Last week I was reading a book to my 15-month old daughter. I don’t remember which book it was or whether she even sat still for more than a few moments. What I do remember is that the pages were sticking together as I turned them. I reached up, out of habit, and licked the tip of my finger, like one does when they are trying to turn the pages of a magazine or newspaper and continued reading aloud. Later that day my daughter walked over to the reading corner, sat down, and opened the book we had previously “read.” She immediately stuck her fingers in her mouth, mimicking what I had done while reading that very book. She is watching me all the time. Mimicking me, absorbing everything I say and do. She would always remember if I stood in front of the mirror and sucked in my stomach or complained about having a bad hair day. If I called myself ugly, she would never forget those words.
Before I even had kids I had body image issues. I know, I know…snore…eye roll…cliché…skinny girl has body image issues, puhlease. I don’t care if you’re overweight or just the right weight, if you have body issues, they are YOUR issues, and they are real. The grass isn’t always greener folks. Despite having “problem areas” to work on, I’ve always been a confident, self-assured woman. I probably get that from my mother. She was and is always confident, smiling, ready to take on whatever challenge is presented to her. However she too, like myself, had issues and concerns with her own body. Us Allingham women are just good at putting on a brave face.
After having my first child, I realized that perspective is what I had been missing for most of my “adult” life. What was I complaining about all those pre-baby years… marching down 5th avenue in my spike heeled boots and black-on-black fashionable attire?! No one ever told me that my belly would always be a little poofy and have extra skin after the birth of my first child, even after working out and running three marathons. And boy do I wish that someone would have told me that my drunken escapade down in the west village to get a belly button ring at the age of 23 was a terrible idea. That bikini ready belly, that little sliver stud of a ring lodged in my navel would forever haunt me. I kept that ring in until I was 5 months pregnant. Too stretched out to bear it any longer I removed it, and said goodbye to a cute wink of a belly button. Instead I traded it for what I have affectionately called “my elephant a**hole belly button.” Are you laughing? Or just horrified that I talked to myself this way?
After having Henry I had a really hard time losing the baby weight—at least in my belly. I went so far as to think about getting plastic surgery to repair my waistline. I stopped wearing bikinis. I constantly sucked in my “gut.” I hated putting tights on in front of my husband. I looked like a sausage about to burst from its casing, or so I thought. I never made peace with my post-baby body. But I NEVER talked about how unhappy I was in front of my child. Now that I’ve had Ruby I am slowly making peace with myself but I have a long ways to go. You see those pictures where women talk about their tiger stripes and how having a baby has made them forget their scars and pooches. Maybe I’m just vain and self absorbed…but some days I still see my faults.
I’m no stranger to the camera or to attention on my body—I used to be an actor. I once played the part of a stripper in a play while prancing around on stage in a bra and thong, dancing to some Chemical Brothers song, while my in-laws sat in the audience. Modesty and I are not kindred spirits. So when I had heard about an opportunity to pose in my skivvies for a post-baby photoshoot I jumped at the opportunity. I knew this was a sign that I was beginning to make peace with my body when I agreed to do this. I would never have agreed to pose after having my first child. I was too embarrassed and ashamed.
The day of the photoshoot was fun, and liberating, awe- inspring, and self-affirming. I felt nervous and admittedly was less psyched after realizing I had horked-out on way too many holiday cookies. Nevertheless, I was proud to be a mother, and proud to have a belly pooch. Even proud of my mild-muffin top thighs. I have finally found the balance of taking care of myself by eating right (except for the occasional 1lb bag of skittles), exercising (with moderation), and learning to have reasonable expectations about my body (like running an ultramarathon might just not be in the cards…this year). I am happy that I have achieved a modicum of peace with myself.
But I didn’t do this photoshoot entirely for myself. I did it for my children, BOTH my daughter and son. I know they will see this picture of me, and they will not see my stretch marks, they won’t see my elephant belly button, they won’t even notice my tiny bee-sting boobies (as I also affectionately call them. Nice, huh?)…they are going to see me: Their mother. The woman that makes their beds all “comfy-cozy” at night, the one that sings Janis Joplin songs to them in lullabye format, the one that has a short fuse sometimes.
Casting aside all the self-depricating voices in my head, and taking a moment to be kind and gentle, I saw beauty in this photo of myself and my daughter. I will continue to work on seeing beauty, and enjoying this beauty for as long as my children’s little listening ears and eyes are “watching” me. If we want our children to grow up and be kind to themselves and others, we have to be kind to ourselves first. If we have a body image issue, fine…it’s normal…and its ok. But for God’s sake, let’s not talk about it in front of our children. If we have to talk about it, talk about it with our friends, our dogs, our therapists…don’t let our own issues color the already beautiful world in which our children are thriving and living, they have enough to contend with from all the other outside influences. Let’s put on a brave face, and lead by example.
The image of baby Ruby licking her fingers to turn a page, as Heather did before her, is such a powerful one. Sometimes the most profound epiphanies come to us in the most unexpected ways. Thank you, Heather, for reminding us of this and for your brave and engaging essay.
Your pictures are my favorites! I was actually a little sad that my picture didn’t fully capture the sagging of my belly button. It’s such a sad little belly button and shares your elephant a-hole qualities! You make me laugh and are such a wise woman!
I love that picture of you kissing Ruby! I also agree it may be one of those important things not to talk about to our kids-imagine growing up not focused on our appearance in an unhealthy way.
Your kids are blessed to have such a wonderful mother who comforts them, who cozys their beds, and sings to them. I am blessed to have such a wonderfully, strong and brave woman as my friend. Love you!
I love this post – so much of it rings true for me as well. You are beautiful and amazing!