2007 – Taken the day before my eldest was born.

Was this not the picture you were expecting?  I’m not surprised.

I’ve been a bit obsessed with body-image as of late.  With my youngest having “Belle” regularly used as part of her nickname at daycare, to my eldest getting angry at me because I chose the jeans that aren’t “pretty”, I’m becoming more and more aware of how my body-image perceptions are (will be?) affecting my little ones.

With this on my mind, I was recently having a chat with my twenty-something cousin.    I was complaining about feeling guilty for not running on a regular enough basis.  She (self-proclaimed overweight, smoker) was talking about the steps she was taking to get healthier.  We got on the topic of body image.  I told her I could totally see her in a bikini, which she vehemently denied as a possibility.   I asked her “Do you think I could wear a bikini?”  Her answer: “Of course!”  I replied “Well, I certainly don’t feel confident enough to wear one right now.”  But at a petite 5’2” and 120 pounds, most people think I have perfectly lovely figure, suitable for flaunting in next-to-nothing swimwear.

Moving on.  A few days later, I got annoyed with some of the phraseology this article.

What exactly does it mean to be “bikini-ready”?    I have serious issues with the way language is used in the media these days (forever?)  We become conditioned.  We hear something and are trained to match the sound with a certain image.  (IE. bikini-ready = skinny)

And “shape”?  What is “shape”?  “In shape” doesn’t imply “healthy” anymore.  We’re not referring to it as a synonym of “silhouette”.  In shape = thin= something that is just not realistic for many people.  In the article, it states that Katherine McPhee dances five hours a day. No shit!  That’s part of her job!  And let’s not even go into the details.  The wrinkles, moles, scars, dry skin, discoloured skin, stretch marks from simply growing up or having babies, bruises from being kicked by said babies, lumps, bumps, cellulite, fat, skin, bones, muscles… the things that make us human, unique, who we are.   We are programmed to see them as flaws… not as fact.

What is attractive comes in all shades and sizes.  And yes, you could argue that there are more attractive ways to dress than others.  Ways that clothes flatter one’s shape more than others.  But confidence is also sexy.  Perhaps even sexier than the package it comes in.  And one should be able to wear anything, even a bikini, no matter how he or she looks, without being concerned that their body is going to be perceived as “not-ready” for it.    That is bullshit.

I won’t ever be able to break myself of some of this conditioning, but I’m trying to be more aware of it for my own sake and for my kids.  I can’t shelter my kids from the media.  I can’t deprogram myself.  I may always be shy about the jiggle in my thighs and my un-toned stomach.  But I can focus on some things:

–          I am unique, wobbly-bits and all, and that is nothing to be embarrassed about.

–          I am not special.  Humans all over the world have these “imperfections”.  If so many of us have them, why must we fight so hard to wipe them away from our existence?

–          There are things I can control.  I can eat sensibly.  I can stay active.  I can take care of my mental health.

–          I am defined by who I am, not by how I look or what I wear.

I took a picture of myself every month during both pregnancies and put them in a book along with my journal notes.  Years from now I want to be able to share them with my girls, to show them how fascinated I was with the changes my body was going through…  How blessed I felt to be growing them inside me…  How fortunate I was to be so healthy.  Would I have felt confident going out to a beach dressed in said bikini at the time?   Probably not, and that’s kind of sad now that I think about it because I was at one of the healthiest moments in my life.  Hell, I was growing life at that moment!  If there ever was a time for my body to be ready for anything, it was then.  I want my girls to know that.

Where Did She Go?

There was a time when I had nervous butterflies at the thought of juggling work, social life, and family life.

And those nervous butterflies translated into adrenaline.

And that adrenaline turned into super-productivity resulting in euphoric multi-tasking bliss.

So what changed?

My internal monologue broke.  That’s what.

Instead of feeling high like I used to, I often feel heavy.

I used to be pretty damn good at positive self-talk.  This came from years of practice, raised as a single child, playing alone in my room… lonely.  There was no one to judge me.  No one to shoot me down.  So I got pretty good at raising myself up.  Giving myself props.  Boosting my confidence.

Nobody can make you feel anything.  You make you feel things.  That’s what my mom used to (still does) say… roughly paraphrased.  And there was a time where all it took was to remind myself of that… that I was in control of my emotions… and I could set myself right.  Talk myself through (what I realise now was) a panic attack.   Push the negative bullying thoughts aside.  Focus on the positive.

But that seems harder to do now.  And I’m not 100% sure why.  I never used to doubt myself as much as I do now.  Maybe now that I’m a parent, that I have a higher level of overall life responsibilities, I feel a bit more fragile.  A bit more vulnerable.  A bit more scared that I can’t keep it up.

But keep it up to whose expectations exactly?  My own!  My own stupidly high expectations.  It’s true.  I make ME feel things.  So why am I making myself feel fragile… vulnerable… scared?  These emotions should be on the same level as guilt and anger… utterly useless to hold on to.  Exhausting.  Draining.

So, yeah, internal monologue… I need to find her again.  Starting with this:

” I did enough work today.  It was productive and satisfying.  I cuddled my daughters.  I connected with friends.  I took time for myself.  Today was a pretty damn good day.”

And, yeah, I may not fully believe it now.  But that’s because she’s quiet.  I suspect she’ll get louder, one day soon, if I keep giving her a chance to speak up.

It Adds Up

Demolishing a to-do list.
Running into old friends.
Making new connections.
Garlic, slow roasted.
Mulled apple tea.
Finding the perfect gift.
Making the perfect gift.
Coming home to a delivery.
Pretty dresses in a box. On sale.
Letting go of anger.
Playing princess.
Being a role model.
Sticky maple syrup fingers.
Colorful tights.
Remembering who you are.
Looking forward to who you’re going to be.
Being in love.
Scotch. And bed.

It all adds up.