One day not long after giving birth to my son, I looked down and noticed that my ass was gone. It had just cut and run—didn’t say goodbye, didn’t even leave a note. (Evidence suggested that my breasts had started to give chase but tired by the time they reached my lower ribs.)
“BUTT DISAPPEARED!” I frantically typed into my Google search bar, which has recently suffered through such wide-ranging queries as “celebrities eating” and “what is dry cleaning?” Alas, the Internet offered me no solace, only a variety of links to weight-loss message boards. And yes, I have lost weight: 30 pounds of baby weight plus seven extra pounds of constant breast-feeding, acute postpartum anxiety and a diet that consists almost exclusively of infant tears and orange Fanta. But still, it seems unfair. I have a belly that’s as soft and pliable as fresh pizza dough and which merrily jiggles when my kid climbs into my lap for story time. Why couldn’t that have magically melted away? Why should my butt have to pay for what my uterus has wrought?
When I was 12, my mother gave me the classic book What’s Happening to My Body?, which I remember because it was exactly then that my corporeal form began to betray me. That summer, for example, I grew breast. That’s right: breast. Singular. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that was also the summer I spent at a Quaker sleepaway camp with communal showers. And making matters worse, I was hairless but for my legs, which had somehow sprouted twin sea-otter-like pelts—seemingly overnight—and for my forehead, where I was cultivating a unibrow that would make Anthony Davis do a spit-take.
I had become suddenly, visibly, painfully pubescent, and the book helped reassure me that I was normal, even if my only previous exposure to illustrated genitals was the R. Crumb anthology I’d paged through as a 4-year-old, mistaking it for a children’s book. But even mentioning R. Crumb just makes me feel worse about my butt, so let’s move on.
As I struggle with my loss, I’ve come to wonder why the What’s Happening franchise—the book series, I mean, not the ’70s television show about urban black life in Los Angeles (although I most definitely would watch What’s Happening!! to My Body, especially if Rerun danced)—deals only with puberty. Because while adolescence may be the first time our bodies play tricks on us, it’s certainly not the last. What of the postpartum period? Perimenopause? Hospice? Herewith, a summary of my findings thus far, both from personal experience and observation:
Hair: No matter where you fall on the color spectrum, from Nick Cave to Nicki Minaj, chances are that by your mid-40s you will find enough shades of gray to create, if not a bestselling trilogy of erotic novels, then at least a gross scrapbook. (Note: They’re not all on your head, these gray hairs. Get excited!)
Face: Imagine a flip-book of John McCain’s cheeks as he shoots through a wind tunnel. Beginning at age 35, each page represents one year of your life.
Eyes: During your 20s, you can call them “bright.” If you can manage to say anything bitchy or insightful on a semi-regular basis, your 30s and 40s can coast on the sassy adjective “gimlet,” no matter the depth of your crow’s feet. After that, it may be best just to keep them closed.
Nose: Never stops growing, regardless of truthfulness. Some individuals attempt to camouflage this ever-enlarging protuberance with a garden of colorful gin blossoms, which are permanent and aggressive perennials.
Décolletage: Derived from French word decolleter, meaning “to be forced to wear crew neck sweaters due to the fact that the sun spots on your chest have joined to form one giant leather patch, sort of like the trash heap floating in the Pacific Ocean that can be seen from space.”
Hands: Evolution has taught us that primates are our closest mammalian relatives. But considering the slow transformation of once-youthful fingers into brittle, gnarled claws, I say: remember the bird.
Breasts/pectorals: As you age, most parts of the body look better lying down, because the excess skin recedes into the blankets, revealing your original shape. Not so with the chest. It is only at this point in life that the true purpose of armpits is fully revealed: supine breast rests.
Abdomen: The media encourages us to strive for “six-pack” abs, and while that dream is deferred for most of us as we pursue loftier goals like incubating humans or mile-high nachos, it can be helpful to think of the torso as a six-pack of beer. With each decade, beginning at birth, take away one beer, until they are gone and you are left with a warped, stretched-out set of rings.
Elbows/Knees: Begin winking. This is less delightfully coy than one might hope.
And those are just my external findings. I haven’t even mentioned the decrease in serotonin that can lead to the unironic purchase of cross-stitch patterns or Isotoner clogs, or the inexplicable popping noises that sound off whenever you squat to retrieve a contact that has slipped from the rheumy embrace of your slack eyelids.
No one tells you these things. Nora Ephron tried to, but her report was too specialized. What we need is a textbook, something with a quick-reference index for things like “wattle” and “thuttocks” (the unfortunate result of a vanishing border between upper thigh and lower cheek). Because as it stands—or falls, since that’s much more likely to be the case—it’s a shock to the system. If you’re anything like me, one minute you’re trying to pick out the right size super ball to even out your training bra, and the next you wake up to find that some part of your body has gone inexplicably missing—and you just can’t find it anywhere. Not even in your armpits.