I just finished watching Taryn Brumfitt's incredible body image documentary, Embrace. Have you seen it yet? Wow! (warning: there are a few instances of language and some nudity--it is about body image, after all...) I just had to sit down immediately to get my thoughts on paper (or the screen, in this case).
I Take My Body Shape For Granted
First, I should begin all of this by saying that I've never had major body issue struggles and I absolutely take that for granted. Seriously, the things so many of you Mamas deal with make my insecurities seem ridiculous. In the same vein, our insecurities are crippling for exactly that reason: We compare ourselves to each other, letting guilt and shame dominate our emotions about our bodies.
The thing that struck me the most after watching Embrace was the fact that I never considered writing about body image here on BohemiMama. That's how often I think about it. But as I listened to other women's stories and heard these beautiful girls and young women talk about their bodies using words like 'disgusting' and 'ugly' and 'horrible,' I couldn't NOT talk about it! Especially since mental health is such a large part of what I'm so passionate about. How you view yourself is a major factor in your mental health.
So I'm going to talk about it today. I'm sharing my personal story and a few photos. I haven't been through a dramatic before and after apart from pregnancy. I recognize that my story is not woeful and I have not walked through the fire of body shame, but the story is mine. I'm certainly not looking for sympathy. Quite the opposite, in fact. I hope my story encourages you to find a way to accept and embrace your body. So please be kind with any comments and shoot me an email if you really have to get something off your chest. Thanks in advance. Also, this is a long one, so get comfy.
Body Image As A Young Woman
I'm the daughter of a teen mom. My mom has always been young and fit and beautiful. I grew up being constantly told how much I looked like her so, naturally, I perceived myself as young, fit, and beautiful. (Side note: This should tell us a TON about how our daughters are learning about their own self-image from us, their Mamas! Kindness to yourself is kindness to your beloved girl.) As a teenager, I was 5'8", 140 lbs, lean, and pimple free. I wasn't popular by any stretch, but I had a solid group of friends who accepted the real me, so I was able to maintain a relatively high self-esteem. I had my insecurities, of course. I've been in glasses since I was a year and a half old and contacts, despite my two attempts at switching over to them, just don't work for me. In addition, I had curly, frizzy hair, small boobs, and a high forehead.
Gaining the Freshman Fifteen
After high school, I gained the obligatory 15 lbs due to whatever mysterious curse befalls woman upon moving out of their parents' homes. I also developed mild adult acne by the time I was 20, leading to a series of different acne treatments, none of which worked particularly well. Diversifying my diet to more than Totino's Pizzas and Costco muffins helped me to drop those mysterious extra pounds. By the time I got married at 23, I was basically the same size and shape I had been in high school. I had my first baby at 25 and my second at 26 and I now know that I will never be the same. Ever.
[caption id="attachment_224" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Shortly after getting married, early 2010[/caption]
Pregnancy Changes Your Body Forever
A baby changes you. Two babies change you forever. I can't imagine what three babies must do. My hips are wider, my thighs are flabbier, my stomach has twice as much skin as it needs and it's scarred and stripped beyond recognition. Pregnancy wasn't easy for me. I always imagined being one of those women who adores being pregnant and walks around with a grin on her face all day long. Instead, I was too exhausted to enjoy it. I gained 60 pounds, the same weight as an eight-year-0ld kid. Miraculously, I somehow dropped all the weight in the 6 months between pregnancies (yay, breastfeeding and no, we didn't plan to have them that close) and then gained all 60 pounds back with my second.
[caption id="attachment_223" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Pregnancy One in 2012 (left) and Pregnancy Two in 2013 (right)[/caption]
The second time around, I felt just as wiped out, but I had a baby to care for. I had to take much better care of my own health, even denying the strongest of cravings: cream-filled donuts. I know! After my second, I had moderate post-partum depression and I didn't lose the weight as quickly or as completely as I did the first time. My maternity clothes were far too big and my old clothes were still too tight. One year later and 15 lbs over my old weight, I realized that this might just be the new me.
The New, Flabby Mom Body
I would stand in front of the mirror pinching my stomach skin, daydreaming about how I used to look, wishing I had appreciated my old figure more. As my babies weaned and my breasts emptied, my over large nipples sagged toward the floor and I missed my small, but perky, youthful boobs. Knotted varicose veins run from my groin to my ankle on one side, though I am considering corrective measures for those. Ouch! Not to mention, the remnants of back pain from all the extra weight I had carried in the front.
I did everything right and still couldn't lose the weight. We ate a whole food diet; no white flours, no refined sugars, lots of fruits and vegetables. I ran around all day chasing my babies, working in the garden and cleaning a constantly messy house. I joined a gym. I started cycling, even completing an 85-mile ride over the Coastal mountains of Oregon. Despite my best efforts, those extra pounds clung on. In addition to my body image issues, the depression I had been dealing with since my early 20's was the worst it had ever been (probably contributing to my body image issues...).
[caption id="attachment_226" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Late 2016. This is a rare photo of me without a child or other person strategically placed in front of me. My wardrobe is now a medium instead of a small. But one letter on my label doesn't define me.[/caption]
Coming to Terms With My New Body
My depression climaxed just last summer and I finally started seeing a therapist. (Best decision ever! Seriously, Mama, money very well spent!) But even now that I'm mentally healthy again, my body still wears the scars of pregnancy. But I'm not unhappy about it.
In fact, I've grown to love my body. I really have. There are moments when I'd like to have firmer breasts or less jiggly thighs and I probably won't be going out in a bikini (not that I would have before anyway). But those aren't things I think when I look in the mirror. When I see my stretch marks, I remember the feel of my babies rolling inside me, the smell of their newborn hair, and the velvety baby skin that's unlike any other texture in the world. When I see the fine lines around my eyes, I think of all the times I've laughed with my mom, my husband, my girls, my grandmother, all the joy I've been privileged to feel. When I see the thick blue veins crisscrossing the tops of my feet, I remember all the places, the countries, the sights those feet have carried me to.
Accept the Body You Have
And so, I stopped trying to change my body. I still exercise and I still cycle and I still chase my babies around the house. But I don't do it to lose the weight. My priorities don't lie in what my abs look like or if my stomach skin will ever shrink back to normal. I do it because it makes me feel good and it keeps me healthy. I realized that unless I was willing to work out almost obsessively, I wasn't going to be able to significantly change my body. And, honestly, there are many other things I'd rather do with my time. To those of you who love working out that much, I think it's awesome. Keep up the good work! That's just not me. I'm a writer. Instead of changing my body, I just went shopping. I bought clothes for this body because it's the one I have. And it's worth it.
Embrace Your Body - It Helps You Do the Important Work
The most important thing I have to say today is this:
You, Mama, you are beautiful, but more than that, you are important. You are valuable. You are irreplaceable. You, Mama, are doing the best work on earth. You are needed. You are intelligent. You have gifts and goals and dreams that are unlike anyone else's, on the whole planet. You are unique. You are bold. You are courageous and capable of more than you know. Your body is the thing in which you dwell and which enables you to do the important things.
To quote Taryn, Mama, "Don't waste a single day of your life being at war with your body. Just embrace it."
Thanks for sharing your journey as I share mine.
Blessing upon blessing,
How can we help each other to embrace the bodies we have and learn to love them for what we can do with them?