What I Should Have Said

A reflection on motherhood, feminism, and acceptance

by Felicia Caviezel

A few years ago I was shopping for a new dress in my favorite dress store and I
brought my daughter, Ruby, with me for several reasons. Firstly, because I wear a dress only a handful of times in a year and since Ruby LOVES to wear dresses, she also loves to see me in them. Secondly, I’m not as flexible as I was when I wore my Catholic school uniform, so getting those dresses zipped and unzipped is difficult and Ruby loves to help. And lastly, the kid has style. I’m embarrassed to admit that I actually take her opinion into account…disregarding the fact she wants me to get a rainbow dress with gold and silver, she actually has a good eye for style. This seems to be a gene that has skipped a generation. Who knew when I had a child I would gain a personal shopper? (I’m hoping this skill will grow with age!)

We were in said dress store when my husband, Sam, came to preview my final
choices. Ruby waited with Sam while I put on a dress, when Ruby wandered over to the Spanx and innocently asked, “what are these?” Sam hollered, “Felicia, can you handle this one?” when the clerk offhandedly replied, “those are a girl’s best friend.” My heart sank in the dressing room. Should I go out, half naked and talk to Ruby about this, and potentially embarrass myself and the clerk? Should I talk to Ruby about it later? And what do I say? Yes, I wear Spanx, but you should love your body the way it is? So, I am ashamed to say, I said nothing. I think about it a lot though. I missed my moment to be the fabulous feminist I think I am and, more importantly, I missed a moment to interrupt the predominant message given to my daughter (and all little girls) by society that they are only valued for how they look.

When I put on my fabulous feminist cape (which I am sure is rainbow with silver and gold) and go back in time to that store, here is what I would do: I would come out of the dressing room immediately with no shame that I had a dress half on and half off. (Ruby isn’t embarrassed by this so in that moment, I shouldn’t be either.) I would take a knee and talk to her about Spanx. No, Spanx are not a girl’s best friend. A girl’s best friend is first of all herself, someone who loves and accepts her body for what it is, not what society tells her it “should” be.

A girl’s best friend is an actual friend that loves her for who she is, her kind heart and intelligent brain, not for what she looks like or what she wears.

It is someone who laughs at her jokes and makes her laugh in a way no one else can. I would talk to her about my best friends, who allow and encourage me to be my truest self…which does not include how I look.
I would tell her that I have a soft tummy because I carried, you, Ruby, in my
tummy for 9 months. My tummy is AMAZING, it really did that! Because of that, my tummy is soft and stretchy and you love to rest your head on it while I rub your back.Being a woman is incredibly powerful and our bodies can do amazing things.

In all truth, in the handful of times I do wear a dress, Ruby always wants to help me get dressed. I start by putting on my bra and Spanx. I used to try to hide the Spanx, but then discovered, Ruby loves me in Spanx! She always rubs my tummy and comments on how smooth and big and beautiful my tummy is, how fun it is to rub my tummy in Spanx. We both love the opportunity to talk about how she lived in there for 9 months. Honestly, Spanx are not my most favorite accessory, they are uncomfortable and a large contributing factor to the reason I only wear dresses a handful of times in a year.

But there, in that moment, with Ruby rubbing my tummy telling me how big and soft and beautiful it is, I feel like an absolute beauty and allow myself to see my tummy through her eyes.

But then I falter, what to say after that? The truth is I wear Spanx because they help flatten my stomach and I DO feel more beautiful in a dress with them on. Clearly, I am not yet accepting my body as it is and for all of the gifts it has given me. I wear Spanx because once you have had one child, everybody always speculates about a second and I fear without my Spanx on in a dress, I look slightly pregnant and don’t want to have to answer any questions about a second child. When I put on a dress, I want people to see ME, my intelligent mind and my kind heart, not my tummy. I know that those who love me, love me not despite of my tummy and not because of it, they simply love me, not my appearance. I know that truth, but that doesn’t make it easier to walk into into a room full of strangers without a flat stomach.

Or, scratch that, all of that nonjudgmental love in my life does, in fact, make it much easier, and so it comes down to me, and how I feel about myself.

On my best days, I love and cherish my squishy tummy for the truly amazing process it went through and the even more truly amazing gift it gave me. And on my dress days, I simply wish my tummy could do all of those amazing things it did and still be flat. And so I wear my Spanx, because I feel more beautiful, more confident with them. I wear them 5 or 6 times a year, so I allow myself that indulgence.

I don’t want to be a Mom who says, “Do as I say, not as I do” and I am very aware that Ruby will look most closely to me to answer the question of “what it means to be a woman.” And I suppose I will have to answer this question again about makeup, which once again, I wear only slightly more often than a dress, as well as many other things. As she gets older, I hope we can talk about all of this with more nuance, but for now, she is almost four and the best I can do set a good example as often as I can (and forgive myself when I don’t), interrupt or talk about negative societal messages as much as possible, and let her rub my big, soft, beautiful belly without reacting to the word “big” and talk about how powerful our legs are, how strong our arms are, how amazing our tummies are, how kind our hearts are and how intelligent our minds are

*This piece was written in an Essentially English class on memoir writing.

Felicia Caviezel lives in Philadelphia with her daughter Ruby, second grade, her husband Sam, and her dog Mars. She loves hiking, family time, and finding ways to be engaged and creating opportunities for engagement in her community. She serves at the Parent Relations Manager at Germantown Friends School.