Who Is This Woman My Husband Sees When He Looks At Me?

by Sage K. Penn
A husband lying down on a bed with his wife, hugging her and kissing her cheeks.
MajaMitrovic / Getty

My husband loves the way I look. If asked to describe me, he would say I have thick, platinum hair that falls in waves. He would say I don’t need make-up; my blue eyes carry enough secrets and mischief to light up my face. He especially loves my lips. He would say they are red, like cherries, and could be the template for Cupid’s bow.

He thinks my waist is small and my belly is slightly rounded in the most attractive way. My breasts are full and round, in perfect proportion to my hips. My legs are long and tapered to a dainty ankle and my slim feet look stunning in flats or stilettos. I am voluptuous. I am soft.

He can’t get enough of me. He loves how shapely I am, how my curves fit in his hands, how my hair curls around his face when he kisses me. He loves to watch me walk away, and I love to feel his eyes on me.

His perception of me is so compelling that I believe it too. I can conquer the world when he tells me I am beautiful. I am fierce. I am powerful. I am feminine. I walk with grace when I see myself through his eyes. My smile is genuine, and my laugh lines show when I giggle. My hips sway gently and my breasts are proud. The lines of my body are gentle, the slope of my shoulder blends seamlessly with the strength of my biceps. Arms made strong from carrying children.

I am always surprised when I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror because I fully expect to see my husband’s fantasy staring back at me. But I don’t see his beautiful wife. Instead, the woman in the mirror is deeply disconnected from the image my husband describes. I’m not sure where the lie lives; in his mind, or in mine?

The mirror makes my chest ache, and I feel something close to shame. Not shame, exactly, but the sinking that happens when you disappoint someone you love. Like when, as a little girl, I broke my mother’s heirloom china serving tray. The one that her mother and her mother before her served the holiday meal on. I shattered it.

I remember my mother dropped to her knees and touched the shards. Her hand flew to her mouth and her body bent over and she gasped and her eyes reflected a painful loss. I watched her and knew it was my fault. I had let her down. As a child, I experienced a hot rush of shame, despair, anger, pity, fear.

As an adult, that same hot rush gets stuck in my throat when I pass a mirror. The image in front of my eyes is a pale shadow of the temptress in my head. My body has betrayed me.

I don’t see a vibrant powerhouse. I see a mediocre suburban mother. My hair is nice, but heavy and lies flat against my head. Its color is more brown than blonde thanks to the hormones that assaulted me during my pregnancies. My eyes are a pretty cornflower blue, but they are framed by pale lashes that require mascara to be visible. My cheeks are cheerful, but full, and my lips are chapped because I forget to moisturize them. My skin is average, but beginning to show my age with a firm, deep line between my eyes.

I am more than voluptuous. I am more than curvy. My waist is swallowed up by my leftover baby weight, which folds over my lap and grazes my thighs when I sit down. My belly is decorated with silvery jagged lines, leftovers from being stretched almost beyond its limits. It is also graced with a scar from a surgery that saved the lives of my babies. My breasts are full, but they sag with the weight of nursing three children. My legs are long, but they are plump. My thighs rub together when I walk, and I don’t wear stiletto heels. Ever.

I don’t know how to reconcile the reality of my body with the fantasy of my lover’s image. I struggle with my physical presence on a daily basis.

I do know I admire the woman that my husband loves. She is the person I want to be. I choose her; I choose the reflection in my husband’s eyes. Fuck the reflection in my mirror.

And that makes me fierce.