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Excerpt from The Aunties

"So I was in the Mexican state of Oaxaca when I got my most recent brown-bag spiritual victory: I broke thought Butt Mind in the town of Huatulco. Or at any rate, I had only a mild case of Butt Mind since. In earlier incarnations I've spent entire days and entire weeks comparing my butt to everyone else's butt. Sometimes my butt was better than, although it is definitely the butt of a monther who keeps forgetting to work out. Mostly it was worse-than. On tropical beaches it has almost always been much-worse than. I did not expect things to be any different this time, because gravity was having its say."

"But I had recently read a magazine article on Junkie Chic, society's current exhortation of drowsy, skaggy emaciation. And for some reason the article was mostly making me feel militantly on my own middle-aged-mother-butt side.

I was also thinking of a priest I have mentioned before, who said that sometimes he thinks that heaven is just a new pair of glasses. I was trying to remember to wear them. I was trying to spend less time thinking about what I see and more time thinking about why I see it that way - why I continue, off and on, to see these nice sturdy high-functioning thighs with such contempt. It's so troubling to relapse in this area, especially since somewhere along the line, I have actually come to believe that a person being herself is beautiful - that contentment and acceptance and freedom are beautiful."

"However, as I said, this was before I got to the beach.

After unpacking in Huatulco, I put on my best black swimsuit. It was very expensive when I got it, very alluring. The only fly in the ointment was that it no longer fit. Actually, I'm not positive it ever did, but at least I used to be able to get it on without bruising. There in my room overlooking the turquoise sea, palm tree groves, and a sky of bright light blue, as I strained to pull the suit up past my thighs, I consoled myself by remembering that there is beauty in being so comfortable at being a mother, and a writer; there is grace in comfortableness. And of the several things of which I'm almost positive, one is that if I live to be an old woman, I won't be sitting on my porch berating myself for having leapt into a swimsuit to swim in warm ocean water at every opportunity even though my thighs were dimply."

"I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt. I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly whenever I went. I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach, that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were so great in every real and important way. So we walking along, the three aunties and I, to meet [my son] and our friends in the sand. I imagined that I could feel the aunties beaming, as if they had been held captive in a dark closet too long, like Patty Heart. Freed finally to stroll on a sandy Mexican beach: what a beautiful story."

"And then out of nowhere, like dogs from hell, four teenage girls walking toward me to wait for a van. They weren't wearing cover-ups either, but they were lovely and firm as models - I'd say that was the main difference .... In my mind now I looked like someone under fluorescent lights and felt in comparison to these girls like Roy Cohn in his last days. I wanted a trapdoor to open at my feet. And then - this is the truth - they looked at me. They looked at me standing there in the bright sunlight wearing only an ill-fitting swimsuit".

"But then they made a fatal mistake. They look at each other with these amused looks - the kind I must have given flabby women in swimsuits thirty years ago. And it gave me exactly two thoughts. One was not even a thought exactly: I just looked directly back at the four of them and heard the phanton clock playing in the background of their lives, "Tick, tock...tick, tock."

The other was the realization that I knew their secret: that they didn't think they were OK. They were already in the hyper self-consciousness of the American teenage girl, and this meant they were doomed. The smallest one probably thought she was too short, the tallest one too tall. The most beautiful one had no breasts, the buxom one had crisp thin hair.

My heart softened, and I could breathe again (although I would have killed for a sarong.) I felt deep compassion for them; I wanted to tell them the good news - that at some point you give up on ever looking much better than you do. Somehow, you get a little older, a little fatter, and you end up going a little easier on yourself. Or a lot easier. And I no longer felt ugly, maybe just a little ridiculous. I held my head a bit higher; I touched the aunties gently, to let them know I was there, and that made me less afraid. Ugliness is creeping around in fear, I remembered. Yet here I was, almost naked, and - to use the medical term - flabbier than shit, but deeply loyal to myself."

"When I got to my room, I took a long, hot shower and then stood studying myself naking in the mirror. I looked like Divine. But then I thought about the poor aunties, how awful it must feel to have me judging them so harshly - the darling aunties! A gasp at this injustice escaped my lips, and my heart grew soft and maternal and then I said out loud, "God I am so sorry," and the aunties tucked their heads down shyly, not knowing now if they were safe....I put on my sexiest T-shirt, my cutest underpants, and I slathered rose-scented lotion on my legs, rubbing it in gently with the indignation of a mother who has rescued her daughter from school-yard bullies or the hands of the Philistines."


You may actually learn about self acceptance if you read this; about "wearing a new pair of glasses". But you are an internet user. You cannot be bothered to read this much online.


book cover of Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott