Aren’t we amazing? I mean, aren’t women and our bodies simply amazing? We have soft lips and strong shoulders. We can incubate and nourish a growing human, push that little human down and out through a little birth canal and then continue to help it grow with milk that handily comes out of our boobs! If we break a bone, our body can heal it. When we need new skin, extra adrenaline or the ability to function with just one kidney, our body manages it all. Yet still, we judge. And we judge harshly.
I can honestly say that I don’t know any woman who is completely happy with her body. Isn’t that terrible? The funny thing is, I wouldn’t have included myself in that category until fairly recently. I grew up with a pretty healthy body image and made it all the way to college before I had my first “holy shit! My thighs did not look like that a month ago!” freak out. I became a yoga instructor in my mid-twenties, which contributed greatly (physically and psychologically) to a continued friendly relationship with my appearance. I felt beautiful on my wedding day at age 28, gained just 15 pounds during my first pregnancy, and promptly lost it all, plus 20 more, after my daughter was born.
So I’d been just sort of sailing along in these potentially treacherous body image waters for most of my life, until I had baby number two. My amazing female body again only added 15 pounds while I was carrying our son, and it’s not that this ridiculously miraculous vessel even held on to that extra weight, it’s just that the whole configuration seems to have shifted. Our bodies’ ability to do just that is a key factor in growing and birthing a baby, so add it to the list of amazing feats. But the way all that moving around looks on the outside is something I’m finding tough to accept.
Compounding the issue is the fact that I can’t imagine this current incarnation of my body would be remotely attractive to my husband. When I take stock, this is what I see: A droopy derriere that, in its heyday, was crowned “Best Buns,” Class of ’95; more and more dimples in these rotund thighs; overworked milk bags that are heading a little further south every day; and most upsetting of all, a rather thick bulge in my middle where there were once strong and visible abdominal muscles. Boo-hoo.
So you would think that I’d be overjoyed, or at least relieved, when my husband recently said to me, unprompted: “I’m so attracted to you. You’re such a woman.” Yeah, not so much. Why is that? What is that evil part of my brain that refuses to let in Ryan’s words of acceptance and praise, choosing instead to replay my own criticisms and insecurities? It’s proof enough for me that a woman’s body image is truly generated from within. Sure, I care what other people think, but when it comes down to it, the only thoughts that have the power to actually change my perception are my own.
This realization first hit me as a bummer because, clearly, if I could simply adopt my husband’s view of my body I’d be all set. And not just his. I have very nice friends who tell me I have absolutely “nothing to worry about” when it comes to physical appearance. But it’s not really about appearance, is it?
(Side note: Something about this topic is really hitting my reflexive question nerve. See how badly I wish I were having an actual conversation with you?)
Once I got over the bummer and fully understood where this was all coming from, I got a little happier. Alas, we are not talking about appearance; we are talking about feelings. My perception of myself will change when I feel differently about my body. A-ha, Oprah! So I’ve come full circle, back to that list of amazing qualities that my one-and-only, oh-so-miraculous body possesses. Sure, I have a tummy bulge that never used to be there. I also have two incredible children who enrich my life on a daily basis who needed to stretch out inside that bulge for a spell on their way to Earth. I bear the marks of a woman who devotes a little too much time to everyone else and not enough to her own physical health and fitness (for now). But I eat well and my accommodating body is doing what she can to at least work with that.
Yoga class and dance class and solo hikes will one day make their way back into my life. I’m sure of it. Perhaps by then it will be too late to get my abs back to circa 2003, or to rediscover my 18-year-old’s ass, but I have the privilege of inhabiting this beautiful body for a lifetime. And I feel great about that.
Photo: Max Wanger Photography