Why I’m Gonna Love My Post-Miracle Body, Anyway.
The mind is so powerful, so mysterious. I think most people would agree that their’s usually runs on a fairly predictable continuous loop of sorts: tasks to complete; things to worry about; places to go; things we silently say to ourselves; things we say out loud to others. The loop of our minds becomes so familiar that we often lose a semblance of control over where our mind takes us day to day. Not much unlike when you mean to go visit your grandma but get lost in thought and end up at the supermarket, our minds have the power to put us on a mental autopilot. A well-worn, ingrained series of behaviors that mostly serve to keep us alive, safe and help us care for others, but many times can also be responsible for hurt.
When it comes to body image, so many of us as mothers & women, are so used to repeating the mantra of nonacceptance, displeasure, sadness & possibly even hate towards our own bodies that we don’t notice when we say it silently in our heads or out loud for others to hear. The negative feelings about ourselves and our bodies are such a well worn, deeply ingrained, much traveled route in our minds that we harbor it inside even when we are smiling at our sons and daughters telling them how important it is to love themselves just the way they are. I know, because I do it too. Well, I do it less and less every year. I do it less and less every month. I am trying. And the funny thing is that when I started hating my body, really loathing every single thing about it, I was only 26 years old. I had just given birth to my first daughter and I wasted so much time hating myself. So much lost time. And now, 6 years later, my body is nowhere near as “nice” as it was then but I hate myself much much less. Funny thing, isn’t it?
But I’m getting ahead of myself here, lets start at the beginning, shall we? Growing up, as children of the 80s we were blessed with a freedom that kids today seldom enjoy. We didn’t have cell phones, Internet, instagram, or instant anything. My friends and I never gave much thought to our bodies, even though we came in a variety of different shapes, sizes and colors. We were who we were and we shared clothes when we could but mostly we laughed, had adventures and chased after boys. We didn’t have a care in the world.
It wasn’t until I got pregnant and promptly gained 70 lbs that I had any reason at all to give much thought to my body. But now, it looked so different, so unfamiliar and while it was busy growing my precious baby girl I didn’t care one iota how it looked. I think in the back of my mind, I assumed that the weight was all going to magically disappear once the baby came out. But alas, it didn’t. And when she was finally born, almost 10 lbs and 2 weeks over due, the weight stayed and I was miserable. I had just had a baby, but I focused almost exclusively on how fat” I was. To say that I hated myself would be the understatement of the century. I loathed myself. I spent hours tugging at the saggy pouch that used to be my stomach. I cried so many tears over my boobs that deflated faster than 2 day old balloons, and my butt that refused to be perky after having spent a year being sat on. I deleted all the pictures of myself with my beautiful new baby. I didn’t see the new, glowing mother…the pride, the accomplishment, the suffocating new love…I saw my wide chubby face, my too wobbly arms and my stomach that wouldn’t just go away. I hated it all. I let it consume me, and I wasted a year of my first born daughter’s life standing in front of the mirror, unhappy until the person looking back at me looked again just like the person who had never brought life into this world. How sad that is.
I carried on as a mother though, falling head over heels more in love with my little girl, my pride and joy, every single day. She was (and still is) amazingly perfect. She has the blonde hair I never knew I wanted until I saw hers shining in the sun, skin that turns golden brown easily and long legs that run like the wind. But then one day, a very strange thing happened. My daughter was around 4 years old, and she came into my room and asked me with a very serious face if her arms looked fat in her shirt. I stopped dead in my tracks. My blood ran cold. I stared at her, dumbstruck… I had no idea what to say. I hate my arms. I must have said it every single day of her life. “I hate how my arms look in this shirt, Do my arms look fat? UGH they are so chubby, WHY do they have to be so chubby?!” I could hear the echoes of my own voice in my head as I stared down at the expectant face of my unbearably perfect little girl who wanted to know if she should be hating her arms too. It was in that moment that I realized that I not only had to adopt an image of body positivity around my daughter, but that for her sake I had to learn to actually love my body too.
I don’t have to tell you that I told her a hundred lines of “Of course your arms aren’t fat! Your arms are beautiful and strong and they are useful! Your arms can climb trees and do the monkey bars and help you eat good food!”, but I did. I told her again and again and again and I told myself too. I told her and me the good things about our bodies for so long that a funny thing happened: I started to believe myself too.
I started to believe myself so much so, that when I finally got pregnant with my second daughter, I didn’t waste one iota of energy hating my pregnant body. I kept myself strong and I felt amazing. I felt beautiful right up to the end of my pregnancy, and then I let both of my daughters lay their heads on my funny pouchy, bouncy post pregnancy stomach. I laughed as my oldest declared it a great pillow, because in fact it was! During this time of my life, when I had another new baby to love, an older one to nurture and another changed body to care for I read a quote that stuck with me when I was feeling weak. Kerry Washington was quoted saying:
”I’ve been really focused on not being ‘back’ to anything, but being the best version of myself right now. My body is the site of a miracle now. I don’t want to be pre-miracle.”
I had never read truer words in my life and I loved her for them. And now my story has come full circle, because I am telling you that it is possible to tear a well worn body hating mantra out of your mind. It is possible to veer off the tracks of self pity, self disappointment and of wishing our bodies looked or felt different than they are. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your children. Do it for the expectant little face looking up at you, asking for permission to hate themselves too. Do it because you deserve to, and they deserve a mother who loves her own body as much as she loves them. Do it because loving yourself takes so much less energy than hating yourself ever will, and God knows we could all use a little more of that.