Standing in the grocery store line last week, I couldn’t help but be assaulted by, err, notice the magazine headlines clamoring for my attention: “10 Tips to Get a Hot Body Now;” “Swimsuits That Slim You Instantly;” “Four kids, no time, this body…find out how she does it.;” “How to Get the Body of Your Favorite Celeb;” “5 cellulite fixes that actually work;” “The trick to getting rid of your double chin;” “Down 35 lbs and already rockin’ a bikini bod just 5 weeks after giving birth.” I wanted to burn them all, the magazines that is, not because I wouldn’t love to have the body of a celebrity or lose my double chin, but because I tire of the messages our culture sends to women about their bodies. Messages like, you have to be skinny to be sexy, you’ll only be desired for your outward beauty, you’re identity is in how you look, and on and on they go. They’re sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant, but either way they tend to leave women feeling dissatisfied with their bodies and under constant pressure to look a certain way.
I’m very much for healthy eating, being fit and in shape, and taking care of your body. But I’m also for balance, accepting the body you’ve been given, and rockin’ what you got! The journey to have a healthy body image has been life-long for me. And not long after I hit my stride as I rolled into my 30’s, feeling really comfortable in my own skin, did I get pregnant. At first, there wasn’t much of a physical change, at least outwardly. Yet the hormones kicked in immediately, ‘the girls’ began to ache, and my tummy began to rebel. And shortly thereafter, the visible signs appeared as my belly began to burgeon, along with other parts of me that unexpectedly burgeoned too! For me, it was my backside, my bum, my derriere, whatever you want to call it. When I'm preggo, it grows at approximately the same pace as my belly. Perhaps it's attempting to even things out, so as to keep me balanced, or at least that's what I tell myself anyway!
Every woman is different and thus, the shape that a pregnancy takes varies from body to body. The one certainty is that your body will change when you're pregnant. How do you handle this change? Some women welcome it completely, taking great comfort and joy in the fact that this ever expanding body is growing another human being. But many women I've talked to experience mixed feelings, the comfort and joy mentioned above, accompanied by a struggle to love their widening, softening, and ever growing body.
An even greater challenge for many women, myself included, is that of embracing our bodies which are forever changed once we've pushed that bowling ball-sized bundle of love out of our nether-regions. No one warned me that I would still look pregnant AFTER I gave birth! I remember having a friend visit me in the hospital the day that my son was born. I was in the bathroom when she arrived and as I came out, I felt the need to warn her, "I swear I gave birth today, but I still look pregnant!" This, not to mention the fact that I was incredibly swollen EVERYWHERE from the IV that had been pumping fluids through me for my 45 hour labor. I look back at pictures of me with my family, shortly after Ben's birth, and while I'm filled with joy and pride, if I'm honest, it's also difficult for me to look at myself in that state.
I immediately loved my sweet baby boy more than I ever thought I could love someone who wasn't my husband, but I also struggled to accept all the jiggle in places I never knew could jiggle. It felt discouraging to weigh more than I ever had in my life (not pregnant) even though I was now sans baby in the belly. But through the years, I've come to realize that body image or how I feel about my body is really a matter of perception and attitude. I know women who, if you look at them from the backside, you wouldn't be able to tell they were pregnant, even at 39 weeks along. And those same women slid back into their size 2 skinny jeans just days after giving birth. Yet, in talking with some of those very women, they too, identified parts of their bodies with which they were dissatisfied. As someone who will likely NEVER don a pair of skinny jeans (due to calves that are about the same size as my thighs, ok not quite, but you get the picture), I initially thought to myself, 'but how in the world could you be dissatisfied with your body when you look like THAT?' But I was quickly reminded that no matter our shape or size, as women, we can always find parts of our bodies with which we're dissatisfied, often times far more easily than we can identify the parts with which we're happy. All too often, I think we waste a lot of energy being mad at our bodies, rather than making friends with them.
Long before my baby-making days, in effort to 'make friends with my body,' I began to periodically ask myself this question, "Right now, is your body a stranger, enemy, or friend?" I began to explore my views and beliefs towards my body and where those beliefs were coming from. I found that I held some strong beliefs about my body, many of which originated from what culture told me I was supposed to look like rather than from my own preferences or what made me feel good.
After giving birth, I desperately needed to revisit the stranger, enemy, or friend question. I also realized that I needed to spend some time reflecting on the awesome feats my body had just pulled off. As I reflected, I began to thank my body. It may sound corny, but sometimes a little heart to heart, or rather heart to thighs dialogue is necessary for me. And as I listen to my body, and sit in awe of everything my body does for me on a daily basis, I am filled with gratitude, able to more easily accept my not-so-favorite-parts.
These are a few questions/exercises that seem to help me and thought I’d pass them along!
1. Right now, do you see your body as a stranger, enemy, or friend?
2. What attitude do you have towards your body today? Positive or negative? Grateful or disparaging?
3. Make a list of the amazing things your body has done for you today. Perhaps you could start with the fact that your body woke up this morning breathing!
4. What have you done to love your body today? Perhaps, start with thinking about what things you could actually do to love your body. Here are a few that I like: feeding it healthy foods, exercise, warm bath, or a massage.
5. Think of something that makes you feel beautiful, not beautiful in the "so and so told me I totally rock those jeans" kind of beautiful, but something that makes you feel beautiful inside and out. For me, it's going for a hike or a run, somewhere in nature. Something about the sun shining on my face, the wind blowing in my hair, and my body carrying me up a hill leaves me feeling strong and beautiful. Whatever it is for you, DO IT!
6. What does it look like for you to accept what you're not and embrace all that you are, when it comes to your body?
As my second pregnancy ensues, it once again is debatable as to whether the baby is growing in my belly or my bum, but I'm in a much better place this time around to make friends with my burgeoning backside. I'm choosing to treat my body right, eating healthy and exercising, and I feel great. Everyday, I make it a practice to thank my body for its willingness to undergo such duress, so as to grant me with another beautiful family member to love. After all, we only have one body, so I say, love the one you're with!