So yesterday I piled the lot of us into a Target dressing room and went through the dreaded process of trying on swim suits.
Ask me how much fun that was?
Oh. Well, since you asked, it was not fun. Not fun at all. But I couldn’t let the complete and utter misery I was experiencing show on my face. Because my girls were watching. Well, the big one was watching. The little one was joyfully flailing her arms and pumping her legs as she blew spit bubbles. But still. So I smiled, picked the one I hated least and we got the frickity frack out of there.
All the way home I was feeling…feelings. A lot of them. But mostly I was feeling afraid. Afraid that one day my two girls would find themselves in a dressing room with their own girls trying on swim suits and feeling horrible about their own perfect little selves. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about body image since we left the store. Body image in general. And my own.
We all have complicated relationships with our bodies. And I feel like if I am going to talk about this then I should probably at least touch on my own history with body image.
I am not a person who has always struggled with weight. Frankly, until I hit puberty, I was a flat out scrawny kid. All gangly arms and legs and no baby fat to speak of. By high school I had filled out a bit. But, at 5’5″, I never weighed much more than 120 pounds. I can remember absolutely panicking when I was in college and I started creeping into the 130s.
Go ahead. Take a minute to beat the hell out of me in your head. I know you want to.
But when you’re done, consider what kind of twisted b.s. has to be at work when a girl who weighed 130 pounds was fending off a panic attack after stepping of the scale?
Girls get so many mixed messages. Yes, be smart. Get good grades. Go to college. But also, and most importantly…you better be hot. Ultimately, your ENTIRE value is predicated on what your body looks like and don’t you forget it… It’s so gross.
And, if I am honest, I was a girl who’d always had a “nice body” and it absolutely terrified me that I might lose it. What would happen? Who would like me, want me, love me if I wasn’t the smallish girl with the relatively flat tummy and the great rack anymore? My goodness that’s so depressing to see written out like that. But that’s how it felt. It was my truth. At that point, deep down, there was a part of me that believed it was all I had to offer the world.
I won’t lie to you, I still struggle with that. Over the years I did become less concerned about the number on the scale. But how my clothes fit? How I look in pictures? How I feel in my body? Sometimes I feel like a bastardized version of myself. Because obviously God made me to look like the girl in that picture and she’s not who I see in the mirror anymore.
Whether or not we’ve struggled with our bodies since we were small children or we’ve watched them slowly changing over time, we all still struggle to see the truth beyond our size. Our shape. Whatever it is about the way we look that’s obfuscating our view.
Here’s the thing. The thing, the thing, the thing. We are not our bodies. Yes, our bodies are beautiful MIRACLES of God and His biology and they grant us this glorious experience here on the physical plane. Our bodies have value. But we are not our bodies. Our bodies are instruments. Vessels.
We should take care of our bodies. Feed them good, nutritious food and work them to their potential. Our bodies are gifts. We all know how amazing it is to feel strength in our muscles and energy in our cells. That is LIFE in you and it’s incredible. But what our bodies look like…that is merely a by-product of the care we give ourselves. And healthy bodies come in a such a spectacular, gorgeous array of sizes, colors and shapes.
The way we look, how much we weigh, it ultimately has nothing to do with who we really are. That is the truth. I know it’s the truth. But, of course, knowing this to be true and FEELING it to be true isn’t always the same. Because it’s also true that how we feel about our bodies has an impact on our mental and emotional health.
I can pull up pictures of myself from various time periods and I can tell you just by looking at them where I was emotionally. When I am happy and healthy, I look great. My hair is usually longer and lighter and I wear cute, formfitting clothes. You can tell my body is well cared for and I take pride in my appearance. When depression is beating me…I’m heavier. My hair is often shorter and darker and I wear dumpy clothes that are usually two sizes too big. I’m trying to hide. In those pictures I don’t really recognize myself.
So, coming out of infertility and then pregnancy…where am I now? Somewhere in between, I guess. The key is figuring out what we have the power to change and what is outside of our control.
For example, I grew two babies in my body. Two rather sizable babies. Sure, I’ve seen bigger but both of my girls were over eight pounds and despite my weight going up and down I am not a particularly large woman. In terms of bone structure, I’m on the small size. Under the layers of chub there dwells a small rib cage and narrow non-childbearing hips. That’s the reason my children require alternative exits. My pelvis is too small. So…my big babies…they WRECKED my tummy. WRECKED IT. I was more than willing to make that sacrifice. Too-da-loo pretty little tummy. I’m sure I can make mild improvements but I am okay with the fact that I may NEVER feel comfortable in a two piece swim suit ever again.
There is no point in being miserable about it.
But there is so much I do have control over. I can treat my depression and I am treating my depression. Now my energy levels are on an upswing and, as spring is limping it’s way here and summer follows close behind, I can get outside and walk with my girls. I am adopting better eating habits. I can work my muscles and center myself through yoga and strength training. History tells me that when I do those things my weight settles back into the range that is natural for my body. I know I can look good and feel strong. I’ll get there.
So you know what? I am going to wear my new swim suit with pride this summer. Because strength and confidence are two qualities I MUST model for my daughters. How long are we going to tolerate these lies we’re told about our bodies and our value? I am so over this crap right now.
My body is a beautiful miracle and it can do amazing things.
So can yours.