by stating she wasn’t a hippie!
She was an immigrant of lower socio-economic class. Widowed thrice, she was a single mom for the bulk of her years as a mother. She lived in three continents and four countries and spoke more languages than I actually know. Babi, as my family affectionately called her, was a sweatshop worker from the lower east side of Manhattan, via Brazil, via Poland, via Russia.
She was more than a survivor. She was a thriver.
Growing up, I saw Babi’s sunspots gather, like party hosts who couldn’t stop narrowing down their guest list. They reveled in, “the more the merrier”. She was always vaseline soft. Her lips, her belly, her arms. There was nothing hard about her. Don’t get the wrong idea. This doesn’t mean she wasn’t strong or muscular. She walked miles daily. From the time I became cognizant of her strolls throughout Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, I knew she most certainly had physical strength and stamina. Her body was warm. Even though I wasn’t directly born from her, when we would snuggle on her bed to watch TV, it felt as though I was suddenly teleported to the luscious cavity of her womb. Resting my head on her lap in that crazy, hot (the way she liked it) apartment was a trip into her—womb.
She had belly flab that I would rest within. She wasn’t obese, quite the contrary. She was petite to average. However, she did have the flab that many of us do once we age and/or carry children biologically.
Did I ever judge her flab, the exterior to her womb?
Nope. The only thoughts I remember are something like, “Oh, I hope she is done cleaning soon, so she will come to sit on the bed and I can rest my head on her lap and snuggle soon…” And that, is less of a judgment and more of a wish. My experience of her body wasn’t about any stagnant part of it. Rather, her body was a tool for her to communicate with me and others around issues that really matter— like how she could share love through touch or pure loving presence which emanated from that soft, warm, luscious skin.
How will my children remember me? How will they remember my body?
When my husband and I experience intimate moments, do my curves signify something? Do they hold special powers if I am more of less flabby? When I consider my own body’s “imperfections”, I can go down a road of getting stuck on some ideal number we call a “weight” or I can dwell on desires for a flatter stomach or thinner bodyscape. But, will a weight change or shape change in my body somehow transmit my energetic loving presence differently? Or will toning my flab suddenly provide self acceptance and then model loving one’s self for my children? For every spot I remove, will I become less riddled with my inner critic?
My body is very similarly shaped to my mother’s body. My belly has this flab on the very bottom that my mother and both grandmother’s had. Today, in the self-help world, we have many different professionals working on the concept of “love your body”. As I age, I realize when I ask myself, “do I love my body?”, I am also asking, “Do I love my mother’s body? My grandmother’s body? My sister’s body?”
My mother’s and grandmother’s bodies are ingrained in me, for better or worse. I know what their movements were like. I can see and enact the way they moved in the world through an intrinsic sense. They are a legacy I am a part of. I may not like my flab, but why spend time breaking apart my body into sections of specific attention, as if they don’t all work as a whole to house my inner spirit? No single flab or spot is relevant without the entirety of me. Especially in the context of me as a being who is part of a family. A mother with children. My entire being (including my body) cherishes my children. When I focus solely on my belly flab, I lose the entirety of being with all of my body’s connections and uniqueness. Really, I make my being lose it’s identity. All of a sudden the “Flab” becomes just that, instead of it being a part of me. This kind of compartmentalizing changes my body to being something that is a piece of meat, disconnected from soul and spirit. That is not me— yet. I have not departed my body and life yet. I am alive and thriving. Why treat myself any other way?
I hold myself with esteem because I am the daughter and granddaughter of nurturing beings. I am a mother who values nurturance. Primarily, I work on nurturing myself. In this way, I create imprints for my children. I then nurture them from a reservoir of nurturance, as opposed to a drought. My self-nurturance, my self-love, will be my children’s guide when I am no longer here. My children will learn to slow down and take moments to breath through my own example. Being with my breath as a means to hug my insides. With my breath I acknowledge my present experience without trying to make it something it’s not. Relating with my heart beat as a means of bringing me to the rhythm of my life. I do this at a pace that makes sense for me in this moment. This doesn’t mean that I am always happy or confident. It means that I trust and honor my own process and way of being, just as I did when I knew that laying my head on Babi’s lap in that old apartment on 7th street was a safe and loving way to be with one of the women I have loved most in this world.
I’ve got flab…it’s a part of my body at this stage in my life. There is nothing wrong with it. It is meaningless when I compartmentalize it, creating an idea that it is a separate entity from the entirety of me. My flab is connected to my stretch marks. They meet my belly button, that source that used to be connected to my Mom. My body houses and connects me to my inner organs and my spirit…I am sultry. I am sensual. I am warm and thriving and filled with loving presence that has been handed down to me from my matriarchal lineage. My body is golden. My body is my heart beating, it is the flab, the stretch marks, the air that becomes breath. This body is my soul’s gateway to love my children, my partner, my family, my friends, my clients. It is my connection with all others in our world.
Now, the question is, how do I want to spend my time?
Let’s be real. I have limited time between home, work, family, etc.. Do I want to spend my choice time questioning/criticizing my body, or, being with my body? My critical voice may continue to exist…but it is not all of me. I have, as demonstrated by this essay, other voices. The ones that tell me:
“You are whole.”
“You are loving.”
“You are wise and rich with beauty.”
This kind of meaningful wholeness is what our world needs now. When the critical voices present, I will love and cherish them, as they are hurt parts of me. I will bring them back to resting on Babi’s belly and show them what real love and the presence of being is.
Rest in peace Babi. You left a hell of a legacy! I will continue to love and honor you through my commitment to my body and my inner world.