Last night, right after I put the baby to bed, my husband and I sat in the living room, flipping through channels. In between jewelry shopping channels and strange medical dramas peopled with hypersexual doctors, my husband flipped on "American Idol." It was a night when about 10 people sing, and America votes for their top three choices. We watched for a few minutes, when a contestant came on and sang Plain White T's "Hey There Delilah." A lump rose in my throat and I growled to my husband, "I hate this song, let me change the channel." He held the remote up. "Just a minute!" he pleaded. "I wanna see how he does!"
As the contestant sang a decent rendition of the song, I grew more and more uncomfortable until I had to stand up and leave the room. I wandered idly to the kitchen, pretending to wash dishes, wondering to myself why I was having such a strong reaction to such a harmless song. Standing in front of the sink I closed my eyes. With a rush of memory, right away I knew why.
In my mind I returned to the time a month or so after my son was born. I had put on a lot of weight during the last month of my pregnancy, and after my son's premature birth, I was almost 50 pounds overweight. In the hazy daze of sleep-deprivation, total dismay over loss of myself, my free time, my sleep, my svelte pre-baby body, the song blared from the radio of the car, newly released, playing over and over, on every station. It was late at night and I had ducked out of the house for some time alone -- the first time that week I had left home. I drove up and down hills, between moss-hung oak trees on the downtown one-way streets, wondering for curiosity's sake how far west I could get on I-10 before anyone caught up with me. The singer crooned about his love for his girl -- "Times Square can't shine as bright as you," he confessed, tenderly. In that moment, gripping the steering wheel, I felt about as bright as a puddle of mud, my new life such a terrible fit, a dress cut all wrong with gaps under the arms and too tight across the hips, like all the pre-pregnancy clothes hanging limp and useless in my closet. I thought to myself that no one will ever compare me to the brilliance of a bustling, neon-lit intersection. My girl-heart cried for the loss of beauty, street lights blurring through self-pitying tears.
I have had a lot of sleep since then. My son has grown happy, healthy, and strong. I no longer feel like a worn-out ragdoll, and beauty has slowly crept back in to stare at me in the mirror. But my sudden, unexpected emotional response to the song and the memory evoked by hearing it makes me pause and wonder: as mothers, as life-givers, do we not deserve a new Standard of Beauty? Was I not more beautiful then, at that moment of having lost my typical, culture-condoned beauty, keeping my five-pound son alive, learning to love on a greater scale?
There is so much more to the beauty of a Woman -- enough to fill a library full of leather-bound volumes. If each of us got a page to write what beauty is for us, what would your page say?