My new body was here, like it or not. I had 2 (TWO!) babies to prove it, in case the stretch marks on my belly weren't evidence enough. And as the days of post-partum crept onward, my body mimicked the roller coaster of an adolescent. Healing this, sagging that, tightening muscles, loosening aches, it seemed like every aspect of my being was in a tug-of-war with something. Granted, both my babies were born via c-section after two very long labors...so, perhaps in your own experience this process of healing was not as drawn out or dramatic. Still, every new mother observes unexpected changes they couldn't possibly predict. The books might help tell me when my milk will come in or when my c-section scar will heal...but, it never told me that my buns would flatten down to a short-stack of pancakes and my belly would take on a new "spongy" quality that I still haven't quite found the right adjective to describe. Hmm. Yes, this would take some getting used to.
Let me tell you, I'm only about seven months post-partum, and I still take great comfort in my undereye concealer and my full-body Spanx. My new appreciation for my body is greatly "in progress" indeed. We all have our beauty secrets (well, maybe not a secret anymore!) and those things that help boost our confidence. Let me be clear, this blog post in body-thankfulness is not to say Adios! to those items and get all "you-go-girl" on you in saying that we don't ever need anything else to help us get through the day without feeling like a hot mess. No. Instead - by all means - embrace those things that help you feel confident and beautiful. Just don't be fooled by them.
That is to say - I know that my Spanx and concealer are fooling you into thinking I actually fit into my jeans without a wrinkle in my belly. Good. They should. That's why I bought them. And I hope my undereye concealer is telling you that my baby slept peacefully through the night and I didn't actually wake up every hour and have to remind myself that I love her (I really do) despite her wailing in my ear and clawing at my chest. Whew. But - I know the truth - the dark circles and muffin top that exists! - and am thankful for it. (goshdarnit)
Here is the truth: Pregnancy was what it took for me to gain a whole new appreciation for my body. For me to, probably for the first time, genuinely be thankful for it. It's funny that while my belly became the largest it EVER would, I suddenly felt a sense of gratitude for it - and not just for the baby it held, but for the actual skin and tissue that made up me and allowed me to experience this magnificent moment in time (twice!). After all my belly and I have been through together - after holding these amazing babies and keeping them safe and growing them so well - to then look in the mirror and see anything but an amazing creation would just seem - well, ungrateful. To insult my body now would be a total betrayal to everything I had just given thanks for.
There is a difference between being thankful for your body, loving it well...and exploiting your flaws. I'm not here to say "yay for sagging boobs after breastfeeding - therefore who cares about wearing a bra!" You see? (Please, wear the bra.) I'm not going to say it is realistic to think that cellulite will be trending anytime soon or that society will all of a sudden embrace bedhead as a new hairstyle (though some hipsters might). Instead, I'm here to say - STOP focusing on the flaws and take SIGHT of all your body offers...all God created you to be.
It is widely accepted and known that when a man looks in the mirror he sees his best characteristic - while women look in the mirror the first thing they notice is their flaws (many of which are totally unrealized by those around them, I might add!) How frustrating is this? And, what would life be like if we changed it?
So - let's change it. Look at yourself in the mirror. Go ahead - look - I'll wait here for you.
It felt a little silly, didn't it? Sure. But, try it again and this time be purposeful - be thankful. Don't look at yourself and be judgmental in any way. Don't even pick out something you like. Pick out something you are THANKFUL for. Don't say "I guess I like my eyes" or "My lips are a good feature", that is fleeting and will only last as long as your lipstick. (You know I'm right).
Instead - look at yourself and find a new amazing function you never noticed before. "Hey good lookin, way to have a nose that smells how good fresh basil is!" That a girl. "Thank you, God, for making my teeth a little crooked so I can chew my food just so AND have a memorable smile at the same time." Now you're getting the hang of it.
This is the start of change. Don't try to go from dislike to like...try to go from dislike to thankfulness. It's a much easier step, and it will be necessary to get you where you want to go...like, love, and then LETTING GO of the obsession all together. That's right. The ultimate goal here isn't to love myself and keep up the self-talk. The main idea isn't to have a positive "tape player" running in my head for all eternity. The finish line (which, honestly, may not even be totally attainable this side of heaven) is to find contentment in letting go of viewing ourselves at all. To turn the tape player off for good. (Did I just blow your mind a little bit?)
Stop the obsession. Replace it with gratitude. Find freedom. Think of others instead.
I'm a big believer that the road to love is paved with appreciation, that thankfulness is the first step towards respect, and that gratitude is the ultimate compass for compassion. This may sound very "Oprah-esque", but gratefulness simply diffuses negative thoughts, toxic memories, and lies the enemy may tempt you with.
In almost any hurtful situation or conflict, if I approach it with prayer to change my hardened heart to be thankful, that is where true change starts for me. This is the difference between praying "God, help me like my chubby waist" and "God, thank you for making my body, for creating it just as you designed". This prayer might not take inches off your belt - but, I will tell you that once you begin to appreciate what you see, you will inevitably want to take good care of it as well. For me, this applies to not only my body, but just about anything in my life! If I'm grateful for it, I'm going to take better care of it.
Soon your thankfulness will turn into full-blown LIKE for your body. And that like will blossom into love, one futile flaw at a time. And before you know it, you'll look yourself in the mirror, gushing over how gorgeous you look in those new jeans (Spanx or NOT) and your husband will walk by and wonder what that new quality is that is making you so sexy. And no, it's not the shape of your legs...it's called confidence.
I know this sounds ideal. I know this sounds as outlandish as that new diet where that infomercial promises you'll lose all your baby weight in two weeks by eating donuts. I know it might seem silly to practice "self talk" when I already think this world is too hung up on "self" all together. And that's exactly right.
As I said earlier, the ultimate goal is to eventually not need any "self talk"! And when we start to see ourselves as we truly are: beautiful, broken and covered in grace, forgiven and fully restored, useful and loved... Then the need to remind ourselves of the truth diminishes. Soon, we just live in the truth...confident of our Creator...and seeing our best feature, our new found freedom, when we look at ourselves in the mirror.
I'm not saying it's easy. But it is somewhere to start. By eliminating the angst for myself, my body, my outside...guess what? I'm finding all kinds of freedom I never expected. Freedom to look at others' needs. Freedom to show my daughters a mother who is confident. Freedom to not need approval from others. Freedom to not fill myself up with things I don't need. Freedom to seek the unselfish life.
Who knew that my own body could be used as a tool to look beyond myself?