My wife was complaining about the size of her breasts again. “They are so small,” she said. “I look like a little girl.”
She was changing into her pajamas. I was sitting on the edge of the bed reading from the tablet.
“I like them,” I said. “I think you’re beautiful.” I said it with sincerity. I always do. And yet, she always argues with me. She usually shoots down my complements as something I’m obligated to say.
“I can look like a little girl and still be beautiful,” She said. She had her hands on her hips now. “What I want is to look like a woman.”
Mel is petite. She stands just over five feet, and weighs just over 100 pounds. Small breasts, small hips, small hands. I think she has always been self-conscious about her size. When I took Mel home to meet my mother she asked if I’d checked her ID. When Mel first had a baby, strangers often asked if Tristan was her younger brother. She gets mistaken for younger, less mature, and I think that makes her feel like she is not taken seriously. And somehow this has translated into her self-esteem, and her understanding of her own beauty.
These feelings of being small, too young, and inadequate, started long before we met, and the world seems to constantly be reaffirming them through magazines, TV ads, and snarky comments. As a woman, she is bombarded by images of tall, lean, and full-breasted women that have been air brushed to perfection, as if this is the norm. As if this is what a woman must look like, and I can only assume that she looks at herself compared to these unachievable things and feels inadequate. The truly sad part is that the women on magazines are shown in one dimension. They don’t show who they are as a person, only their bodies.
If Photoshop could capture how much Mel loves her children, how dedicated she is to her family, the fact that she is a full-time mom, and a part-time student, and kicking ass at both, all the sacrifices she’s made for our family, she would be on the cover of every magazine, because this is the really sexy stuff. A flat stomach and large breasts just look good on paper.
But the fact is, I can’t change how the media sexualizes women. It’s not within my circle of influence. But here’s what I do know. I know that my wife is beautiful. I know that her hips give me chills, and that even after 10 years of marriage, I still get nervous when I kiss her. I feel warmth in my heart when she holds me. I long for her. I think she is a great mother and the most supportive and life-changing person I have ever encountered. So I tell her that she is beautiful everyday. Most days I tell her several times a day. I send her text messages. When she calls, I say, “Hello, pretty person.” I bring her flowers at least once a month, more if I can afford it.
I don’t know if my constant reassurance of her beauty is having an impact or not. Perhaps I say it too much. Perhaps it has become ubiquitous after ten years, the backdrop of her life. But what I do know is that it helps me to feel like I’m doing something. I can’t change the world. I can’t change the way companies market their products. I can’t change who is cast in what TV show, or movies, or how much a woman’s image on the cover of a magazine is altered. But what I can do is remind my wife, everyday, that I am blown away by how lucky I am to have someone so beautiful in body, mind, and spirit.
I was in bed now. Mel was dressed in her pajamas, standing next to me. I was going to bed early so I could get up and write the next morning. She leaned down to kiss me and I said, “You are the most beautiful person I know.”
She gave me a half smile and said, “Thanks.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “ I will remind you about it tomorrow.”
Mel laughed and said, “I know.”
“Good,” I said.
Then she turned out the light.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.