Growing up, I was always the tall, skinny girl, and for the most part felt confident about myself. I was “pretty” and learned to maneuver through life as the pretty girl. In fact, looking back now I probably relied on it. It’s how I felt “good”. I wasn’t the star athlete, overly smart or shined in any other particular way – but I was pretty. So that, subconsciously, became my go to accolade. It’s what I was good at. I could pull off “pretty”.
I share this now not because I’m proud of that, but rather to demonstrate how little I knew about true beauty. About what it meant to truly feel and be beautiful. I had so much to learn. 20 years, and four babies later, it’s been a rough lesson learning that true beauty wasn’t even close to what I thought.After my first two pregnancies, it was still easy enough to “hide” the baby weight and pull myself together. I could “fad diet” for a few weeks, put in a few extra yoga classes, color those grey hairs, and suddenly I’d be as good as new. Even then, even though I was a mother, I still thought that my looks mattered. I was so attached to my ego, so attached to the way I “was”. I wasn’t ready to let that image go.
Maybe we all feel this way to some extent. We look in the mirror and recognize ourselves a certain way, we rely on that image to stay the same. That somehow it represents something we’ve either done “right or “wrong” depending on what is reflected back. That somehow I’m loved more if my scale is a lower number, or if my tummy is flatter. That it matters. That our happiness lies in what’s reflected back to us. At least for me, at that time, a part of me felt that way.
But we don’t dare admit this, not to ourselves, and certainly not out loud to others. Society says “beauty is on the inside”, and to an extent we all nod our heads in agreement, “yes, yes, so true”. But secretly, after we’re done nodding our heads in agreement, there is still this tiny voice that says, “yes, but not for you”. So we hide our bellies, or cover our thighs, or make excuses for why our hair is a mess. Because just us showing up exactly as we are, still feels like it’s not enough. We’re not enough.
So I’d act coy, like I could have cared less about my looks, as if I wasn’t even trying. Maybe some of you can relate to this. I was a duck swimming so calmly above the water, but underneath my webbed feet frantically pumping and moving to keep me afloat. It was an act. It was a lie.
After Frankie’s birth, I weighed more than I ever had, ever. And not just after his birth, it was months later that I put on the weight. I think it was because I was exhausted, overwhelmed and maybe even a little depressed, I don’t know. What I do know is that I didn’t recognize myself, physically or mentally.
They say that God, the universe (or whatever you believe in), keeps sending you the same message until you’ve learned your lesson. Frankie was that message for me. I was sent four babies to finally learn a lesson, and it wasn’t just about my self-image (more on that another day). It was a lesson on learning to embrace what is, exactly as it is, without trying to change it.
So I try, every day (some days better than others) to embrace myself, my situation, exactly as it is. This is my practice. To embrace my body, my limitations, my strengths exactly as they are, without judgement.
When you do that, when you truly embrace what is, an amazing thing happens, your perspective shifts. Your thoughts shift (not at once, but slowly with time). It’s like a colander with little holes; the negative self-hating thoughts start falling through the tiny openings, and what’s left in the colander is a healthy self-image.
I can honestly say, that for the first time since I can remember, I truly feel comfortable in my skin, exactly as I am. I see my body now, not as something that I “possess”, but rather as something that serves me.
When I look in the mirror, I see a 38-year-old woman, who is strong and healthy. I don’t see a middle with stretch marks and scars, but rather a core that has given me five miraculous pregnancies, and carried 4 babies for 39 weeks each. I don’t see scars from C-sections and surgeries, but rather lifelong imprints that stay with me as a symbol of healing so I may never forget that all wounds close in time. I no longer see a chest that is deflated with wrinkles, but instead breasts that have nurtured my little ones through their first moments of life. I no longer see legs covered in veins that no longer serve me, but rather strong bones that have carried more pounds that I can count up and down more stairs than I can remember. I no longer see a back with chronic pain, but rather a torso that can reach to the floor without pain to pick up a toy, or pull my children out from the bath with confidence and ease.
If I took away all these symbols of life that I once tried so hard to cover, then I’d have to take away all of the things in my life that I’m most grateful for too. The life experiences that gave me stretch marks, scars, or wrinkled skin, are also the same experiences from which I learned patience, strength, compassion and kindness. They go hand in hand. These are the experiences that helped me understand what true beauty looks like, and more importantly feels like.
Below is a photo that JonPaul recently took of Lillian and I practicing yoga in our family room. I had my shirt off, because at home with them it’s easy to practice being comfortable in my skin. When JonPaul shared it with me later that day, I had to take a few breaths before responding. My old reaction would have been to find the flaw, to have said something critical about my stomach. But before I responded, I took a deep breath and looked at it again. I saw my strong, healthy, happy body doing one of my favorite things with one of my very favorite people. “It’s perfect”, I said. “I love it”. And for the first time, in a long time, I meant it.