For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with my body image. Keeping positive hasn’t been easy for me. I’m not breaking the glass ceiling starting this discussion, but I do feel it’s important to share my personal story because—spoiler alert—it has a happy ending.
With the painful experiences of my past have come great personal growth, and at last I’m able to see myself as the amazing creature that I am. I have motherhood to thank for that.
Memories of my childhood are peppered with comments from family members about my weight. I grew up knowing that I was very much loved, but that my appearance needed work. I’d always had a pretty face, but I was fat. My sense of humor was unsurpassed by anyone, but I didn’t fit into junior sizes at everyone’s favorite store at the mall. I was fun to be around, but would anyone want to date me?
This issue wasn’t mine alone, but one that others in my family had dealt with in varying degrees over the course of their lives. I always knew that what I was experiencing was something they’d gone through, but it didn’t make it easier for a young woman to have a positive view of herself or hope for her future.
While painful to talk about, there was a turning point for me. At the beginning of high school, during a free period, a pair of boys took turns bullying me while a substitute teacher did nothing to stop them. The word “buffalo” sticks out in my memory, but thankfully nothing much else remains where that scar is. I’ve always been resilient that way and pretty dang strong when push comes to shove.
I made it my personal mission to be a fitter, healthier version of myself after that day. I lost 60 pounds and kept it off through college and beyond. I was closer to what society wanted from me, but I didn’t truly view myself that way. Looking in the mirror, I would still find every reason to pick myself apart. Why were my shoulders so broad? Why couldn’t I be taller? I was my own worst enemy, and thinking back, that really bums me out. I should have been my biggest supporter, but I suppose that’s all a part of my journey.
With age comes maturity, and as the years passed, I grew more confident in myself and the message I chose to share.
If you were to ask me what I thought of my body, I would tell you that I’d rock anything that I wanted to wear, but that wasn’t entirely true—the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it” comes to mind. In some ways it worked, but there were always things that knocked my confidence down a few pegs. Shopping for wedding dresses was an abysmal experience that left me in tears. During my first pregnancy, there were times I’d look in the mirror and not even know what to think. Even though logic would tell me that I was growing a human being, irrational thoughts would enter my head about how fat I was.
When my son arrived, I had a complete turnaround. It wasn’t an instantaneous change, but as I transitioned to being a primary caregiver, my priorities shifted. Postpartum recovery is no cakewalk—there were things happening to my body that I had no idea would occur. Focused on my own healing and also keeping a baby human alive, I didn’t have time to worry about superficial things. Was I concerned with the “baby weight?” Not so much. Did I look in the mirror a lot? Not that I recall. I embraced the time I was given to love and nurture this special little person and in the process, I learned to love myself.
If you’ve ever given birth or been near someone who’s given birth, you know that the woman’s body is so amazing that it’s almost beyond words. The way that my body carried and delivered one of the coolest humans ever to clumsily walk this earth is nothing short of awe-inspiring. It’s no easy task, and there were moments when I hated pregnancy, but my body—which I had been so hard on for so many years—had proven to be a strong vessel that protected my baby and worked overtime to deliver.
When I really think about it, it’s one of the coolest things that I’ll ever do, and I know that I’ve been blessed to be able to do it.
I nursed my son, and while that was challenging at times, it opened my eyes to an almost primal connection between a mother’s body and her child. How could I even look at myself the same way again after this? How could I give myself such a hard time for superficial thinking? I was feeding my child on the go from my person. It’s nothing short of awesome—sometimes a pain in the butt, but totally awesome.
Once I had weaned my son, as a reward for rocking that task, I bought myself a strapless bra and an off-the-shoulder dress, because that’s what I wanted to wear, and I knew it would make me happy. I wasn’t concerned about my post-baby body or the condition of my breasts after nursing. I wanted to wear something fun, that represented me and my style. Arriving at the “strapless dress” benchmark didn’t come easy, but it was a sweet personal victory.
While this was my experience, motherhood can have the opposite effect on women, but I’m encouraging mothers (and even fathers) to look at themselves differently—because it’s not just about what the body does (pregnancy and delivery), but what it will do in the future. We’re moving and shaking to make the most out of our lives, and we don’t have time to be down on ourselves.
Child rearing is not the most enchanting gig, and there are moments when I wonder if I own pants that weren’t made for yoga. That being said, I have a confidence that I’ve never known before and sharing my experience is freeing.
Recounting my past makes me sad. I’m sad for all the time that I wasted worrying about my weight, worrying about what others thought of my looks. I’m sad for the fashion moments I didn’t try because I was too afraid of looking ridiculous.
I could sit here and regret the wasted time and opportunities, but that’s not what I’m about these days. I want to make the most out of my moments, my time, take pride in my appearance and encourage others to do the same.
We are amazing creatures, and it’s time we started treating ourselves as such.
Author: Amanda Light
Editors: Emily Bartran; Yoli Ramazzina