Lately, I’ve had a thought that it’s taken me 32 years to think. Lately, I’ve been thinking that I’ve spent way to much time in my life loathing my body and letting it take away from my happiness.
Let me explain: When I was about 12, the boy I had a huge crush on sat in front of me with one of his friends and said, loudly so I could hear, “You know Kayla F, right? She needs to go on Jenny Craig or something.”
I was crushed. Smashed into a thousand pieces. My fragile pre-teen self-esteem tossed on the ground and mangled by a boy who had no business having such power over me.
Those words, along with other body remarks and early development of boobs and curves, spurred years of disordered eating and rigid workout schedules. I spent the entire summer after that comment severely restricting my calorie intake and running enough to burn all of the fat calories I consumed in a day off. In my early 20s, I covered myself up in layers and loose clothes because I was ashamed. Later, I used veganism as an excuse for restricted eating, sometimes only eating steamed veggies and tofu for most meals. I dedicated hours to a ridiculously hard workout program that did not bring me joy but brought me “results”. I sought approval from guys that were not meant for me and was devastated when I didn’t receive it. I am so grateful it wasn’t worse, but always, always, there was the nagging internal cadence of “You’re fat, you’re fat, you’re fat.” If only I could lose that weight, if only I could fit that size, then maybe self-love would follow.
And then I got pregnant.
My big boobs, which I had just gotten comfortable with, grew to out-of-this-world big. I was severely sick with all day morning sickness, bordering on hyperemesis gravidarum, which caused me to quit all workout programs and crave mostly french fries when I felt like eating at all (literally, I would leave the house once a day to get McDonald’s File O’ Fish meals). After I got my sickness under control, I was too tired to regulate what I ate too much, and my poor eating habits continued. Hip problems stopped me from working out again. I was not a small, cute pregnant woman, and I hated my body. Enough so that I didn’t want maternity pictures because I knew I would just look fat.
Post-pregnancy, things have not been easy, either. I wrote a post about feeling more like myself, physically, after giving birth, but even that post insinuates that that could only happen by losing my baby weight. I’ve had lots of tears about feeling fat and never looking like I did before. I once told my friends I knew I’d never be the mom who said I was happy with my extra fat because my body grew a baby.
But something has been changing lately.
Recently, and to my surprise, I’ve begun to see a light at the end of my poor body image tunnel. It’s been a bit of a happy side effect of my entire metamorphosis into who I am with a child (I won’t say “as a mom”, because what I’ve been working so hard on is who I am separate from that title), so I won’t pretend I intended on not hating my body anymore.
But what I have found is that, when you start investing in the parts of you that have nothing to do with your looks, the value you place on your looks declines, or at least evens out.
Let me rephrase that, louder, for those in the back: Love the parts of you that you can’t see and you may just find yourself loving the parts of you that you can.
Part of discovering myself again after giving birth included a search for what makes me me. This meant digging back into old passions of mine (writing, reading, yoga, fashion, acts of kindness) and being brave enough to go after new ones (blogging, photography, mental health advocacy). I needed to define myself by other things beside motherhood and I realized I had let so many things about myself go long before Lu. So I started this blog, bought a nice camera, and started investing in my talents and interests a little more.
I also worked on what kind of person I would like to be for my daughter. I’ve worked on opening my heart and letting go of bitterness or anger, showing her the good we can individually do in this world. Practicing being a good person feels so much better than giving into being a jerk!
What I found, slowly but surely, surprised me: The more I worked on improving on the things I was interested in or valued, the more I liked the person I was and the less I cared about the number on a scale or my pant size. I liked myself for reconnecting with the writer inside of me. I liked myself for having the drive to learn more about photography despite having a small child and working full-time. I liked myself for bringing joy to other people through online connections or acts of kindness. I liked myself for choosing to do yoga over a tougher workout, simply because I LOVE it. I found greater worth in working on being a better human being than working on fitting into a size 4.
Scientifically speaking, it makes sense. Doing the things that bring us joy releases those important hormones in our bodies and minds that leads to contentedness. Additionally, doing those things literally leaves less time for analyzing or criticizing our bodies. Less time for self-criticism and increased positive hormones can lead to a wonderful whirlwind of love. Turn it inward, friend. You deserve it!
I am not saying that I will never again care about how much I weigh or if I have a muffin top. I probably will at certain points in my life. I also still enjoy working out and have fitness goals. What I am saying is that it has been so refreshing to, for the first time in my life, not let the distance I am from those goals interrupt the love I have for myself or my daily joy. I’ve begun to love myself no matter what I look like any given day, not just when I feel I’m keeping up with appearances.
So what do you love about yourself, right now, that has nothing to do with your looks? What are you good at, what brings you joy? Are you funny? Generous? Do you make a mean chicken soup? Is your home the gathering place of choice for friends and family? Are you an awesome baker? What makes you the wonderful, unique, special person that you are?
I encourage you to grasp onto these parts of you and invest some time into them. You may just find your investment grows to exceed the worth we’ve been taught to place on our outsides. As a girl mom, I hope that my daughter grows up loving more of herself than the way she looks, and I am so pumped to finally feel like I might be able to model this to her…and mean it!