Trying to describe a woman from her own POV correctly

DAgent

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Yeah, it's that dreaded moment where a male writer tries to describe how a woman feels about herself and her body a few years after giving birth.
I should point out the woman in question is going to go through a bizarre change later in the tale that will totally alter her appearance and she will be examining herself both physically and mentally when that happens (I've not written that section yet) so there will be a point where she reflects on the moment below and that later moment.

But I want to make sure I write this as true to how women really would feel if they'd looked over themselves like this, and not fall for the old "how a man THINKS women would view themselves".

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The last five or six years had not been kind to her in many ways, physically and mentally. She no longer possessed the athletic figure of her youth, time trying to conceive and birthing and raising children did, after all, cut into any “me” time she would have had before deciding to have children.
But she was happy with her body as it was now, slim enough to feel good when she looked at herself in the mirror, even if her hair was all mussed up and scrunched up rather than brushed flat with product in it. She had somewhat gotten used to seeing herself with no makeup all the time. She wasn’t quite sure if she liked the odd blemish she saw, but the snoring lump in the messed up bed had always sworn blind they were gorgeous to behold.
 

Mouse

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I'd say it depends on her personality. Not all women are the same, you know. It's not just 'women'. We're different people with different personalities, just like blokes. ;) What you've written sounds fine to me.
 

msstice

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I wouldn't pay too much attention to all the busybodies on reddit and twitter lane checking everyone. Who gave them that job anyway?

The content of the writing looks fine to me, but stylistically it has too much distance. I feel it would be more punchy with the veil/filter words taken out and more voice (opinion) added.
 

Dragonlady

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when you say the 'athletic figure of her youth' is she less fit? Would she be more likely to think about things her body no longer does, than if it looks athletic? I agree it feels distant. Does she feel affection for how her hair got messed up by playing with children, that softens the fact she doesn't really like how it looks? can you be more specific about blemishes- does she have stretch marks, caesarian scars? Have her sexual performance or continence been affected by childhood? If she is slim, is she happy with her tummy? Many women aren't after having children, even if they are happy with their weight, as it is often not the same shape it was. Have you avoided talking about her breasts? Many women will complain they're not the same shape they were. If she isn't one of these, is she pleased about it? is the 'they ' that is gorgeous to behold her, or the blemishes? Does she perceive herself as attractive? (Is she so busy being a mother she doesn't really have a chance to think about it?)
 

Biskit

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Yep, definitely too distant/detached and generic.

I'm the wrong gender to offer direct insight, but following on from @Dragonlady 's comment, I can offer a couple of thoughts from the perspective of someone who's hit fifty some years back and has the collected debris from the collision.

Athletic figure: I never had one of those, but if I was going to describe changes since I was in my twenties I would be focusing on more specific issues such as my right foot now hurts, I have to bend forwards rather noticeably to get a view of my knees past my belly and I now need reading glasses. There's also the simple detail that getting out of a chair was something that just used to happen but now requires a noticeable effort and involves a conscious awareness of my ankles, knees and back. (On the other hand, if you asked my twenty-something self to carry a load of 20-25kg feed sacks into the store, I would have struggled.)

Odd blemishes: Yes I have some of those and if I were going to use them the "odd" would be for peculiar rather than a small number, and I would pick on the ones that have a history to add to the story. The first and most obvious would be the gap in my teeth where an upper incisor is missing - there's multiple stories to be had there, the accident that smashed my front teeth, the rebuilding of my front teeth (including the temporary ones with the air of Red Dwarf's Dwayne Dibley), learning to talk without a lisp with my new teeth and then the various events around one of the repairs failing which gives the gap, and then learning to talk without lisping due to the gap.
 

Toby Frost

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Have you avoided talking about her breasts?

No offence meant, but this is exactly what male writers are told never to do. "Never have a woman think about her own breasts" is one of the rules of internet writing.
 

Wayne Mack

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the woman in question is going to go through a bizarre change later in the tale that will totally alter her appearance
If this is the case, the current description needs to focus on the characteristics that will eventually change. The before description also likely needs to be repeated once or twice later to ensure that it is locked into the reader's head (I will admit to forgetting character descriptions within a paragraph or two of reading them).

As for the presentation, consider something other than simply having the narrator describe her. If being athletic is important, consider having the character observe a runner or the local running club go by. She can reflect on when she used to do that and then on her current reality. Perhaps she could be walking with her husband or significant other and significant other stares at a lovely young thing walking by. Having a brief spat could be a good way for her to express any insecurities she might have and have significant other fumble in providing the right responses. Rather than simply providing a description, set up a driving incident to lead to the description and that will make it more memorable.
 

DAgent

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Yep, definitely too distant/detached and generic.

I'm the wrong gender to offer direct insight, but following on from @Dragonlady 's comment, I can offer a couple of thoughts from the perspective of someone who's hit fifty some years back and has the collected debris from the collision.

Athletic figure: I never had one of those, but if I was going to describe changes since I was in my twenties I would be focusing on more specific issues such as my right foot now hurts, I have to bend forwards rather noticeably to get a view of my knees past my belly and I now need reading glasses. There's also the simple detail that getting out of a chair was something that just used to happen but now requires a noticeable effort and involves a conscious awareness of my ankles, knees and back. (On the other hand, if you asked my twenty-something self to carry a load of 20-25kg feed sacks into the store, I would have struggled.)

Odd blemishes: Yes I have some of those and if I were going to use them the "odd" would be for peculiar rather than a small number, and I would pick on the ones that have a history to add to the story. The first and most obvious would be the gap in my teeth where an upper incisor is missing - there's multiple stories to be had there, the accident that smashed my front teeth, the rebuilding of my front teeth (including the temporary ones with the air of Red Dwarf's Dwayne Dibley), learning to talk without a lisp with my new teeth and then the various events around one of the repairs failing which gives the gap, and then learning to talk without lisping due to the gap.
She's not been through any thing like what you've been describing, and the point of this scene isn't to dwell on what's happened, but to give a brief overview of what she had been like and how she is fine with how she is now.
 

DAgent

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If this is the case, the current description needs to focus on the characteristics that will eventually change. The before description also likely needs to be repeated once or twice later to ensure that it is locked into the reader's head (I will admit to forgetting character descriptions within a paragraph or two of reading them).

As for the presentation, consider something other than simply having the narrator describe her. If being athletic is important, consider having the character observe a runner or the local running club go by. She can reflect on when she used to do that and then on her current reality. Perhaps she could be walking with her husband or significant other and significant other stares at a lovely young thing walking by. Having a brief spat could be a good way for her to express any insecurities she might have and have significant other fumble in providing the right responses. Rather than simply providing a description, set up a driving incident to lead to the description and that will make it more memorable.
The changes she's going to go through will be happening in the next chapter, at this point I'm just trying to describe how she looks and feels compared to how she was before her pregnancy.
 

Aknot

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You could put her in a situation where she is confronted with her age. A personal example: I’ve been to a chiropractor and trainer that checked me standing in front of a mirror in my underwear. As he commented on weaknesses and things do to I of course look at my own body. Such a situation gives the perfect reason to both scrutinize yourself as well as have a third party that can emphasize and/or point out things you want to highlight to the reader. A less pleasant person than I met could possibly further push your story (like a younger guy trying to be funny but failing).
 

Dragonlady

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No offence meant, but this is exactly what male writers are told never to do. "Never have a woman think about her own breasts" is one of the rules of internet writing.
that's why i asked if it had been avoided. Talking about them too much and over-sexualising them is something male writers do seem to do, but if most women were assessing their appearance as in this scene they would be unlikely to be ignored. The key as with every case of 'writing the other' is just to do your research and find out what someone in that position might be thinking.
 

Montero

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It also very much depends on how appearance conscious you are - I used to have a friend who would be fussing and pinching a centimeter at their waistline (rather than a inch) and be saying "I'm sure I've put on 3lbs this month" and there I'd be sitting in elasticated waistbanded jogging bottoms, trying to make the right noises while really not giving a *******.
I also just tried re-writing the scene in my head with a male protagonist and thinking about them having thoughts like "ooh, put on some weight on my chest, getting some moobs there. Oh dear, look at the love handles" and thinking about the main male sticking out bit and whether they'd be examining that in the mirror with a "did it always curve a bit to the right or is that new?" Somehow the scene didn't quite sit right in my head. I don't think I've ever read one like it, but there have to be plenty of men who would care about what they saw in the mirror. Being a person who really doesn't care, I absolutely can't get into the character's head for this one. Would be curious as to what people think about a male protagonist in front of a mirror.

Incidentally, Barbara Hambly did a very interesting line of female information in "The Ladies of Madrigyn" with ongoing commentary on how the figures of some women who were learning how to fight, affected their centre of gravity. BH does a lot of martial arts.
 

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