I have vivid memories of the week after giving birth to my first baby. Standing in the shower, looking down at my “bread-dough” belly, my fleshy hips, and my leaking breasts, I wondered if this was some kind of cruel joke. (Am I the only one who was unpleasantly surprised by her postpartum body?)
Several years and two more babies later, I still have that bread-dough belly, my hips didn’t magically disappear, and my breasts are sagging memories of what they once were. Not only that, these features have been joined by some wrinkles, spider veins, and gray hairs.
You might think this has me curled up in a corner, whimpering about my long-lost beauty, pining for the days when I was in my prime. But you would be wrong. I love my looks and treasure my body—with all its flaws.
No, I haven’t always felt this way. I wasted lots of precious time and energy worrying about being imperfect and not “beautiful.” You’ve heard the expression, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” right? This is so true! Our feelings about ourselves permeate our homes and our interactions with others, and they affect our ability to make a difference in the world.
I’ve gotten in my own way plenty of times, losing out on opportunities to achieve goals or move toward becoming the woman and mom I want to be. So how did I get here—to the land of body love? It’s taken time, effort, and learning to live by a whole new set of ABC’s.
I don’t think I’ll ruin anyone’s illusion by saying that most of the images we see in advertising and media are illusions. The majority have been altered to appear perfect. Even though we know this, it’s still hard to come to terms with the fact that we don’t look like those images, and that our bodies are real—not plastic—with cellulite, facial lines, and other authentic, imperfect features.
You know the sign people hang in their homes that says, “Excuse the mess, but we live here”? I want to put that message on a T-shirt. Yes, I live in my body, and life is messy. Bodies are not meant to be showpieces. They will age, get injured and sick, and have bad hair days (many, in my case, thanks to kinky, natural curls).
Also, we are NOT our bodies. They are merely a part of us—the container of our spirits. What’s inside is so much more important and valuable.
Many of us fight with our bodies, playing and replaying negative messages about ourselves—to ourselves—all day, every day. This is so destructive! We can become our own worst enemy.
Several years ago, I realized I had fallen into this trap and was constantly sending myself negative messages. A thought occurred to me one day as I looked into the mirror and berated myself yet again. “Would I say that to a friend?” Of course not! The thought seemed absurd. I knew I wouldn’t have any friends left if I treated them the way I was treating myself. Something had to change.
That day I began to be more mindful of the things I was telling myself. When I caught a negative body thought in my mind, I would stop and ask myself, “Where’s the good? What have my lumpy legs (or insert any body part) done for me?” Well, they have carried me everywhere I go, every day of my life. They have run several races. They have held babies for storytime. And, since they’re long, they help me reach things on high shelves. It wasn’t easy, and I felt silly at first, but after a while the good thoughts started sticking. I was finally becoming my body’s friend.
Just as with a person, when you like your body, it’s easier to treat it right. Many people have the mistaken notion that eating healthy and exercising are punishments for gaining weight, overeating, or other “sins” of gluttony. It’s actually the complete opposite. Having healthy habits is a way to show your body you love it. You’ll get much more mileage from approaching these actions as gifts to yourself. I enjoy eating healthy because I feel better, and I know it makes my body perform better. I’m giving myself the opportunity to live longer, healthier, and happier.
The same goes for exercise. Move your body because it’s fun, it feels good, and it helps you to be stronger mentally as well as physically. You don’t have to go to the gym—just go for a walk, play tennis, or chase your kids around the park. Every body deserves nurture and care, no matter its size or shape.
When you love yourself, you will be better able to “show up” in your life. But, let’s be honest. This isn’t a once-and-done thing. I still struggle at times with my feelings toward my body, especially as I age. I’m bugged that I run slower than I used to, that my body doesn’t bounce back as quickly after an injury, and that my gray hairs are multiplying exponentially every day. But then I remember that aging is part of the gift of having a body, a gift I am beyond grateful to have.
QUESTION: Do you struggle to love your body? Are you more its enemy than its friend?
CHALLENGE: Try saying only positive things about your body for a whole day. See what a difference it makes in how you feel about yourself.
Edited by Ashley Dickson and Nollie Haws.
Image provided by the author.