At 18 years old and 95 pounds soaking wet, my belly is where the pudge settled. It wasn’t even pudge, really. Just a slightly fluffy part of my petite frame. I was lucky, though, that my mother encouraged my feminist side and gave me the space to express myself through my writing, politics and music. She showed me that I was more than my physical appearance and encouraged the artist, the dreamer. I was okay with my body, in spite of my belly. In the long run, I didn’t have any body image issues.
And then came three pregnancies, three c-sections and many pounds gained and lost. My fluffy belly was left hanging, literally. Mounds of extra skin, covered in stretch marks, exploding from my waistband and defining that awful phrase “muffin top”, ghostly white and never to see the sun again. Squeezed, prodded, covered. I truly felt like less of a woman because of my abdominal accident scene. I was so insecure about my own belly, that I found myself constantly scouting out the midsections of other moms, sizing them up against my own. My perspective had shifted hugely and I felt sad and angry about my post baby body. As someone so rudely pointed out to me, I was an apple shape. I accepted what the media was dictating about how my body should look. A far cry from my former self.
One day, my daughter looked up at me with her tiger eyes and questioned, “mommy, is your belly ugly?”
I paused. And in that instant I recalled my own sideways glances in the full-length mirror. The tiresome trips bathing suit shopping. The entering of daily calories into an electronic log. The treadmill runs that seemed to go on for hours. The avoidance of talking about my body in front of my daughters. The insecurities I had were palpable.
I thought that exercise would give me confidence and for a while it did. But before I knew it, I had hit my goal weight and found myself thinking, “just a few pounds more. Then I will be happy.” The calories, the running: it owned me. I knew I was sending unhealthy images to my kids and it had to end. I didn’t know how to continue running without it becoming obsessive. So I stopped.
I gave the scale to Goodwill. I started talking about my body in a positive way.
“Look at this beautiful belly, girls! This is where you both lived and grew before you were born! Isn’t it amazing that you were right here, inside of me?” While the positive body-image philosophy was easy for me to talk about, inside I still struggled.
And then the opportunity was right before my eyes and I knew I had to take it. I prayed that my experience being photographed would set me free.
I was not in my best physical shape and I deeply missed running. I was really scared. How could I show the world something that I felt so ashamed of? But I wanted to be a part of something real, something authentic. I wanted to show other moms what real bodies look like. I wanted to tell them that they’re not alone. More than anything I wanted to love my body and pass that love along to my daughters. I donned my lucky sparkle vest and joined my fellow mamas.
And so we shed our layers, we posed under the lights. We shook with nerves. We exhaled.
In that dance studio, there was such beauty. They were breath-taking, brave, proud. For the first time in many years, I stopped judging. I was in awe of the remarkable, life-growing and giving bodies. I relaxed and felt like myself. Something in me was brewing and I hoped that the other moms were feeling it, too.
And then the miraculous happened. The week after the photoshoot, I kept waiting for the old feelings of insecurity to come creeping back. But they didn’t.
Today, I feel whole. I feel beautiful. I am. My girls will catch on to this. Of that, I am sure.
Slowly, I’ve started running again. This time, I’m not in a race. I want to celebrate my body and honor it by doing things that feel right and good to me.
You are beautiful, mama. You are worth celebrating. Your body should be loved, including. Not in spite of. When your partner tells you that you’re beautiful, you deserve to believe it. You deserve to feel it.
I wish I could set up a worldwide photo shoot for all of the mamas out there who have something keeping them from feeling whole. For now, let’s talk. All of us women. Let’s start to believe in ourselves. Let’s show our daughters what joy and pride feel like.
Look at the photos in this series. Close your eyes. Imagine yourself in a room, surrounded by all of these beautiful women.
Share this with your friends and family on Facebook. Tell them, “I’m ready to love my body. How about you?” I’m willing to bet you have many women in your life who are just dying to talk about it, who are yearning to be free from insecurity. Go find them.
“And the day came, when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~Anais Nin