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Last summer as we waited for our food to arrive in a restaurant, Ms Action noticed a very large woman sitting in the booth across from us. “Mom!” She said, “That lady has a big belly!” I gently shushed her and said “It’s not nice to talk about how big people are.” I hoped that the poor woman across from us hadn’t heard my 4 year olds observation.
But it didn’t feel right. I sat there and felt like I had just taught my daughter to be ashamed of fatness. I had told her to be quiet, that being fat wasn’t something we talked about. Did the silence imply that there was something bad about being fat? I wondered why I had been so quick to shush her, and the only reason I could come up with was my own shame. In my mind, despite how badly I wanted to teach my children politeness and acceptance of others, it was not OK to be fat.
I decided then and there, that I was done being quiet. I was going to be open and unashamed about all types of bodies. From then on when my kids would notice something about someone’s body, I would talk about it. Yes, that person is very tall, some people are tall, and some people are short. Yes, that person has green hair, isn’t that interesting? What other kinds of colors could hair be? Yep, some people have big bellies and some people have small bellies, both kinds of bellies are nice.
But deep down, I’m not sure I really believed it. It was fine for other people to be fat, but it wasn’t ok for me to be fat. People of all shapes and sizes and colors should be accepted and loved, but I wasn’t ready to accept and love myself.
“You have a big tummy mom” The first time my 3 year old said it to me a few months ago my heart sank a little. Yeah, that was me, the pudgy round mamma with the big belly that I didn’t exactly love. But my determination to model celebration of all body types for my children won out and I replied enthusiastically “Yeah, I do have a big belly don’t I.” She smiled and ran off to play again.
It happened again every now and then, she would run up and give me a hug and make her pronouncement on the bigness of my belly, and I would acknowledge my largeness and we would smile at each other. Slowly I found myself less hurt by the idea of having a big belly.
Early one morning a few weeks ago, Ms. Drama crawled into my bed to snuggle. Part of my belly was peeking out from under my pajama shirt and she began to pat it gently. Then she traced her fingers along the many stretch marks that make a map-like pattern all over my stomach. She smiled at me and said predictably, “You have a big belly mom.” I giggled. She smiled even bigger and said loudly “I have a big belly too! Just like you mom!” and she pulled up her pajama shirt to show me.
My heart warmed, not only did she like that I had a big belly, she wanted to have one too. Suddenly all the effort it had taken to say the words “I have a big belly” was worth it, because she thought she had a big belly too, and how devastating it could have been to her if I had critiqued my own belly without realizing that she was comparing herself to me. She put her head on my belly and said “Your big belly is so soft and squishy, it’s just like a pillow.” Never before have I wanted so badly to embrace my body and love every line, sag, bulge and stretch mark.
Ms Drama is so proud of her body right now, she loves how she can do summersaults and ride her bike. She loves being tall enough to reach things on the toy shelf and strong enough to scramble up onto the bathroom sink to peer at herself in the mirror.
So often I look into the mirror and see a short fat woman. I critique the saddlebags and muffin top, I wonder what I would look like without that double chin. I wish my boobs didn’t sag from the after affects of nursing 4 children, and I try to remember what it felt like to have a small waist line.
But lately, spurred on by my desire for my daughters to love their bodies exactly the way they are, I have been wanting to see my body through new eyes for the first time. How can I expect my daughters to love what they have, if I can’t love what I have. This is the body I’ve got. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty dang amazing. I have carried and birthed and nursed four children with this body. I clean, lift, cook, stretch, cuddle and walk with this body. It serves me pretty well.
These days when I get frustrated with how my body doesn’t measure up to whatever ideal I’ve created in my head, I’ve been trying to embrace each physical quirk and “flaw” with just as much love as my daughter has for my big belly.