One cool and unexpected aspect of becoming a parent is how much my kids have changed the way I view myself. My kids don’t think of me as awkward or with my head in the clouds. Instead I’m silly and have an imagination perfect for playtime and stories. Even though I have grumpy days (Atticus simply says I must need more coffee) and days where I’m too tired to play dinosaur pirates, my kids know that most of the time I’m fun, loving, and up for anything.
Next week is my 35th birthday and I’m amazed that I’m still able to see wonder surrounding me, enjoy creativity and imagination, and learn more about who I am in this great, wide world. My 15 year-old self would have been convinced that life would be over at 35 and I think each day is a new beginning and my kids are responsible for much of that sense of newness and adventure. Through my children I’m also learning to love my body. I grew three amazing babies in my womb, after 36 hours of labor and nearly four hours of pushing I birthed my sweet Hope, I had two C-sections – one for Atticus and one for Persy Jane – and those surgeries required me to be brave and for my body to heal. Then there is the breast feeding. If you take into account the 8 months Hope nursed in 2000 and add it to my breastfeeding from October of 2010 to the present, I have lactated for 1,890 days. That is roughly five years, two months, and five days of breastfeeding. My children love that I’m soft. Atticus especially loves to hug, squish, and lean against my large, soft stomach. My least favorite part of my body represents warmth, love, and safety to my son. “I love your squishy,” he tells me. That’s not a typo. It isn’t “I love that you are squishy.” He means he loves my “squishy” or what fat-shaming Amanda has always called a “disgusting gut.” WOW. Look at what a difference language makes.
Childbirth, nursing, and cuddling with my littles make me feel strong, beautiful, and special and it can also cause me pain, sleep deprivation, and urges to have my body to myself and away from tickles, pokes, and inadvertent kicks. That’s perfectly okay. The big ball of good sprinkled with tiny annoyances is fine; what’s important is that I feel alive, whole, important, loved.
The person who is changing my mind the most about my body is my teenager. Although I struggle with Binge Eating Disorder, self-injury, and poor body image, I’ve worked really hard to teach my daughter differently. I want her to know that all body types have value and beauty, that her body and sexuality is hers and hers alone, that it is important to eat healthy and that she should also enjoy her life and have a healthy relationship with food.
I can honestly say that at this point in time, Hope has a really healthy body image. She made an argument against me putting her on birth control (as a precaution, she isn’t active) with telling me that I always told her that her reproductive choices would always be respected. She discusses the stupidity of school dress codes that severely dictate what girls wear and she bemoans that, “maybe they should teach boys not to look at us as sex objects.” She will eat a lot if she is hungry, but then she can also make a pint of ice cream last for over a week by eating just a few bites each night. She is thin and athletic, but also has a different body type from most of her friends: curvy. I’ve never once heard her “hate” on her curves, instead she fusses at the stupid clothes that don’t respect and appreciate her body. I’ve never heard Hope about going on a diet or wanting to obsess over food. She is blissfully healthy and happy. I know she has things she doesn’t like about her body and there are times when she asks me to delete pictures or not post them because she doesn’t like how she looks, but that is quickly followed up with “wait until I fix my hair.” What I am trying to convey is that while my teen has some things she likes less about her body, she doesn’t think less of herself as a person and she isn’t filled with loathing because of a few things she doesn’t like.
Here is where I enter as a mid-thirties mama who is learning so much from this kid. Hope has started calling me out on how I body shame and belittle my body. I may not say it aloud in front of my kids, but my actions call attention to the confidence I lack in my body’s beauty. Here are some examples of Hope putting me in check:
- Hope is taking hours to put on her make-up. I am wearing no make-up. I tell her to hurry and that “no one will be there to impress.” “Mom,” Hope corrects, “I wear make-up for me. It is fun to put on!” Of course, look at me. I wear make-up for other people, because I don’t think I look nice. Hope wears make-up for fun and to “look good for herself.”
- I had a dressy occasion the other day and I was struggling into a pair of Spanx. I’d yank it up and kind of tuck it into my bra so it wouldn’t fall down my fat rolls. Hope entered my bedroom appalled and said, “Mom, why are you wearing that? You’re beautiful! Love your thickness!!!”
- Hope does not know about my self-injury, but she was asking me about why some people cut (it came up at school). She pointed to her legs, “look at my legs! They are perfect! My legs are so strong from running and I worked hard on this tan. Why would I want to mess up my beautiful self?”
Bless this confident girl.
I read an article the other day that said we should be telling our daughters that they are strong and not talk about their bodies or tell them they are pretty and beautiful. I disagree. Yes, we should focus on intelligence, kindness, creativity, and individuality. We should also tell our daughters they are beautiful. If we don’t point out their beauty (and not necessarily conventional beauty) from natural hair, to strong legs, to freckles, to soft skin, to rough hands from playing… then someone else (ahem, a capitalist patriarchy that thrives on consumerism) will tell them what defines beauty. I am so lucky to have my amazing teenager help me rewrite my definition of beauty.