The question at hand: Do I love my mom bod?
And the truth: No.
No, I do not. And even more of the truth, I’ve never loved my body. Even as a 5’5″ tall, 120 pound physically fit teenager, I cringed and found more things to hate than to love.
And why not? I was taught to self-loath, not to self-love.
Don’t get me wrong, my parents are inspiring, loving, supportive parents. They (my mom, step-mom, and dad) have always wanted me to thrive. There was no conscious decision to make me fall out of love with my body.
The problem is, the damaging self-talk and appearance comments did not start with my parents. They started generations before that.
Recently I was talking to my mom about my memories of her telling me to “suck it in” throughout my childhood. She immediately apologized, explaining her mom always told her the same. My Grammie has always been very traditional in her beliefs of how girls and women should act. And she was, and is not, alone. She came from an entire generation of tradition, and what it meant to be lady-like. I was sharing this memory with my mom because I wanted to thank her for helping me develop a strong core that is important to my health. My mom however, knew it stemmed from expectations of what a girl should look like, not from expectations of developing good posture.
I watched my step-mom (my bonus mom who has always been there) try every fad diet known to man. Something that’s important to share; she has always been beautiful to me, and has never been overweight. But she believed she was. She still does.
My mom took a different approach to maintaining appearances and losing weight. She would drink a very large Diet Pepsi during the day, and skip meals. If she was stressed, or if there was a new situation in life, she would not eat at all. Sometimes days. Sometimes weeks. And, just like my step-mom, my mother never was, and still isn’t, overweight. She does not see her beauty as I do.
So naturally, growing up I learned that skinny was good, and skinnier was better. That no matter what I looked like, it was only a work in progress, destined to be more.
In high school I would stop eating for days and sometimes weeks at a time so I could get into a pair of size 5 jeans. I knew it was unhealthy, so I hid it from everyone. I made excuses to why I didn’t want to eat when we had the occasional family dinner.
Now that I’m an adult, and a mom of three, currently four months postpartum, I look in the mirror and see little I am happy with. I have spent a lot of time discussing the feelings of body appearance with my sister and sister-in-law. I spend even more time complaining to my husband about how inadequate I feel. I drive him crazy because I laugh or make comments under my breath every time he gives me a compliment.
Recently my sister-in-law and I have spent more time talking about our two year old daughters though, and how we want them to grow up.
How can we make sure they always love themselves? How do we make sure they love the way they look, no matter what? And how do we teach them to lift others up?
For starters, we realize we need to change the way we raise them. While there are many things I learned from my parents that I will carry with me, I will not carry this. No joking about being too wide to fit through the door. No comments about what our children are eating. No hidden context that will lead to them feeling bad about themselves. No comparisons to others that’ll make them feel less than adequate.
Next, we will do our best to protect them from others. People can be hateful and make negative comments. They can pick apart all that is beautiful in a person, until all self-love is gone. My sister-in-law experienced this growing up, with her self-image depleted not by her immediate family, but others. So we make sure to protect our children and their beautiful little souls by surrounding them with those who are positive and scarcely seeing those who are negative. Even at such a young age it is important because they absorb everything and are developing their foundations.
We will encourage them to love themselves and love one another. My niece will look at herself in the mirror and say, “I cute!” What an empowering statement! We teach them to love themselves by giving positive affirmations about their appearance and personality. We teach them to love each other by giving others comments of admiration.
Finally, while it’ll take a lot of work and effort, we need to show them that we love our own bodies, despite what we may be feeling inside. And who knows, maybe someday we will start to actually believe it. I don’t want my children to grow up seeing me unhappy with my appearance, because it’ll teach them to feel the same.
Self-love needs to be taught through a wholistic approach. We do not want our children to become self-important and believe they alone are perfect while others are faulty. We want to develop a solid foundation of love for themselves and love for others, so they can go out into the world and see all the beauty that truly exists.
And what we can do for ourselves? Continue to talk about this stigma. For so many of us, the self-loathing is something so engrained, from something so deep and foundational. We owe it to ourselves to dig it up! And begin the healing process so we can truly love ourselves, inside and out.
Our bodies do amazing things, and our outer appearance is how we show the world all we have accomplished internally. I have stretch marks and extra tissue around my belly, arms and thighs. I got these features because I carried and birthed three children that have grown my ability to love far beyond what I thought was possible. My double chin, something I inherited from my father’s side of the family, as well as my dry sense of humor and ability to laugh off the hard stuff. The scars on my knee remind me of the weak knees I inherited from my mom, and the inherited strength to push past the weakness and do what I thought I could not.
We should be proud of our mama bodies! Whether we birthed our children, adopted them, or joined their family through marriage. We care for our children more than we can care for ourselves. We may forego mani-pedis and go a bit too long between hair appointments. The gym may be a distant day dream. But what we do have is our children. Those amazing little beings who love us unconditionally, no matter what we look like. And with that, we can find our self-love!