Once upon a time in 2009 I wrote a guest post for this blog titled Rockin' the Stretch Marks . In it, I wrote about my recent struggles with my post-baby body image, and how I was overcoming my issues by focusing on the strengths of my body, and feeling gratitude for what my body had recently done.
Five years and two additional babies later, I feel like a fraud for the words I wrote, and the feelings I’ve had as of late. I still struggle, daily, with my body image.
It's no secret that our culture is obsessed with body image, and women especially face intense scrutiny. According to DoSomething.Org approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape. Unfortunately, only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media.
In an ideal world, I would be able to not only accept my body for what it is, but I would love it. I’d be proud of it. When we really think about it, the human body is an incredibly amazing thing that all too often I’ll measure its worthiness based on a number.
When I was pregnant with my son, Samuel, I realized at some point, probably around 20 weeks when I was no longer sick and exhausted every minute of the day that I’d never felt more attractive. I was gaining weight, yes, I was an odd shape, yes, but for some reason, I felt beautiful. I don’t know the reason why, but I felt like I was absolutely glowing. For much of my pregnancy I felt this way, and it was a wonderful, empowering feeling. I’d hear my friends who were not pregnant count calories, exercise like mad, and complain about their perfectly average bodies, that to them were so unsatisfactory. For the first time in my life, this felt so foreign to me. I listened to these amazing women complain about these bodies that had created children and it made me incredibly annoyed to hear them talk in such a disrespectful way about themselves, and their post-baby bodies. I vowed I would never be that way again.
Now here I am, four months later and I’m totally that woman. I’ve grown impatient with my body, and the ten extra pounds causing me grief. Even now as I type, I realize how stupid it actually is, ten pounds causing me so much sadness and self-loathing. Would I be perfectly happy with my body if I lost that ten pounds? I wish I could say yes, but I know that isn’t true. I know I’d find something else that I don’t like when I look in the mirror. The reason I know this is because I know it's not about the pounds, it goes much deeper. Those ten pounds represent my dissatisfaction with my self, all my flaws physical, personal, emotional, etc.
What makes me so sad, is that I see parts of myself in my daughters. My five year old has my same legs. My three year old has my arms. Will they grow up to resent those parts of themselves? I hope not! I hope they see how beautiful they are. I hope they can love themselves as I love them. I will say, in all the struggle I face I internalize everything. I’ve vowed to not let my own warped view of my body shape my daughters’ feelings about themselves, and I never speak my insecurities out loud to them.
Yesterday, on a particularly bad day, my three year old came up to me. “Oh Mommy, I love your ponytail!” She’d exclaimed. She loved my ponytail. My hair was sticking out in odd places, my short bob pulled sloppily in a ponytail and she loved it. She loved it not because it was cute, because it wasn’t, but because she loved me and I belong to her and I take care of her and I make her safe. She, more than anyone else, tells me how beautiful I am. All. The. Time. Because to her, beauty isn’t the model on the cover of People magazine. To her, beauty is the way that I make her feel when I’m around her. Beauty is the smile I give her when she writes a letter or does a puzzle. When she says, “You’re beautiful, Mommy,” it is her way of expressing love, more than remarking on my physical appearance.
So when my three babies had gone to sleep last night, I decided to take care of myself. I took a long, hot, lavender oil infused bath. I gave myself a facial, I painted my nails, and all while doing one of my favorite things: listening to an audiobook. Those things made my tired body feel good. It was good for my spirit. I took a good two hours to myself, and then I went downstairs and ate a cookie without worrying about the calories or the self-doubt that usually accompanies a treat because I am not defined by the number on the scale. I am more than that number. Coincidently this particular video started making the rounds on my Facebook newsfeed last night. It made me cry.
I know I need to change the inner voice. I know I need to appreciate who I am now, instead of hating myself for who I’ll never be, and don’t need to be. I know it’s a struggle I might face for the rest of my life, but I hope it isn’t. I hope five years from now I can write another post about how my nearly forty year old self is beautiful, and marvelous, and spectacular, and amazing, and really, truly mean it without giving it a second thought.