What’s the first word that comes to mind when you look at this photograph?
Softness? Nourish? Mother? Comfort? Completion? Beautiful? Joy?
Flab? Fat? Cellulite? Dimples? Ripples? Sag?
This picture makes me ache for the days when I nursed my babies, when they fit so exactly into the curves of my body and the curves of my body were made for sheltering and nourishing them. For forty weeks, my body gave itself over to the making of another person. Every cell, every breath, every bite was dedicated to their creation. My body transformed itself–twice–into a ship that carried my two favorite people to this world. For the first six months after they arrived, my body and not a drop of anything else kept them alive and caused them to flourish. Even after they began to eat other foods, my daughter and my son returned to me and my body for over a year for nourishment and comfort. My soft body was and still is their safe harbor.
This ship, this harbor is a holy place to my children. Now it is my ship alone, the only vessel I have to navigate the rest of my life. How can I find its holiness again? How can I honor it for the work it has done and the adventure that is yet to be had?
I can look at this picture of a mother and hear the words “softness,” “beautiful,” “completion.” But were I to pose the same way and fit my toddler in my lap, I am afraid that I would look at the image of my miraculous body and hear the biting words “fat,” “sag,” and “flabby.” When I walk by a mirror naked, I don’t stop and say, “Wow, this body has done some incredible things! Thank you!” Instead, I turn to the side and suck in, poke and prod and sigh. Or I don’t even stop at the mirror to say hello.
Today a friend who has recently had a baby confided that she is feeling these “fat” words and fighting with her image of herself. I knew just what to say to her and meant every word, but if I try to say the same things to myself….well. So I knew it was a serendipitous gift when another friend posted a link to this wonderful article on Huffington Post about Ashlee Wells Jackson and her Fourth Trimester Bodies Project, “a photo series that embraces the changes brought to women’s bodies by motherhood. By showcasing moms, Jackson hopes to shine a light on cultural interpretations of female beauty and change women’s expectations for themselves and those around them.” Please click through that link to see a gallery of 27 images of mother bodies. Jackson is raising funds for her project and hopes to publish a book of images next summer. She also calls for models!
There are people who survive to adulthood with intact healthy body images–hooray for them–but many of us have been brainwashed by the Photoshopped, hypersexualised glossy magazine ideal that we hardly know what to think about a lumpy body that bears the marks of life. I am practicing accepting this body, honoring it for the favors it has done me, and strengthening it for the journey ahead.
Today’s challenge: stop by a mirror and say hello. Look yourself right in the eye for 10 seconds. Then smile. Say “Hello, Gorgeous!”