I just got back from a sister circle where we talked about our Inner Child – that curious, impulsive, mischievous part of you that never grows up. We were supposed to bring a childhood picture of ourselves, and I knew exactly which one I wanted to bring.
Isn’t this picture awesome?! And the story is even better than the picture itself. I was four years old when this picture was taken. My parents had driven down to the Wisconsin State Fair for the day and my older cousin babysat. I distinctly remember locking myself in the bathroom, filling up my white plastic Kool Aid cup with water, and dipping a black comb into the water. I carefully dragged the comb through my hair, getting it wet just like the hairstylist did, and brushed it straight down over my forehead. Then I got my mom’s big silver scissors from underneath the bathroom sink. Snip. Snip. Snip. It was almost like I could feel the blades cut through each individual strand of hair. I was just going to trim it – nobody would be able to tell – but then it wasn’t quite even, so I had to go just a bit shorter, then a bit shorter, until . . . Yeah, I ended up with a pixie cut.
Luckily, my mother, ever prescient where her children are concerned, had purchased a metallic wig and matching baton as my gift from the State Fair, so I was totally covered. But you know what? I didn’t care. Check me out. I literally could not have cared less what I looked like to other people or whether or not they found my appearance pleasing. That was the absolute last thing on my mind. I was way too busy twirling my new baton and dancing to the Chipmunks covering 80s rock bands to spend a single second worrying about what other people thought of my appearance. I was free.
And then . . . one day we’re not so carefree. One day we wake up and all of a sudden we do care what other people think of our appearance, whether it’s our bodies, our faces, or the way we dress. Like most women, I went through horrifically awkward preteen and teenaged phases, from braces to bad hair cuts, and I felt the intense, crushing shame of stepping out in public feeling ugly and out of place. And unfortunately, especially at those vulnerable ages, other girls sometimes build up their own fragile egos by going after the weaknesses they see in others.
Up until age fourteen, I was so skinny that I found it embarrassing, to the point that I rejoiced on the day that my ribs no longer jutted out from my torso. But with puberty came an extra ten to fifteen pounds, and in the matter of a year, I went from being “the skinny one” to the one who needed to lose a few pounds.
I’ll never forget having a sleep over with my friend Katie and how she earnestly confessed to me that a mutual friend of ours was talking about me behind my back, saying I needed to lose some weight because I probably weighed “like 115 pounds.” Which I did. (This is actually cracking me up as I write this because nowadays any of us – who are currently in our thirties – would be ecstatic to weight 115 pounds, but it was genuinely distressing at the time.) I confronted my friend about it directly, which has always been my style I guess, and we hardly talked for the next three years, her comments about my 115-pound body too difficult for me to forgive.
And, like most women, I carried this self-consciousness about my body into early adulthood, as I gained even more weight. Never an unhealthy amount, but neither was I the knobby-kneed little girl with legs that looked like string beans. Oddly enough, pregnancy and breastfeeding are what eventually changed that for me.
Prior to pregnancy at 28, I was actually at a pretty good place with my body. When I switched from an office job to teaching, where I was on my feet a lot more instead of sitting at a computer for eight hours a day, I lost ten pounds without even trying. And I also got better about listening to my body and following its hunger cues. Overall, I was feeling confident. Then I got married and was pregnant less than three months later, and being the overachiever that I am, I exceeded the recommended 25-pound weight gain and went for a full 45. Never call me a slacker.
Wow. That first pregnancy. I felt like my self-esteem regarding my body went straight back to high school. There wasn’t enough elastic in all of Motherhood Maternity to make me feel better about the extra 20 pounds that had gone straight to my butt and thighs. I tried to feel like the glowing, maternal goddess I knew I was supposed to feel like (Ha ha!) but like a lot of expectant moms, I felt more like a whale than an otherworldly being.
In the end I was lucky, and the weight – all 45 pounds of it – came off with minimal effort on my part. Breastfeeding and walking the neighborhood while babywearing a cranky infant took care of it, and by the time my second pregnancy rolled around, something magical had happened.
I no longer gave a flying fuck what anyone thought of my body.
Because you know what? By the time I was pregnant with my second son, I was in so much awe of everything that my body had accomplished that it didn’t occur to me to judge it based on whether or not some random guy walking down the street found it attractive. My body had conceived, carried, birthed, and fed a human being – a real, honest to goodness human, for crying out loud – and the thought of reducing it to eye candy for strangers started to strike me as utterly and totally absurd. After four years of continuous breastfeeding – there was no break between my first and second – my breasts are certainly not as perky as the once were. The skin on my stomach will never be as taught, and there will always be faint wrinkles around my belly button.
But when I watched and felt my body accomplish really amazing things, literally transforming itself to create and sustain new life, something magical happened: Ironically, as I achieved this new maturity – a sense of pride in my body that was independent of validation from others – I came full circle, back to that little girl with the botched haircut and metallic wig who just wanted to groove to the Chipmunks. My body is no longer about what I look like, but what I can do.
And that’s how I feel about women’s bodies right now. I’m profoundly bored by what they look like – honestly, so much of that is determined by genetics anyways, which doesn’t tell me anything about who a woman really, actually is – but I’m fascinated by what they can do, whether it’s dancing, yoga, playing hopscotch with her kids, or completing the Boston Marathon with a prosthetic leg. I mean, no offense to Kim Kardashian because I’m not offended by nudity, but doesn’t it seem like if something should be breaking the internet, it should be the story of a woman who lost a leg in a terrorist attack only to come back and complete the Boston freakin’ Marathon? Seriously, sisters, I can’t even get over how badass this woman is.
Every woman relates to her body differently, and it’s certainly not my place to tell you how you should relate to yours. But for my part, I’ve found that gratitude and a sense of wonder have brought me much closer to the innocent girl I once was, not worried about what I look like but about soaking in all the fun and adventure that each moment offers. There are no guarantees that my love affair with my body will last, but for right now, it’s a really amazing place to be.