Saturday, March 24, 2007

How I Fell In Love With My Body

I wrote the original version of this four and a half years ago. I got it out and dusted it off after reading Tracey's great post on Morethanaminivanmom
It's a great post, and really got me thinking about body image, and how hard we are on ourselves.

This isn't my favorite bit of my writing, but I still thought it was worth sharing. So, Tracey, you "Cute-Jr's.-Top-Wearin'-Stone-Fox" you, I dedicate this one to you!

How I Fell In Love With My Body

Four and a half years ago, I fell in love with my thighs. A bit later, I became smitten with my belly button. It had been a long time coming, nearly 30 years, and it happened in an instant. The first ten years of my life I was too busy running and playing to even notice my body. But from about age 10 on, it seemed that I was waging a continuous battle with "baby fat", "the freshman 10", post-marriage "happy pounds", and almost back where it started, post-partum "baby fat".

It’s sad to think of how many years I spent obsessing about parts of my body that I didn't like because they had a little extra jiggle. Especially when you consider that I'm married to a man who clearly loves all my parts, and considers my jiggle to be well placed and a huge turn-on. What a waste of my mental resources to feel anything less than fabulous. But like a lot of women, I spent years of my life somewhat uncomfortable in my own skin.

We moved from Seattle to Hollywood in 1997. We have since moved back to the northwest, but this time in my life was a daily struggle with body image. Because I realized I could no longer hide under my big sweaters. I also realized that it didn't make the world a better place if a) I hated all the toned and perfect women I saw EVERYWHERE, or b) hated myself because I didn't look like them. So I set about to come to terms. And I did. I worked hard at achieving a sort of d├ętente with my body. I valiantly struggled to just not care. Mind you, I still would attempt to look stylish, or at least clean. I even came to see those "perfect" women as just people who have their own struggles and frustrations and heartbreaks. Some of those gorgeous women became good friends of mine. And yet... and yet.... I still had a hard time just being in my body, being thankful for all that it can do, and truly loving all those imperfections that make me who I am. The closest I came was when I was pregnant with my son - I felt as much like a goddess as a nice Lutheran girl can get. But eventually he had to join us here in the world, and I was left with my same old body, with not so much a muffin top as a loaf of half-baked bread with not enough yeast. “Saggy” and “flabby” would have been an improvement for what I had. The blessing was I was mostly too tired to care how I looked, but every once in a while I'd catch my reflection in a store window and get preemptively tired from the pep talk I knew I had to give myself.
I knew it was something as simple as changing my mind. And I also knew in my heart as well as my head that being a certain size wouldn't bring me peace. What I didn’t know was that it would be like falling in love. I wouldn’t see it coming.

My epiphany came when I was least expecting it. I was lost in a creative pursuit, painting a bookcase for my son. He was eighteen months old then, and he could already read his one-word-per-page book called "Baby Faces" (or at least that's what my husband and I chose to believe). He opened the pages, pointed to the baby face and said the word that was on the corresponding page. Basically, he was just plain brilliant, and his love of books was to be encouraged in any way possible. So we bought him all kinds of books, and soon his room was an obstacle course of “Goodnight Moon”, “Shapes and Colors” and “Particle Physics for Babies”. Before I broke an ankle rushing to him in the middle of the night, I thought I ought to bring some order to the chaos. So I set out to paint an old bookcase that was left in our garage by the previous owner of our home.

I was wearing my painting shorts, no make-up, and a ratty old T-shirt. I was a walking talking “Fashion Don’t”. I had come upstairs from our garage to get a drink of water, when my son walked up behind me, wrapped his yummy, dimpled arms around my knees, reached up on his tip-toes and kissed the back of my thighs. It took me so by surprise. Not just the kiss, but my reaction to it. I stooped down to his level (after carefully extricating my legs from his incredibly strong grip), and kissed him back. We spent a few minutes playing with blocks in his room, and as I stood up, I caught a glimpse of myself in his mirror. I still looked the same, but I was transformed.

About a week later, my belly button caught his attention. Joe-Henry was in his high chair, and I was bringing him his dinner. I was doing my best Martha Graham interpretive dance while carrying a plate of fish sticks to his high chair, and my shirt inadvertently rose above my belly to expose my navel. Remember, at this point we lived in Los Angeles, where baring the belly button is “de rigeur”, but only if there is no visible sign of an actual belly. But my son, upon seeing my navel, his former physical link to me, began to point wildly at it, smiling maniacally and reaching out for me to come closer. So I did, at first unsure of what he was pointing at. But when I got within reach, he lifted my shirt, triumphantly proclaiming "Bum-Buh!" (His word for belly button) and stuck his finger, covered in food, into my navel, then he leaned over and kissed it. I was so moved I couldn't speak. All I could do was gently touch his sweet curls, and kiss the top of his beautiful noggin.

I haven’t taken to wearing belly bearing shirts or anything outrageously un-Lutheran like that, but I don’t stop him when he lifts my shirt to lay his cheek on my doughy belly. He’s six now, and he still loves my body in that way a child does. It’s not as familiar to him as it once was, because each day he ventures further from it, out into the world, inhabiting his own unique, beautiful body more fully each day. We model our behavior for each other – his self confidence is breathtaking, and I no longer make self-critical comments to myself when I look in the mirror.
This body has gotten me around all my 40 years, has helped me climb big hills, ride bikes, walk, run, reach, stretch, dance, have mind-blowing sex, carry my son (inside and out) all without much more than a pulled muscle. It’s older than it used to be, with a few more aches and pains, but I can still turn heads. My husband’s, my son’s and most importantly, my own.


suttonhoo said...

this is the best.


Franklin5 said...

Just... wonderful. And as is so often the case, the exact words that I needed to read.

I haven't fallen in love with my body, and perhaps I should give myself permission to. I've thanked it for doing such incredible work thus far, but then we just shook hands and I commenced to passive-aggressively despising it once again. And then sending out a steady stream of passive-agressive she's-skinnier-than-me vibes to other women walking the earth.

This group now includes, I realize, my sweet daughter, who is perfect in every way just exactly as she is. Must reconcile this disconnected message. ALL women are fabulous, all shapes and sizes, including my own.

(Is it okay, if more than a little odd and self-absorbed, that I use your comment section as my own personal therapy session? Sorry.)

There's a blog that escapes me now, and I'm getting borderline freakish results from my Google attempts, but: it's a collection of photos from women who have bravely agreed to share their wildly, wonderfully imperfect bellies and bodies with the blogosphere. It's a perfect match to this perfect post.

And of course... love the picture of perfectly fabulous you!

anniemcq said...

I think I know the pics you're talking about, Franklin. I ran across them in Oprah mag at the doctors office the other day. There was one that was just absolutely arresting - this woman was 93, and she was so amazing. I couldn't stop looking at her - she had such a twinkle in her eye!

And yes, of course you may use my blog for your therapy session, as long as you're FUNNY. And you are.

I am so lucky to have such incredible women in my life. Whenever I bare my soul, whether it's in person or to my bloggie friends, (and sometime's they're both - Ms. Suttonhoo), I am so taken aback at how much love I get in return. You are all such amazing, fabulous women. So smart, so talented and so BEAUTIFUL, from the inside out.

Tracey R. said...

This is an awesome, awesome post. "with not so much a muffin top as a loaf of half-baked bread with not enough yeast." is my favorite line. Love it!

I definitely have not fallen in love with my body, but I no longer hate it like I did for many years. I'm getting there...

Linda said...

Very sweet. My little boy is 18 now. Sigh. And your references to being Lutheran remind me of Garrison Keillor.