Over the last 20+ years, my body has faced more criticism than a bad football coach in the SEC. Before puberty it was “baby fat.” After puberty it was dark lip hair and an unwanted flat chest. Now, in the months following the birth of my second child, my body shaming has reached epic proportions with words like “fat” and “enormous” trudging through my vocabulary, heavy with damnation.
With every verbal punch I throw at myself, I know I should be kinder. I know I should show more compassion to my body. After all, it did grow and birth two humans. Even if it hadn’t, it would still deserve gentle words because it’s my body . . . and it’s amazing . . . and it’s the only one I’ll ever have.
Knowing the harm I’d been causing my psyche, I decided a few months ago to conduct a small experiment and stop body shaming. I wanted to see what happened to my confidence when I stopped responding to my reflection with disgusting comments that I would never say to another person. I managed to make it most days without being self-deprecating. I learned to politely accept compliments without negating them with “Thanks, but.”
Even without the body shaming, though, I still didn’t feel good about myself.
Recently, I began an eight-week high intensity workout program. Each week our instructor gave us a proclamation to focus on during workouts, phrases such as, “I am determined,” “I am willing,” “I am strong.” On the last day, she handed a mirror to my fellow sweat buddies and me. Staring into our own eyes, we repeated the phrases we had been meditating on during the last eight weeks with a few extras like, “I am invincible. I am loved. I am inspiring.” Hearing my voice proclaim such encouraging adjectives was one thing, but saying such things whilst looking into my eyes was mountain moving, to say the least. Oh, how I’ve longed to say those words and believe them about myself.
Many of us grew up with the expression, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Here’s the downfall, even if I’m not saying nasty things about someone, I’m probably still thinking them. You see, it’s not enough to simply stop making ugly comments. If we want to see true change in our perception of ourselves (and others), we have to replace the negative with the positive. It’s not enough not to body shame; we must also body praise.
The mind is a powerful thing. It has the ability to hold us captive with just one thought. Research even suggests that our thoughts can actually affect our health. When we say and believe attributes about ourselves long enough, we begin to manifest those thoughts outwardly. When you feel insecure, what is your body language? Do you walk tall or do you slouch and hunch over? Do you smile much? When we feel badly about ourselves, we show it in the way we carry ourselves.
Mama, hear me when I say this: Whether you are a size 14 or a size 4, you are beautiful. Whether your pre-baby jeans are sagging, or you’re still rocking those maternity jeans six months postpartum, you are lovely. Whether you gave birth to your children or motherhood came to you in the form of adoption, you are worthy. You are MOM, and you are AWESOME!
Next time you step out of the shower and partake in your ritual mirror inspection, love your body, praise your body. Praise your wrinkles; it means you’ve lived an expressive life. Praise your stretch marks; it means you made and grew a human. Before you pull out or smear color over that gray hair, thank God for the wisdom the years have brought you.
When you’re done praising your body, look deep into the eyes reflected in the mirror and repeat these words:
What do you love most about your body?