This evening has settled into a quiet one. My two year old daughter is sleeping, my boyfriend is working away in our home office, and I’m planted right in front of the bathroom mirror studying the image that has appeared through the glass. The image of a young mother, who is tired from a day’s work, maybe even a little worn down. I notice the dark circles shadowing my brown eyes. I pick over my skin wondering why adulthood hasn’t cured acne. I brush my teeth and smooth chapstick on my lips. I smile at myself. I look kind of pretty. I admire my slim waist, then run my hands over the pooch that has settled below in disgust. I take a deep breath and suck in.
What can I say? I’m learning to love that image, that reflection, that body. It’s a work in progress. In some ways, loving all of those at the same time hasn’t gone hand in hand.
There have been two times in my preteen-adult life when I felt skinny enough to be pretty. Only two times when my BMI calculations agreed that I was skinny enough to be healthy, except that I wasn’t.
Around the time I was seventeen or so, I struggled with recurrent peptic ulcers. Food brought pain, which caused a major loss of appetite. I quickly went from being called J.Lo in school to being referred to as Pancake Butt (I can only wish that is an exaggeration). I was incredibly thin, hurting and really sick. Eventually, the pain subsided, and the weight stacked back on. Then, I turned twenty-one.
At the time, I worked wild fluctuating hours. I would arrive at work, regardless of the time, with a empty stomach. On my first break, I would turn to my dear friend, the vending machine and eat a candy bar, sometimes two. When my lunch hour arrived, I would drive to the nearest McDonald’s where I would binge on a large value meal and then some. Immediately after work, I’d skip over to the local bar with my coworkers, I’d share a basket of cheese curds, then drink excessively until I was hunched over the porcelain bowl in my apartment. I would get very little sleep and wake up the next day too hungover to eat anything until it was time to meet the vending machine. I would repeat this process almost daily. My weight stooped below an average, normal number on the charts. My body would grow fatigued to a point where I couldn’t get out of bed some days. I had constant headaches, poor digestion, consistent mood swings, and frequent sugar crashes. My unexpected pregnancy stopped the constant cycle of drinking and hangovers. It did not, however, halt the binge eating. During those next nine months, I would go on to gain a whopping 65 pounds, pushing my body well over my average BMI.
Let’s fast forward quickly through giving birth, dieting, and peeing my pants doing jumping jacks, to today. I have lost most, but not all of the baby weight. I am healthy. I eat way more vegetables and way less fast food value meals. My digestive track is on a normal path. The fatigue is gone. I’m living in wellness.
In the times when my hands glide over my tummy in disgust, I reflect on the journey I’ve been through with my body. We’ve hit the highest highs and sank into the lowest lows, but my body keeps going. It carries on, with me on it’s back.
And you know, really? It is perfect. It is so intricately designed to keep sweat out of my eyes, to feed a newborn, to rock a pudgy, crying baby to sleep, to chase my toddler through the house, to keep going. It provides the great luxury of life itself. It wiggles its way through family dance parties. It cooks dinner. It gets up each morning and goes to work. It sings my daughter to sleep. It pulls in loved ones for a hug. It is strong, flexible, forgiving. It is capable. It deserves kindness, grace, and forgiveness. It deserves vegetables, copious amounts of water, and the occasional Hurts Donut.
It deserves love that is rooted beneath the depth of the skin.
I’m learning that loving my body leads to loving the image, the reflection. I’m learning how to take a deep breath and exhale.