Confession: I wish I loved my body sooner
...and how I'm learning to practice loving it daily now
I remember the exact moment I developed body awareness. I was 10 years old and suddenly it dawned on me: I have thighs. At nine, I had legs. Like everyone else on the planet, male, female, adult, child. But now, at 10, the same age I developed my first crush on a boy, I realized I didn’t just have legs. I had thighs. And I didn’t like them. Add into the mix that with puberty, came hair, and now my thighs were not only too big, they were too hairy, and I, an introvert who very easily falls prey to feelings of shame, was doomed. I hid my thighs, I hid my spirit—and so began my teenage years.
From that point on, my perception of my body started impacting my decisions. When I started a new school in ninth grade, I was given an option: dance or PE. Even though I loved music and dance was intriguing, one small fact got in the way: dance required wearing a leotard, which required exposing said thighs. I said no, and chose PE, and followed that up with a few years of basketball, which I hated and was terrible at. All because I didn’t want my thighs to see the light of day.
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And the micro decisions continued. Choosing a one piece instead of a bikini to hide my stomach (which was always flat, by the way — I just couldn’t see it). Wearing a low-cut blouse because my boobs were amazing to distract from other parts of my body, like my frizzy hair. Did my friends and family know that I didn’t love my body? Probably not. I’m an expert at hiding my feelings, especially to make other people more comfortable. And as a result, this pattern of feeling less than dangerously continued, undetected for weeks and years and decades.
The thing is, my thighs were never a problem for the outside world. Neither was the rest of my body. My own self doubt set off a cascade of behaviors designed to secure the validation I wasn’t willing to give myself, from becoming a perfectionist and high achiever, to vying for romantic attention from boys who didn’t deserve even one ounce of me.
After having twin daughters in 2012, and my son in 2018, and watching my body transform into a new one, I realized just how beautiful my body was back then. In my twenties, my lean, strong, able and flexible body carried me without me having to do any exercise or even a single stretch, no problem. My body carried me — effortlessly. But back then, it wasn’t enough. I didn’t have the elusive thigh gap, there was always someone around who was thinner, there was always a jean size that was smaller, and I never, not for one moment, paused to relish my healthy, profoundly graceful, and covet-worthy body. After two C-sections and nearly a decade of coping with a thyroid problem that has wreaked havoc on me from head to toe, my respect for my body and all that it does for me has grown. But what about the love? I want to do more than respect my body, I want to worship it. And I want my girls to do the same for their own beautiful bodies.
With two daughters on the cusp of puberty, I’m faced with a decision: how will we talk about thighs? How will I model for them the relationship I wish I had had at their age with my body? Because this past weekend, Friday night to be precise, I was sitting on the couch with Stella and noticed something: she has thighs. She is ten, just like I was, and the change happened without me even noticing. I wonder if she noticed, because she doesn’t speak about it. But as I noted above, neither did I? Do I bring it up? Or do I simply focus on myself — and lead by example?
How do we cultivate healthy body awareness and love within ourselves, and within all women, at any age? Can loving your body today make up for decades of disparaging it?
I want to say that loving yourself is like a light switch, where once you flip it all is well. But if you’ve gotten this far, you know, and I know, that loving yourself is a wave. You rise, you fall, the trick is only that you keep going. With two daughters, I am inspired more than ever to love every inch, so that they will love every inch, regardless of how many inches it is we’re talking about. I do believe that no matter what I tell them, what they’re witnessing me do myself is the more powerful guide. This morning I told Stella just how beautiful her legs are, and she was beaming. Words are important, yes. But if you’ve ever been around kids, you know: they may not always listen to you, but they are always watching.
Here are five strategies I’m implementing today to make loving my body (and inspiring my daughters to love theirs!) a little easier:
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