By Lalita Iyer
A millennial from my yoga class, whose body and backbends I love, said to me after a recent session, “I envy women who have given birth – my hip opening is never as good as yours!”
I want to tell her the least my body owes me is a perfect warrior pose after all the warrior-ing my uterus has gone through.
I want to tell her about my pelvic wattle hiding under that warrior pose.
I want to tell her about all my wobbly bits.
But I don’t, because it’s been a long time since I heard something complimentary about my body, other than “You look fit for 50,” which sounds like a consolation prize more than anything else.
In my forties, my uterus went through its most spectacular innings. Two and a half decades of (reassuringly) released monthly blood clots pinnacled to a uterus ripe with a baby who exceeded full term before he was born via C-section (the overhang of which resulted in aforementioned pelvic wattle). Thus making me a how-the-fuck-did-she-do-it mother at 41.
In effect, I am one of the few fifty-plus women I know who has to factor in school pickups and drops and plan travel around school holidays. While my peers bask in empty nests and house no. 3, I am rearing a 12-year-old all by myself and greeting new body parts ever so frequently. Last time I checked, my chin had grown a chin. And my thighs were wobbly and had grown dimples.
I guess the stage was set when I walked out of my marriage with a four-year-old in tow. I had no time to grieve as I was busy calculating exactly how many eight-rupees-a-word articles I would need to write to make expenses and school fees. Or how much I would have to shell out in legal fees before I could wangle child support out of the other parental unit. Or how many millions of copies my books needed to sell before the 6% or 8% royalties translated into an amount that would at least buy me a year of school fees.
At least I got a baby out of it, I tell myself.
If life as a freelancer was rough, my uterus was going through its own journey, having been subjected to childbirth (and its aftermath) and menopause within a span of ten years (for my mother, this transition spanned 25 years).
At least I no longer have to pretend to want a real job.
A friend who was going through a separation at the same time found the ‘being alone’ thing overwhelming and told me I was “good at being single”. Maybe she was right. I was so busy going through the motions of survival that I did not miss a lover – steady or sporadic. My body was “closed for renovation.”
At least I don’t have to show up for coitus.
Of course, the thought of not having to perform in bed was liberating, but single parenting required a consistency and equanimity that made dating and career management look like a breeze.
Post childbirth, my body was letting me down in ways I never expected. My backbends were now no more than the slightest arc. Extended nursing made my breasts tired and I had grown so comfortable not wearing a bra that wearing one now made me feel shackled. There was also a lump that came visiting my left breast, but turned out to be an abscess. I had more than enough reason to burn the bra.
I found myself veering towards clothing that didn’t demand a bra. I avoided solids, tees or anything flimsy. For yoga, I somehow wing it with layering a spaghetti top or wearing one of my two sports bras grudgingly. I embraced sarees. There is so much a saree does for our wobbly bits. The pleats talk your belly away. The petticoat tucks in and evenly distributes belly fat, and you don’t need fancy underwear to tuck it all in. Nor do you have to worry about the pelvic wattle oozing out of your underwear. Also one can choose to show as much or as little wobble as one feels like. Or oomph, which is basically wobble that got a good name.
I wonder when the past tense in the description of our bodies/skin/hair became so normalised. “I used to have great hair” or “My waistline had a good run” or “I once had a flat tummy” or “My legs had abs”. I guess we are all grieving our past bodies in some way.
At least all my body parts are working.
And no matter how much yoga I do, or how much I walk, my wobbly bits are here to stay. A recent revelation: I no longer had a thigh gap, so when I walked normally, the poor things were rubbing against each other, resulting in a lot of chafing. When extra moisturising/creaming/powdering didn’t help, I switched to boy shorts. By then I had already developed my goonda walk – which is basically walking like a badass with my feet at least a foot apart, turned outwards to minimise friction. I was already on the path to ageing disgracefully so this was no big deal.
At least I have never had to swipe right for sex. Or love.
A friend of mine once said (and I am sure she meant it in the nicest way possible), “You are not about your looks, babe!” It made me gloat over my beautiful brain for a wee bit but then it made me wonder, what if I want to be about my looks? Am I (apparently) never going to be contender in that area? Do I have to rely on my brain forever? And isn’t that too much work for the poor thing?
I recently picked out on old dress (it was kind enough to still fit) to wear to a Christmas party but I noticed my cleavage now had wrinkles and looked nothing like my old cleavage. Sure, I last wore it nine years ago at my first book launch, and yes I have aged, but I hadn’t noticed my breasts had aged too. Perhaps they had acquired gravitas after all the gravity defying? I put the dress away and wore something else.
Since then, I find myself staring at my cleavage in my yoga class in aadhomukhashvanasan (downward dog) and I find myself wondering – how many more wobbly bits to come?
Years ago, I remember staring at my mother’s chest in hospital after her first valve replacement surgery and then her second and thinking – hmmm she will have to live with these drawings on her chest forever.
I feel bad and shallow for worrying about my cleavage wrinkles so I start thinking about what’s right about my body than what isn’t. And in that moment, I become my mother.
Four years ago, during a course in Dance Movement Therapy at TISS, where we dug deeper into the traumas of our mind and body and joined some dots, I met my body again. It told me it missed being loved. I realised it was always enmeshed with my life’s journey – a true survivor, a constant companion through a time intensely spent, a score keeper, as it were. I had no idea when I had chosen to unsee it, but it was never too late. I now meet and greet my wobbly bits every so often; they are as much a part of me as the parts I want the world to see.
And that’s how I found my body.
Lalita Iyer is a journalist, counselor, sourdough intern and author of books for little people and big people. She exists on instagram as @partcat.