A survey of 40,000 people from non-English-speaking countries has voted the word mother as the most beautiful word in the English language. I don’t find mother a particularly beautiful-sounding word, I prefer epiphany or quintessence for the way they roll lyrically off the tongue.
The first word we speak. The first person to comfort us. Mother is love. Mother is home.
If mother has intrinsic beauty then why don’t I feel beautiful? I am mother to a son and two daughters. To them I am beautiful; they see what I can’t see. To them I am tickles and cupcakes and morning cuddles, my squishy belly a pillow. My daughters brush my hair and choose a vintage dress for me to wear each morning. They aspire to be like their mother.
It is not hard to see their beauty. They giggle and dance and sing. I stare at their cherubic faces as they lay sleeping. I kiss their velvety skin and breathe them deep into my lungs.
They marvel at what their bodies can do, how their legs can run and jump. They remind me of a time when legs were just legs. Before they were dimpled legs or hairy legs or jiggly legs. Before the lens of judgement. Before the term post baby body was even invented.
Mother. Inadequacy. Self-loathing.
My skin is creased and stretched, my hair is turning silver. Gravity is pulling at my breasts and they are past the point where they could get me into a nightclub for free.
I am overweight. I am tired. I am broken. How could I possibly be beautiful? Could I learn to see myself again with young eyes? As others see me?
I recognise beauty in my friends. They are smart and funny and gracious. We laugh out loud, our mouths full of cheese and wine, as we debate whether vertical stretch marks are more slimming than horizontal ones. We discuss whether we should get pregnant again, just so we can stop trying to lose the baby weight. Together we turn the drudgery of motherhood into melodious laughter. Like a Bordeaux, my friends have become more beautiful with age.
I stand in front of the mirror, frowning as I squeeze into my spanx. My daughter watches me, confused. Then she asks, “What are carbs?” She has overheard a conversation with a friend, not meant for her ears. It is in that moment that I decide to be beautiful.
I don’t want my children to learn that beauty is confined to the young, thin, taught and hairless. I want them to question an advertising industry which demands, “What is wrong with your body? EVERYTHING. How can you fix it? BUY OUR PRODUCT.”
I will allow myself to be beautiful. For my daughters. For me.
Oh, and in my opinion, the most beautiful non-English word? Fromage.