I’ve written a lot about my struggles with self-image. In many ways, it’s been a pretty defining theme in my life. From the time I was eight years old, I felt uncomfortable in my body and with how I looked. This has manifested itself over the years as intense struggles with binge eating, anorexia, bulimia, and body dysmorphia. I’ve never understood the phrase “your body is a temple”. My body felt like a trailer park after a meth raid. When I was thin, I was never THIN ENOUGH. When I was fat, I was embarrassed and wanted to disappear. Clothing shopping invariably ended in tears. PE class was a nightmare. I have spent more minutes of my life than I care to tally staring at myself in the mirror, pushing and prodding and sucking in and lifting and crying.
But something has begun, slowly but surely, to change.
Perhaps it’s being on medication. Perhaps it’s just being healthier.
But over the last few months, my perspective has shifted, I hope, for good.
It started simply. I began to start working out, in earnest, and not to look a certain way, not as a punishment for eating “bad” foods, but to get healthier, to have more stamina, to enjoy life more. I began to eat more fruits and vegetables and started cutting back a bit on nutritionally empty foods. I began to read my Bible more. I began to ask for help to see myself in a better way. I began unfollowing people who posted negativity, I began taking French lessons on Duolingo. I started making a point to get outside more often with my son. I started following body positive accounts on Instagram.
Then my husband made me a bet; to see if I could go the next year without saying how afraid I was that he would think I was ugly, if I could at least pretend I believed he thought I was beautiful, for one year. I thought it was a mean bet, an impossible one. But I wanted to win. Because I know the value of sharing healthy self esteem with my child. I know how much better I am as a mom, wife, and person, when I don’t hate myself.
Then Rini Frey, a body positive instagramer, posted a message that was so simple but somehow so effective for me. It cut through all of the platitudes I’d been struggling to repeat to myself for years that somehow never worked. It was this: I don’t have to love my body. I just have to appreciate what it does for me. I have to appreciate that it houses me, that it gets me where I need to go, that it gets the job done. I don’t have to love everything about it. Reading that was freeing to me in a way I can’t describe. I am so much more than a body. There is an oft-quoted line, (often misattributed to C.S. Lewis––actually it’s found in the works of several other authors, such as George MacDonald and Walter Miller), that says “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” I like that sentiment. It’s not that my material body doesn’t matter, but that it is merely the housing for what’s inside. I don’t have to love every aspect of it in order to appreciate that it holds me now.
But, perhaps, the most powerful realization about my body was purely material. I don’t often bathe my son. His dad usually takes care of that, as we have divided up various childcare tasks and that lot fell to him. But a month or two ago, it fell to me. As I was bathing my beautiful boy, and he was sitting there, enraptured by bubbles and toys and the wonder of this world, still so new and exciting to his eyes, I realized something. He’s not built lithe and athletic like his father. He’s built strong, even stocky. Like me.
I still tear up when I remember how beautiful that realization was. How I passed on this thing I have hated and fought for so long to my son and on him it is a thing of pure, undisguised beauty. It is worthy. Holy even. It houses his soul, and his soul is wondrous. I would never wish for it to be altered or changed because it is his, and he is fearfully and wonderfully made.
My goal now, as I read from Kasey Edwards recently, is to live a healthy, active life, and let my body fall where it may. So I work out, I eat nutrient-dense foods, I have dessert when I want it, and I try not to worry about my hips and butt and breasts and tummy. I try not to worry about some narrow concept of beauty or a number on a scale or a dress size. I still have tough days, days where shopping for jeans reduces me to tears. But I think of my son, his chunky thighs too big for some of his own jeans. And I just don’t want to worry about it anymore. Because he has my body, and it’s beautiful because it is his. So mine must be too. Because it is mine.