It can not be overstated.
The amount of physical changes a woman goes through in order to bring her babies into the world is no small thing.
We watch our bodies grow and change. We watch the numbers on the scale go up, and then come back down. We size up our jeans to accommodate a growing belly, then search for a new normal after it’s all said and done.
We look in the mirror, day after day, trying to recognize the person reflected.
Is that me? Is that how I look now?
It’s not just our belly that grows with each baby. The hard lines of our face softens from the hormone fluctuations. Our hair fills in, then falls out. Our skin goes from dull to lustrous, back to dull.
Slowly, with time, we squeeze back into the old jeans, but the mirror still shows someone…else? Who is that person?
I read this great blog post by Jacki Carr. She is a new momma who knows a little bit about the internal battle we face with the mirror. I could relate to the very different way she responds to herself in the mirror (with criticism) than her daughter looks at her own image (with delight).
I don’t know when it began. The moment when I looked in the mirror and an involuntary “ugh” slipped out. I don’t know when it started. The looking for all the ways in which my image disappointed me. Disgusted me. Depressed me.
I wrote last week about my hope that I’ll be able to talk openly and encouragingly to my daughter when the day comes that she will inevitably feel insecure about her looks. If I’m honest, that day terrifies me. How can I reassure her of something I struggle with so acutely, so regularly?
One day, she is bound to notice that I look at her and say “You are so beautiful!” but turn to the mirror and sigh and roll my eyes and groan at my own reflection.
What will that say to her?
I don’t have answers. And maybe that is the scariest part.
I know that I’m proud of my body that has nurtured and grown and delivered three healthy, wonderful babies. But each time, I fretted and obsessed over the physical changes I was experiencing. I worried. I lamented. I mourned the loss of my pre-baby-body. I cried over clothes that didn’t fit, over bras that failed to conceal the misshapen mess the contained, over a face with features so softened and changed that no piece of my formal self seemed to remain. I cried as huge clumps of my hair fell out in the shower postpartum. I cried over softness and rolls and puffy skin. I cried over loss of strength. Over the creeping exhaustion that forces a change in pace, in lifestyle, and workout routines. I cried over it all.
And I think, the part that makes me the most sad, is not that I’ve struggled with body image – but that I’ve allowed it to define me and color my memories. That I’ve allowed it to define my day and dictate my confidence level. That it doesn’t just steal my joy, it hijacks my focus. There have been far too many days where I will be out with my family, excited and ready for our next adventure, when I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a window or a mirror and my spirit is absolutely crushed. It’s all I can think about. It zaps my confidence, but more – it destroys my light. It turns me inward when I should be focused on the amazing, tangible externals of my life – my people, my journey, my blessings.
The part that makes me the most sad about these body issues is how self centered they make me. How focused I become on me, me, me, me.
I have a few more years before these conversations will start to come up between my daughter and me. But the conversations I have with the mirror, unfortunately, are never ending. They are today. They are tomorrow. The good news is, though, that I have plenty of opportunities to practice.
I have plenty of time to practice looking in the mirror to compliment, not criticize. I have plenty of time to practice looking in the mirror and acknowledging, but not obsessing. I have plenty of time to practice looking myself in the eyes, and simply smiling. No mutterings of disgust. No critical glare. Just, smiling.
I can do do that for myself. I can do that, for her.