Moms’ Body Image — Part 2

My life has changed in the past two weeks.  I’m not the same person.

It’s been freeing and inspiring–beyond words, really.  And it’s going to take a whole lot more than one post to share what I’ve learned, but today will be a start.

When I wrote part one of Moms’ Body Image, I didn’t know what kind of a response I would get.  I braced myself for mean comments and scathing emails, but surprisingly, I didn’t receive even one.

Instead, I witnessed an outpouring of love, full of empathy, heart-breaking stories, and solid, sensible wisdom.   It’s this wisdom that I would now like to share with you. (But for the full scope, you’ll need to go back to the comments on the original post and listen to my recent podcast with Dawn Wessman.)

Below are the two questions I asked and a synopsis of the advice I received.

How do I get to the point that I can really love and appreciate my body?

(The answers to this question are what really changed me. All the fitness/nutrition advice is meaningless to me if I don’t believe I’m worth the effort.)

Idea #1: Verbally express the love and gratitude I want to feel.

These three comments (along with the suggestions Dawn gave me in the podcast) really inspire me:

I eat healthy and exercise because I deserve to be healthy and happy. I do it because I love myself, and I am worth it! -Heidi

I muster up the effort, and I tell my girls how much I love my body parts. I talk about my beautiful tummy that held babies, my strong strong legs, my lovely hips. It is painful, but I do it until I half-believe it. You should see my seven-year-old beam with pride as she hears me talk about myself that way. I never ever let them hear me talk disparagingly about my body. I put on my bathing suit and jump in the pool with confidence – like cellulite is the latest fashion.  -Heather

One of the things that really helped me was to say, out loud, “thank you” to my various body parts. The thought of it felt so strange, but saying it out loud felt very different. It felt hard. Really, really hard. It might sound silly, but saying “thank you” to my sagging belly, to my sagging breasts, just brought me to tears. So I kept saying it. I would look in the mirror at my body, and instead of saying, “I hate you” I would say, “thank you for holding my child” or “thank you for letting me nurse my son” and it started to extend to the rest of me, until I started saying “thank you for allowing me to bend down today a million times, knees. I’m so thankful you’re still working” and “thank you hands, and feet, and mouth, for letting me smile, and make cookies, and walk through the woods.” -Jess

I tried this positive self-talk for the first time two weeks ago.  While I was making my bed, I told my 10- and 12-year-old daughters about my post and the issues I was trying to overcome, and when I got in the shower, I exclaimed, “I am so grateful for my body!  It is a miracle! It is beautiful!”

Then I paused, a little shocked. Because I realized that I actually believed what I was saying.

My girls, on the other side of the shower curtain, didn’t know why I had gone silent.  Together, they championed, “We can’t hear you, Mom! SAY IT, MOM! Tell us how you love yourself!”

So I yelled the words again. And tears streamed down my cheeks. And it was victory.

Idea #2: Remind myself of truth.

For example, my body is a gift. A mom whose father-in-law has cancer said this:

I am thankful that I have my body to use, to run, to serve others, and to enjoy. If I really push myself in my workout, I think of my father-in-law, and I almost feel like I am doing it for him.

I also need to realize that my inner-critic can be a help.

Personally, I embrace this dialogue in my head and try to use it to my advantage. It sometimes gives me that extra push when I need it to eat more healthy and stay active. I refuse to allow it to control me though or make me feel bad about myself. I instead concentrate on asking myself . . . is this valid? Am I not doing the things for myself that are important to my health right now? Have I been slipping and allowing too much on my plate? Can I control these things or is it just a busier time? Then, if I can do something about it, I take the necessary steps. If I feel I’m being too hard on myself, I force my brain to stop thinking about it by concentrating on what I have been doing to stay healthy and which is reasonable under the circumstances (balancing work, kids, household chores, children’s activities and so on).  -Angela

And I must remember that I do matter.

I think one of the most important things I have taught myself over the years, is that I am not just a mother. I am a whole person. And that whole person deserves as much care as those I mother.  When my body is doing well, everything else seems to do that much better. Taking care of ourselves shouldn’t be seen as a luxury, but a necessity. -Jan

This thought struck my core:

The best thing I can do is look at myself the way God does, cultivate the love for my body that God has. Once, when I was looking in the mirror and hating my body, He told me, “Don’t hate what I love. Don’t despise what I call holy.” -Anne

Beautiful, don’t you think?

And my 12-year-old emailed me several of these reminders from Pinterest:

 

 

 

I love that she’s watching out for me.

Idea #3: Think beyond the physical.

I really feel like we could all do ourselves and each other a favor by not assuming the person who appears to “have it all” really does. Just because some people’s challenges are not as visible as we may feel our own are does not mean they are without troubles. I try to do regular community service to remind myself of this. There is nothing like helping others to keep my own troubles in perspective. -Rachel

I try to avoid complimenting other women on their looks and downplay others’ compliments on MY looks, trying to focus instead on things that are really meaningful and important to women. -Allyson

Less mirrors around the house! (No, really. The less you look at yourself, the less you’re caught up in thinking about your body’s flaws). -Mary

Idea #4: Ignore the media.

My sister-in-law Jodi took this photo in the ladies’ restroom at her university.  I had to include it.  (Don’t you want one of these on your own mirror?)

 

The media’s impact on our definition of beauty is enormous. Listen to what Rachel said:

Like you, I have a mother who did not obsess over her body — she had breast cancer for 13 years and was often swollen, bald, and bruised, but she was SO beautiful and she never complained about her physical looks–so where did I learn to obsess over this?? The only thing I can think of is our modern media and culture.

This hit close to home because I majored in Communications at my university.  I studied ads that target women. I specialized in dissecting their techniques.  And therefore, I thought I was immune.

But as I thought deeply about it, I realized I had bought into all of this.  The fitness magazines, the slender women on TV … all those images of “perfection” that barrage me from every which way.

It’s like having someone lie to you as they stare you straight in the eyes–and believing them, even though you know they’re lying!

At first, I was a little upset with myself for being so foolish.  But then I started to feel powerful.

I don’t have to listen to them!

And whenever I feel the urge to berate myself for my out-of-shapeness, I change the dialogue and say to the media, “You have no power over me!  You are lying to me.  I don’t buy into this idea of beauty you are holding up as an impossible standard.  You don’t care about me.  I refuse to give you that control!”

Wow, that feels good.

If we, as the mothers of the next generation, refuse to watch, agree with, and financially support what the media is trying to do, they will have to change. They’re concerned about the bottom line here, and we are the ones who make that bottom line happen. This is a bigger movement than I knew, but one I’m so excited to support.

(For more on this, visit this amazing article about photoshopping on Beauty Redefined. They tell the story behind these two Kelly Clarkson photos that were taken only three days apart.)

 

Kelly Clarkson before and after Photoshop, Self magazine, September 2009.

So, in the meantime, what can deliberate mothers do to protect their families from these influences?

Discuss media influence.  Teach children about airbrushing, trends, and media spins.  Show them this video by the Dove Campaign.  -Mary

I don’t let media enter our life unless it’s something we choose. We don’t watch TV, but we occasionally watch shows and movies on Netflix (usually something from PBS or an old movie). If my husband watches a football game or something with the kids around, we mute the commercials. When I watch commercials now, I’m so surprised at how quickly I start thinking about my own deficiencies – they make a lot of money by making women dislike themselves.

I don’t bring any women’s magazines or catalogs into the house. If I go through the checkout lane with my kids, we look at a magazine like O or something without half-naked women on the cover.

I point out true beauty I see in women of all sizes, shapes, colors and ages. (Three quotes above by Heather.)

Can you feel the power growing within you? Can you feel the love for your body that you deserve? Because that’s a wonderful place to start.

Now we’re moving on . . .

What are the key principles I need to learn to help me put my physical care as a priority?

Idea #1: I can make exercise an appointment.

Adele has a coach who walks her through a personal home workout program three days a week.

The trainer is a luxury, but I give up most of what I would spend on clothes. And I am worth it.

Gretchen exercises early in the morning:

I get up half an hour earlier and spend half an hour exercising. I rotate running intervals, lifting weights, and practicing yoga. I run out my door before I have brushed my teeth or made my bed. I just make it happen and it makes my whole day easier. My body and brain feel more alive, and I feel better emotionally because I took some time for just myself.

Suzanne has a variety of methods:

I have had success with an early-early morning walking buddy or group (nice to get to socialize and solve the world’s problems before the sun comes up!), walking groups at the park (where we would take turns with walking and watching bigger kids play on the equipment), indoor walking at the mega mall before it opened with babies in strollers, exercise group with an instructor or videos at the church building, running groups (love Jeff Galloway’s walk-run method), and in bad weather or no friends to go with–Jillian Michaels’ 30 day shred (an under 30 min. workout that works), and lots of audiobooks on long walks alone.

My boys are now big enough that they can go with me on decent runs or bike rides- they are energetic workouts partners with lots to say! My husband and I alternate running 5ks with each of them individually, and they love it when it’s their turn (not sure if it’s the running, time alone with a parent, the race’s “goodie bag”, or that we get matching t-shirts!).

Mary also makes exercise into a social occasion:

Some things I’ve thought of are doing physical activities with my children, like hiking, playing basketball, going swimming, or, my personal favorite, dance parties around the house after dinner (the added bonus of doing this sort of thing with your kids is that they see that it’s good to be active, without perceiving in you an obsession with exercise or weight-loss). If date nights with your husband are something you make sure happens on a regular basis, then you can play tennis or go indoor rock climbing together.

My point is simply that there are SO many things that we as mothers want and need to do with our time. Finding ways to accomplish two things at once even though your focus is only in one place? That’s golden.

Rachel’s story made me smile:

I still don’t love to exercise, but I found a friend who does and when we exercise together her enthusiasm is contagious. Not to mention my 16-month-old thinks lunges are the funniest thing on earth. He howls with laughter, which makes me do more.

And I’m in the process of applying Kristi’s advice:

I have started making friends with all the happiest people in my work out classes. I have found that makes me compare less and now I have a great group of people of all ages, shapes, and sizes with whom I can’t wait to see every time I go to the gym.

Other mothers enjoy belly-dancing, tap-dancing, or ballet.  (Who says you have to start these activities as a little girl?)

I’ve made exercise a priority for a full two weeks now.  It isn’t an option anymore.  I plan it into each and every day . . . and it feels amazing.

Idea #2: I can wear clothes that I like.

My closet was full of clothes in the wrong size that made me feel squished, pinched and downright ugly. I found a fabulous silhouette that works for my new body type. I’m an apple. I pretty much look four months pregnant at all times. Empire waists are my nemesis. But blousy tops that have an elastic at the bottom, paired with skinny pants are my best friends! Nobody needs to know that underneath that blousy top is a blousy body.  And I use bright colors and fun accessories to draw attention away from my trouble spots. I am the queen of the ‘statement necklace’, and jokingly tell my friends that the statement my necklace is making is “DON’T LOOK AT MY TUMMY!! LOOK AT MY NECKLACE INSTEAD!!” -Beth

Another mom said this:

In the shower the other day I had an epiphany. I am struggling so hard to get back to a woman who no longer exists. For the first time I’m living an authentic inspired life, why am I clinging to an outdated sense of self? Souls change and bodies do too. I had resisted buying new clothes, kept boxes of pre-pregnancy clothes, subtly punishing myself. I decided it was time for re-invention, time to embrace my light.• I went shopping. The spring colors are fabulous, I let go of my judgments around size and bought things that made me feel good. Bright yellow shorts, a rocking maxi dress, even a couple of swimsuits! No more “this will be perfect if I loose a couple of pounds.” If it doesn’t fit NOW it’s not coming in the closet.

Anyone want to go shopping with me?

Idea #3: I can start small.

If our lives our busy with night-time baby feedings, health problems, or major family events, we might not be in a position to start a brand new diet/fitness regimen, but there are small decisions that anyone can start making . . . today.

  • We can make a commitment to eat fruits and veggies first when hunger strikes.
  • We can curb nighttime eating by making it a priority to get to bed at a reasonable hour.
  • We can walk for just 15 minutes a day . . . or jog just a mile.
  • We can drink water more regularly.
  • If our awesome intentions to join an aerobics class at the gym are thwarted, we can have a much shorter routine to fall back on.  Anne says that pushups, lunges and jumping jacks–even for five minutes in the morning–energizes her and helps her maintain healthy habits. Even just stretching for a few minutes when she is sick is doable, and it helps her avoid the daily decision of whether to exercise or not.

Idea #4: I can improve my perspective on food.

We determine our attitudes about food. It is fuel for our body, so we can train our brains to choose good fuel. -Meredith

At our home, we don’t talk about weight. We do talk about being active and we do talk about choosing a variety of good foods, but we don’t count calories and we don’t even own a scale. And I’m better because of it.

The most healthy people are those who are active and eat a wide variety of good foods – not those who are skinny. -Wendy

I trust God/nature that if I eat all natural, healthy foods and work hard, my body shape will take care of itself. -Heather

We learned to let go of “food traditions” like having massive amounts of food for family celebrations or thinking of certain foods as a reward (we discovered that our old reward food made us feel sick). -Jan

I started asking myself if I was eating because I was hungry. I put little mental notes (although sticky notes might work too) on foods I was likely to snack on when I was bored, or wanted a break, and I also started replacing them with snack foods that I enjoyed, but that were better for me. Crunchy things, like sugar snap peas, baby carrots, and really, really good hummus.

I drank more water, and less alcohol. I got out of the house more, for walks in the woods with my kid, and swimming around in the pool as much as I can. Mentally shifting from the idea of my body as a “failure” to the idea of it as something in process, as less of a thing, and more of an embodiment of my spirit–and how best to care for it as though it was holding something precious, and vital to my own well being and the well being of those around me. -Jess

And be brave in my decisions.

I think it’s wise to live your life in the light, and not hide things. We can start there. We eat what we eat, in front of anyone. Eating right and exercising takes courage too. I have had co-workers try to sabotage (or in their minds) tease me if I bring a healthy lunch. I’m not sure why. There were days when I deliberately brought some junk food with me, so I could feel like I would connect and not stand out. But over time, I am learning (still a process for me) to be brave and be proud of trying to be healthful. I have also become aware over time of my “trigger foods.” Foods that once I start eating, I can’t stop–and that leads to more unhealthy choices. I couldn’t possibly stop eating all of these foods, but I wrote down my personal triggers. I try to moderately eat them, and think about it when I am eating. Any food that almost feels “addictive’ to me is something that I have to be careful with. -Janalyn

Idea #5: I can do all of these things for the right reasons.

When Dawn Wessman (from the podcast) spoke at one of our recent Power of Moms Retreats, she said, “What will your children remember about you after they’re grown?”

One child might say, “My mom always played outside with us.”

Another child might say, “My mom read books with me.”

A third child might say, “My mom looked so good in her jeans.”

(She was kidding on that last one.)

Health and fitness are wonderful, but I think the reason I’ve been shying away from really taking care of myself is because it felt so superficial.  But now my motives are different.

I want to play with my children and have energy to laugh with them. I want to be a strong woman who knows she can do hard things. I want to pave the way for my daughters and sons to live healthy, happy lives.  I want to breathe easily each day, knowing that in spite of the craziness around me, I made the time to treat myself like a person.

We can do this, moms.  We can do this together.

 

QUESTION: Did any of the suggestions specifically resonate with you? Do you have anything else to add?

CHALLENGE: Assess where you are on this journey, and set one goal to improve your life today.

2 comments

  1. Cat

    I used to be so very unhappy about how my body looked after giving birth the 6 kids and turning 40. Then I inflamed a joint in my hip. Suddenly every movement was pain. Somedays it hurt to breathe. Doctor visits and physical thearapy later, I’m doing better. My attitude has also changed. I realized that if I’m going to enjoy being a mom to my children, I need to be able to move. I don’t have anything wrong with me that exercise can’t fix. I’m not always good at it, but when I mess up, I start over with day 1 again. I don’t look in the mirrors anymore (I can’t possiblly have gray hair if I can’t see it) and in my head I’m the girl I was when I was 25. I’ve managed to lose 2 pant sizes in the past two years and almost been able to maintain it (I gained back a bit, but not too much). My life is very stressful (some of it of my own making, some caused by others). I just try and remember that if I’m always wishing for the golden ticket, I won’t be able to enjoy the chocolate.

  2. Jamee Tenzer

    What an inspiration! This is such an important conversation. I have made a commitment to always be positive about my body when speaking with my daughters and I see it paying off. However, they are still affected by our culture in little ways. I love the comment by the mom who talks about her tummy that held babies and strong legs – what a terrific message to pass on. Thank you for reminding all of us that we can give our girls the gift of loving and appreciating their incredible bodies!
    Jamee Tenzer
    http://www.shesarealmother.com

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