I have been light. I have been heavy.
I have starved myself. I have binged myself sick.
I have seen myself as beautiful. I have seen myself as ugly.
I have moved my body often. I have been sedentary, barely moving at all.
I have taken care of my mental and physical health. I have completely let myself go.
Sound familiar? Like a lot of women, I tend to have a love/hate relationship with my body. Honestly it wasn’t until my daughter was born that I started to really become aware of my body and my perceptions and feelings about it. And recently, I've realized the impact of those perceptions and feelings.
A few months ago as I was helping my daughter get ready for bed, she made a comment that stuck with me. “Mom, sometimes after I eat my stomach sticks out. I don’t like the way it looks.” I assured her that she is beautiful and that everyone’s belly gets full. Luckily her thoughts had already turned to what book she was going to read for tuck-in. But after I said goodnight and closed her door, it hit me like a ton of bricks. She has heard me negatively talk about my body. I wondered how many times she heard me tell my husband that I felt big and needed to go on a diet. How many times did she overhear my conversation with a friend complaining about my stubborn belly fat? How many times has she seen me getting dressed for the day, staring at myself with such disappointment? I had literally been teaching my daughter that hating your body is both normal and acceptable.
One day I brought this up to my husband and he made a valid point. He asked me how I would feel if my daughter came to me as a teenager or young adult saying that she hated her body and felt ugly? Of course I responded by saying that it would make me feel absolutely horrible. I would do everything in my power to change her mind about herself. My husband then said, “Well, she doesn’t want you to hate your body and feel ugly either. She watches you and mimics you.” Wow, talk about a big punch of truth to the gut. He was absolutely correct. My kids are watching my every move, especially my daughter. I can already tell that she is comparing herself to friends at school. I can already tell that media is telling her how she should look. I can’t shelter her from all the messages directed at young girls, but I can, through my words and deeds, show her that those messages are wrong.
And it's not just our bodies; it's not just a need to relearn and rewire how we see our physical selves. It's how we perceive our whole selves, how we treat ourselves, our inner monologue about ourselves. We beat ourselves up over not scoring 100% on a test, burning dinner, taking a wrong turn when we're in a hurry, striking out when we're at bat, at just feeling overwhelmed and tired at the end of a trying day.
I decided that some changes needed to be made and it needed to start with me. I must be more mindful of how I treat and talk about myself. After years of therapy, here is what I have concluded. There should be zero shame in wanting to improve yourself but there is something to be said about fully accepting where you are now. Having the right mindset is everything. I think so often we set ourselves up for failure by fooling ourselves into thinking that just one more pound lost, another title at work, one more dream achieved, will be the secret to a perfect and content life. We never seem to be fully satisfied, do we? I cannot tell you how many times I have thought to myself, if I can just get down to a certain weight, I will finally be content. If I can just be the picture perfect wife and mom, I'll be truly be happy. According to these standards, I’ll never be content or happy.
I am currently in the process of changing the narrative in my head. I am beautiful. I am strong. I am capable. I am enough. I can do hard things. I can achieve my dreams. Feeling healthy and strong, and not beating myself up over a number, should be the focus. Trying to improve every day, rather than mourning where I am at this very moment, is crucial. There will be good days and bad days. The bad days don't make me a failure; they are just part of the journey.
I guess what I'm trying to communicate is that while we should always want to improve and evolve, we need to be happy with where we are today. I want to lead by example for my kids. I want to show them it’s important to love yourself on the inside and outside. I want to show them the importance of evolving and growing. I want them to see me sustain a happy and healthy self-esteem concerning both my body and the person I am. That doesn’t mean they won’t see me struggle or fall down. It means they will see me working on myself in a healthy way instead of going on some crash diet or telling myself I’m an awful person because I made a mistake.
My wish as a mother would be that my kids will always feel confident and secure in who they are, that they won't mistake a struggle or a defeat for a reflection of their worth, and that while they should always strive to evolve and learn, where they are at any given moment will be just a step in the journey. It's cliché, but I'm going to strive for living in the happiness of the journey instead of beating myself up over not having reached some destination. There will be a lot of destinations, and not a single one of them will magically make me complete and whole. Living my truth and being myself is what will complete me. I want to embrace the journey, the evolution. I want to show my children that there is joy and self-love in that journey.