I’m not sure how it happened, but I am feeling better about my health, my looks, and myself than I ever have. Sometimes I wonder if my children have somehow imparted the gift of self-confidence, self-worth and self-love that I have now come to recognize. I wonder why it is that when for so many years I struggled with my looks, over the years since I had my first child I have felt stronger, more attractive and more centered than ever before.
It wasn’t always that way.
I was a chubby, homely pre-teen. Glasses, braces, leftover baby fat, that unfortunate 80’s perm, you name it, I was not attractive. well–at least to myself. As a child I often dressed for Halloween as Half-Pint from Little House, or Anne from Anne of Green Gables. I played Marta in The Sound of Music, so you get the idea–as a child I was cute–pigtails, a sunny personality, a flair for the dramatic.
But, as I developed, I went through that awful adolescent phase where a serious case of acne removed any sense of self beauty I may have possessed. One day in 7th grade when yearbooks came out, we were passing them all over our homerooms for friends to sign. When I got mine back, I found that my portrait had been drawn all over with angry red dots. And not just mine–each yearbook of my classmates’ that passed through my hands all had my portrait altered. It was a low, low moment for me, one that I will never forget.
My weight was another issue. I was never a skinny kid. When I was ten I auditioned for a local production of Annie and was told I “looked too well-fed to play an orhpan.” My Mom told me to shrug it off, but I could see her anger at the casting agent as she whirled me out of the audition room. Perhaps that was a telling moment and my Mom saw that comment as a reflection on herself. I had watched her drink Slim-fast, pop water pills and diet on and off for years. And yet, she wasn’t even overweight.
In spite of the typical teen-angst issues I was grappling with, I was a great student and loved to participate in Speech and Debate, art and Drama. I poured penchant for acting and reading into storytelling and took home to state championship titles. I directed my own senior production of Our Town, and was awarded a substantial scholarship in theater for college. So, despite how I felt about my body, I was able to put on a smile and make it into young womanhood on my colorful talents.
But still, I was unhappy with the way that I looked. I went through nearly ten more years of covering my acne with thick foundations and dieting like crazy to keep my weight into what I thought was an acceptable range, though one that I was never satisfied. Then, I met my husband. He always told me how beautiful I was, never looked sideways at my complexion, never mentioned my fat thighs like so many husbands do, and with his constant love I think that poor image of myself began to be stripped away.
Then I got pregnant, and weighed over 200 pounds when I went in to the hospital to give birth to my son. I remember when the nurse asked me my weight so she could put it on the chart. Chris was sitting with me, holding my hand as the tears rolled down my face and I said “212.” I was crushed—and rather than thinking about the new life that I was about to welcome into my world, I was thinking about how fat and ugly I was going to be. I think that the moment I saw my son, all of that body image angst, self-loathing, and insecurity began to melt away.
Month by month, as I watched my son grow from newborn, to healthy baby, to active toddler, and as I chased him around the house, took him on long walks, fed him balanced meals and worked hard to give him a solid foundation as a loved child, I too began to benefit from what was being instilled in me—my new sense of self worth as a mother. There was no longer time to really fixate on myself. That time was being spent adoring, my son, teaching my son, loving my son and in turn, myself.
Right before I became pregnant with my daughter I wrote this post on my blog. Reading back I can really begin to see that shift in my feelings, and I can see my inner strength really coming to fruition. I gained far less weight with my daughter, and unlike many second pregnancies that you hear about, the weight came off even faster than after my first. I worked hard to make sure that we were active as much as possible. I got a treadmill to keep myself active during the long winter months during which I am known for baking bread and cookies like some kind of maniac squirrel storing fuel.
My son will be four in two weeks, my daughter two in August. And my age? Well, I will be 37 this year, and I feel better about myself than I ever, ever have. Much of it, I think, is because I have finally found that place where I can look at myself in the mirror and say “Gosh, you ARE beautiful” and mean it. I can hear my husband say it, and feel the sincerity in his tone, and feel like I deserve hearing it. My son told me last night, out of the blue that I was beautiful, and I found myself almost crying. The sweet words of my innocent little boy brought me so much joy.
I hope that my children, especially my daughter will never tie their own self-worth to their body image. However, with the mass media, with our pop culture, with the angst of girls sure to be all around her—it may, in fact, be inevitable. I can only hope that she comes to the realization that she is special, and beautiful, and intelligent, and worthy of her own self-love sooner than I did. I’ll do my best to help her get there, but she’ll have to walk that last mile herself.
Just like I did.