What words come into your head when you think about your body? Are you proud, happy, grounded? Or do you think first about the ‘problem areas’, the bits that should be different? Thinner, curvier, tighter, more flexible, just all-over better somehow?
My body is… fat, flabby, drooping. Pulled by unrelenting gravity slowly downhill. Sadly, these are the words that come to me first. I’m shocked. Since my second child turned one, I’ve been focusing on getting healthy again - not dieting, that just makes me eat more - making room for exercise in my life, making opportunities to reconnect with my body again. But still these words come.
My whole life I’ve been plump. And it has always bothered me, sometimes more, sometimes less. But before children, the fat sat in the right places. It was disguisable. Not any more. I’m still breastfeeding, and my breasts are wonkier than ever . My round belly is now a flopping sag-bag.
Ironically, one of pregnancy’s greatest gifts was a new confidence in my body. I finally understood its purpose. The miracles it could perform. To grow a person, and then to nourish them in the world. Pregnancy and birth gave me a connection to my body I had never felt before.
But now, as I go about my daily busy-ness, saggy bits flapping in the wind, how can I retain that sense that came with pregnancy - of beautiful function, pride and awe?
For starters, I’m carving out some precious time to get healthy... I walk a lot (I’m terrified of driving) but the pace is slow with two stumpy-legged littluns. Zumba makes me go bright red, and stay that way for a loooooong time. Much of the redness is from laughing, a lot, when I catch my reflection in the mirror (in my head: svelte, slinking, moves like Beyonce - in the mirror: wobbling middle-aged bingo caller). My favourite healthy pursuit, yoga, gives me moments of peace. It moves me inside my body, away from my rushing mind, stretching and strengthening.
Yet that negative voice still returns.
From an early age, we’re constantly reminded of that need to achieve an impossible, youthful, constraining ideal: the perfect body. And as a mother, I now worry more for my daughter than I do for myself. To see her growing up in a world of Bratz dolls, celebrity bikini shamings and airbrushed fantasies.
I want to stop that voice that still heckles me from entering my daughter’s head. I want her to enjoy exercise. I want her to enjoy food. I want her to enjoy being herself. Most of all, I want her to enjoy her life, and her ability to give life.
I can’t stop all the unrealistic visions of perfection she will encounter as she grows up, but I can counter them, a little. By facing my own fears, my own unrealistic expectations of myself, I can try my very best to serve up an alternative version of beauty.
I want her to see that bodies of all shapes and sizes are gorgeous. That we love our bodies for all the amazing things they can do. We care for and respect them, we don't break them down into defective bits. We don't feel ashamed. We know that we are beautiful because of how we live, and how we love, not what we look like.
So this month on story of mum, we’re sharing photos of how our bodies have changed since we became mums and grandmums. You can photograph your actual body, or you can shape your body in plasticine. We don’t mind how you share it, as long as you do your very best to love it.
It was terrifying to load up a picture of my stomach (and I didn’t even load up the worst picture…) and yet there is something beautiful and empowering about seeing it in the online gallery.
My children lived there. I live there. It is not a problem area. It is me.
My body is amazing, extraordinary, beautiful. It is marked by the miracles of my life. It is a mother’s body. And I am doing my very best to love it for that. Love your Mum-Body.
Torso Photo: Charles Nouyrit