The Space at Center Stage


For those of you unfamiliar with me, body image has been a fairly constant struggle of mine for most of my life. This struggle has intensified at several different point in my life, the most recent being with the up and down weight bouncing I experienced post-baby. Almost three years later, my weight seems to have settled for now, I work out just about every day, I’m adjusting my eating habits bit by bit, and, this past week, I felt pretty darn amazing. I can now see the changes in my body, feel the differences as I develop more muscle and strength. It’s a relief, in a way, to see that almost eight months’ worth of consistent hard work is paying off. That might not seem like much to some, but it is quite a big deal to me. I hated doing conventional exercises, I hated the very idea of running, and the gym? Yeah, no thanks. But I made a decision and have pushed myself to stick with it, constantly reminding myself to be patient and keep working.

“It takes time,” I would and still say to myself, “It takes time. Be patient with yourself and keep working.”

A good many things in life, we work at for a long while before we see any results, and we are told that the best things do not come with instant gratification. Instead, we must work and work and work some more and wait to see what comes to fruition, if it comes to fruition. I have stuck with this and worked and worked and worked and I am seeing the fruit of my labor, not only in curves and tone and heavying dumbells but also in finding satisfaction in the work itself. It’s an odd, odd feeling to actually crave working out, to crave the heightened heart rate, the burn in my muscles, the sweat on my brow. It’s not just odd, it’s downright weird sometimes. But it is also beautiful.

It is beautiful to see the changes in myself, not just in my body. It’s beautiful to again feel the desire to be me, fully and boldly, and to do something about it. It’s beautiful to not be afraid of being beautiful and acting like it. It’s not just body image, it’s a sense of self that I am regaining. For a long time (longer than I would like to admit), I have felt like I needed to tone myself down, step back out of the spotlight, stick to my corner, etc. As if, if I were too much ‘me’, then there wouldn’t be space for someone else to be ‘them’. I don’t understand that idea; I didn’t then and I don’t now. And, honestly, I am damn tired of it. Me being me does not threaten anyone, nor should it. Each and every one of us is completely different. We are unique and glorious all on our own. Me being me does not mean that someone else has to be any less them or vice versa.

This does not mean that we need to shove everyone else out of the way. It doesn’t mean that we cannot work behind the scenes to help someone better their own sense of self and their own lives. It doesn’t mean that we cannot wear the roles of mother, daughter, sister, girlfriend, or wife and be a support and helpmeet to someone else. What it means it that we can do all those of things, but that we mustn’t forget ourselves and the role that we play for us. Your first role: you. Don’t forget you. Don’t forget your strength. Don’t forget your spirit. Don’t forget your glorious. Don’t forget your beautiful.

A friend once said to me: “I think you could leave yourself a bit more space in the center of the stage.”

And you know what? I think they are right. It’s time for me to reclaim my space. Maybe we all could leave ourselves a bit more space in the center of the stage.

Why I Walk Around Naked


11150479_630544590414714_184724744336153178_nI frequently walk around the house naked. I know. Big deal, right? Well, for me, it has become quite a big deal. First things first, though: cards on the table. I am 32 years old, a wife of almost a decade, and the mother of a rambunctious two-year-old girl (remember her, she’s the lynchpin here). I am 5’1 and my weight is currently hovering at 135 lbs. Is my body perfect? No. It’s why I work out at home just about every day, try to eat better than I have in the past, and hit Planet Fitness with a friend a few times a week to run and strength train on the weight machines. No, my body isn’t perfect, but it’s healthy and getting stronger as I continue to work. More importantly than even that, I have a daughter to whom I want to teach a positive body image and comfort, as well as healthy habits. I want my girl to grow up at ease with herself, to find her body strong and capable, to find herself beautiful. Who will she learn that from but me? Whose voice will battle all the others that will bombard her from society, television, movies, toys, etc.? Mine. Mine is the voice she hears all day. Mine is the body she sees working, playing, exercising. Mine are the reactions and self-talk she will learn from. Therefore, accepting, working on, and speaking kindly to myself are not only for me for but for my Elizabeth as well.

Not too long ago, I watched a video from my belly dance class that my teacher had posted in the class’s Facebook group. We were drilling portions of choreography and my posture was wrong, terrible even. And I told my husband:

“I hate the way I look in this video! I look like I’m still pregnant!”

I immediately regretted and kicked myself for the unkind statement, as Elizabeth was sitting nearby playing with her toys. I maintain that, though she’s only two, she understands everything that is said to and around her. So I have to check the negative self-talk, both inner and outer. If I want my daughter to learn to accept herself, love herself, and see the beauty in every curve, line, and angle of her unique body, I have to do the same. She won’t learn or develop a sense of body comfort if she hears me constantly bad-mouthing my own body. My unique, maddening, triumphant body.

So I walk around the house naked, and I let Elizabeth run around in her diaper, especially now that the weather is warm again. Together, we work on her learning that everyone has a body beneath their clothes and that it is nothing to be feared but everything to be respected and appreciated. At the same time, I am working on my own comfort level with being naked around her and explaining the differences between my body and hers, even at her young age.

“Yes, those are Mommy’s breasts; some mommies feed their babies that way. Yes, you have nipples, too.”

We teach our children to name the parts of their faces, their arms, legs, fingers, toes, and tummy as a necessary benchmark of their development, but I think that it is also important for children to see, from their parents, what those bodies will look like as they grow. I want to be comfortable enough with my daughter and her with me that she can ask me questions about my body and her own as she grows older. I want her to see her body as beautiful, no matter what the voices around her might say. She is strong and brilliant, energetic and curious. I want her mind and body to exist and work together, not against each other.

When I was a girl, I marveled at my mother’s waist. She had a stunning curve to her waist that her A-line dresses gorgeously accentuated. I would trace my hands over her silhouette and hope to be as lovely as her when I grew. When she’d let her hair down, I would hold its weight in my hands and stand in awe. I saw my mother’s beauty, even when she couldn’t, but I struggled for a long time to find my own. I would dearly love to protect my daughter from that uncertainty and for her to always be assured of her unique loveliness and brilliance. Even better if she will then, in turn, remind others of their own.

So I stand naked before the mirror, deny the negative self-talk, and call myself beautiful. My little girl comes to stand beside me, as tall as my thigh, and leans smiling against my leg. I hug her close and call her beautiful, and, somewhere in that little child brain full of all things new and amazing, I think that she thinks so, too.

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The Moment My Glorious Faded


Yesterday, I went shopping with my mother. We ducked into Victoria’s Secret to see if they were offering a special that she had heard advertised (she wanted the tote bag that came with the purchase special). I started looking around the underwear, as it was 50% off, and found a few cute pairs. But, then, as I rounded the display, two men walked up and one started looking through the underwear. His friend commented on the prices and the man looking said, “Well, then, she can get two.” So I can only assume that he was buying Christmas gifts for his significant other.

I, of course, went about my business silently (they could spot the 5 for $27 deal for themselves), as I dislike inhabiting close quarters with strangers, much less talking to them. Then, the man’s friend suddenly burst out with, “If I see another girl in tights with a washboard butt, I swear I’m going to throw my phone at her ass. Tell her to stop ruining the tights, man.”

It was that comment, as if that woman’s – or indeed any woman’s – body was his to comment on, that suddenly made me not feel so much like buying cute underwear. I didn’t feel cute and far from glorious. So I put the pairs down, walked away to my mom, and contented myself with nose-nuzzles from my daughter. It is a bit difficult to explain exactly how I felt in response to the comment but it felt as if I were the one being judged, as I had indeed been judging my own self all day (there are extenuating circumstances that I acknowledge but they are neither here nor there). I have fitness, nutrition, and weight goals to work on, yes, and I will get there, I know. But, in that moment, I found myself feeling objectified in place of the girls to whom he was referring and my spirit felt low under the added burden. It didn’t last for long but it was poignant enough that here I am writing about it a day later. If something is still on my mind after a night’s sleep, then it is something worth discussing. And body image and acceptance, by ourselves and others, always is.

Stranger in the Mirror


My most recent article published by The Well Written Woman:

“My aging was very sudden. I saw it spread over my features one by one, changing the relationship between them, making the eyes larger, the expression sadder, the mouth more final, leaving great creases in the forehead. But instead of being dismayed I watched this process with the same sort of interest I might have taken in the reading of a book.” – Marguerite Duras, The Lover

I have a few friends who have sometimes exclaimed to me that I haven’t changed my looks since I was seventeen. Heavens above, but I hope I have. And I think I have, too. Looking at myself in the mirror, I often have to push past the tendency to see myself at seventeen, the first major changing point in my life: when I went off to college. That image of me has stuck rather stubbornly over the past fourteen years. But, if I can look past it, I can study my reflection for quite a long time and find subtle differences.

I think back over the critical points of my life and how my body – my physical form – has changed and transformed with them. I gained eight pounds my freshman year of college and no one at home had the heart to tell me until I wore my favorite dress to my friends’ high school graduation. Afterward, I was told by a young man that I had known from my church’s youth group that I shouldn’t have worn it, that I “looked fat”. I don’t think I ever wore that dress again, nor spoke to him beyond what was polite.  That dress, formerly beloved and the very same one that, only a year or two prior, I had been proclaimed “beautiful” in by another young man (can’t tell you how many times I read that email), the poor thing faded away into obscurity in my closet. Don’t know what happened to it to this day. What can I say? Words have power and the social movement for self-love in young women was at least another decade off.

In my first semester of graduate school, with the stress and a myriad of changes in my life, I lost almost twenty pounds in quick succession, my rapid weight loss finally slowing to pause around ninety-seven or ninety-eight pounds. It was corrected with a visit to the doctor, some meds, and conscious efforts to relax a bit more the following semester. However, that didn’t stop the comments of “You look great! You lost so much weight!” when I went home for the holidays. Unfortunately, they weren’t as much of a compliment as those giving them probably intended for them to be, as I knew that I was currently unhealthy. But, eventually, I found a happy and healthy place again.

I am a late bloomer as far as my looks and physique go, at least in my opinion. My skin has never been perfect but I can keep it fairly under control. My body never really settled into its shape until after I got married. As I entered my thirties last year, I found that I began to notice a more mature look to my eyes, the curve of my cheeks, and the turn of my mouth. If I tilt my head, I find the line of my jaw. I trace it with my fingers and find it still strong, still defined but without all the softness of my youth. A softness is still there but of a different sort, borne of a deeper understanding of love and life. Sometimes I hardly recognize myself. I see a new depth of experience in my eyes and wonder, “Where did that come from?” Smiles and laughter have begun to imprint themselves in the corners of my mouth, moments that I cherish and am thankful for hiding there along with Mrs. Darling’s kiss. I read, with my fingers, the slope of my neck into my shoulder and find it strong from burdens borne. The way I hold my hands is permanently influenced by my years in belly dance. I’ve lost a bit of my curve since having my daughter, my waist coming out to meet my hips a bit more. There’s more of a fullness here, a roundness there. A scar where there was none before. The landscape of my body has changed over the past fourteen years, and that’s all right.

I am finding that I am growing happier and happier with myself. I have managed to lose most of the baby weight after fourteen months and I am getting back into toning again, little by little. But, most of all, I am learning to appreciate myself for just that: myself. That is hard work in and of itself, an exercise of the mental and the emotional as well as the physical. I cannot pretend to tell you how it’s done; I don’t have a secret, I don’t have an answer. Just a fortunate turn in years of difficulty with self-esteem and body image. It catches me by surprise sometimes, me looking at myself and smiling. When did I become so chummy with myself? I don’t really know, but I like it.

An Unfair Comparison


Author’s Note: This blog post is not aimed at anyone, nor is it an exercise in shaming persons – man or woman, great or small, or what have you. It is simply a post born of a thought and worked through into a premise as I work through my own issues with self-esteem and comparison. You are under no obligation to read it.

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Dear You,

Now, I know that you have read the letters and blog posts that tell you not to compare yourself to others, to not look at their bodies and think yourself fat or unfit or unattractive or what have you. They tell you to remember your power, that you are great/beautiful/handsome/wonderful just the way you are, man or woman. You shouldn’t compare yourself to anyone else; you are individual, you are unique, you are special. Comparing yourself to someone else is unfair to you. And I agree.

But what about me? Yes, me. That one, whether nebulous or specific, that you’re comparing yourself to.  It’s unfair to me, too, you know.  Just as it’s unfair to you when people compare themselves to you. When you compare yourself to me, you not only undo your individuality, you undo mine, too. Such a comparison, at its heart, presumes against the individuality of both the comparer and the compared. It assumes that you and I, or you and someone else, are the same in all things. When you compare yourself to me and wonder why you don’t look this way or do this or have that, you aren’t allowing for one very fundamental detail:

We are not the same person.

Between you and me, there is a plethora of differences – differences in body type, health, family history, maybe ethnicity, life developments and changes, jobs, particular emotional stressors, children or no children, and on and on. So it’s not only unfair to you when you compare yourself and hinge your self-esteem on someone else, but also to the person to whom you are comparing yourself. We are all in this together, but we are all fundamentally different people and far too individual and unique to be comparing ourselves to each other. I am not like you and you are like no one else. So let’s be fair to ourselves but also to others and let them be the special, unique, wonderful people that they are, too.

Thanks, Me

Me and My Body: A Love/Hate Story


As I have read back through my musings over the years, I find that I go in spurts in this love/hate thing called me and my body image. Not too long ago, I loved my body. I loved the way I looked and felt, and I think that I was finally content with my figure, my muscle tone, my strength, and my weight.

And then I got pregnant.

Now, understand this: I AM NOT saying that I regret being pregnant or having my child or any other absolutely insane, ridiculous context you wish to infer upon what I am writing. I AM NOT saying that.

But I am saying that 9 months of pregnancy undid and ruined years of work and mental and physical struggle. It was ridiculously difficult to watch myself getting larger and larger, all my working coming apart at the seams, and not feel like a failure in some way. I wasn’t one of those moms who did yoga and pilates all the way through; certain health concerns just didn’t allow for it. So I lost my strength, my stamina, my muscle tone, all of it.

I want to feel like me, again. I want to look in the mirror and like what I see. I want to be stronger, more energetic, for me as well as for Elizabeth and Ben. So I am currently working to lose 16 lbs. by early September and tone up my body. While I lost my pregnancy weight fairly quickly (which made me happy), I also put on an extra 10 lbs. rather quickly again (which appalled me), being home with Elizabeth all day long. Admittedly, I drank way too many sodas and snacked on anything that was quickly at hand when I could. Not the best habits. So I did some research, figured out an appropriate weight for my 5’1 height, and set to work a week ago. I have never dieted before and I kind of refuse to, for personal reasons. So I am NOT dieting. What I AM doing, however, is trying to eat smarter and exercise more. I walk daily with Elizabeth, at least a half-mile round trip, and have been adding more blocks to that walk every few days. We’ll be walking the length of our little town before you know it. And I also try to work out after she has gone to bed for the evening, which, thankfully, is fairly early right now.

So far, so good. I have lost 4 lbs., I feel better about myself and my food choices, and I am starting to feel a difference in my body. Now don’t get me wrong; I still want to scarf down half of a cherry creme cake from Marsh, but I won’t, because I want this more. I want to fit into the beautiful dress that my mom bought me for Christmas two years ago that I have never worn yet. I want to make all of my fit-and-flare and pencil-line dresses look fabulous. I want to feel and look as strong and sleek as I was and did when I bellydanced on a regular basis.

I will admit, though, that my self-esteem is still fragile. For example, right now, I am struggling with whether or not to go to a bellydance hafla being held fifteen minutes away from my house by my first bellydance teacher and all the girls that I started dancing with.  It would be fun to see everyone but I’m a little scared about what it will do to my self-esteem. Yes, I’ve lost 4 lbs. this past week, but I no longer have the strength, fluidity, grace, skill, etc. that I did when I danced regularly. I’m a little afraid of watching other ladies who started dancing when I did and have kept up with it do exceptionally well (which they will) and how that will make me feel about myself. I know, it sounds silly but…that’s how I feel in this moment. We’ll see what happens.

So it’s a constant back and forth, love and hate, and, hopefully, I will get back to that nice place where I was content with myself. But, for now, it’s work, work, work.

Body Image Posts:

My Skin

Morning Body

I Love My Legs

Unpretty