Yesterday, I wrote about my decision to learn to love my body, so that my girls might learn to love theirs. Today, I want to share some of the path I walked along the way:
Even as I began this task of learning to love my body, I realized I had already begun to have a new and better relationship with my body. It started with the birth of my first child. One thing I remember about the birth is the trust and pride I felt in my body. Before pregnancy I had a feeble and often disparaging relationship with my body. But in labor, I came home to my body. I was in my body in a whole new way. I felt my strength, my competence, and my body did not let me down. I had never felt so powerful. I had never felt such an appreciation of my body—an appreciation bordering on love. I had done it. I had brought this baby girl into the world. Eighteen months later, I brought another baby girl into this world, as amazing and beloved as the first.
Birthing my babies changed me. And changed how I felt about my body.
As they grew, another change settled in me. I found my way back to beautiful. Here is how it happened: I continued to find my daughters breathtakingly beautiful. Strangers still stopped me on the street and in the park to tell my how beautiful Miranda and Nicole were. At the same time, everyone remarked on how much they looked like me. I saw it too—they did look like me. So if I believed they were beautiful, that must mean I was beautiful, too. Hmmmm.
The thing was I didn’t feel beautiful most of the time when my kids were babies and toddlers. I felt tired, and frumpy. I carried pregnancy weight and I had little money for pretty clothes. I had lost touch with that sense of strength and pride I had found in giving birth. But as I began to try to see the beauty others saw, I gained energy for my mission.
With that energy, I went to the gym. I tried to lose weight, to shape up. As I look back on it now, I realize these were good steps to take, but it would have been more helpful if I could have thought of myself as being in partnership with this body of mine. Like my mother before me, I had come to see my body as my adversary, or at least as subordinate to me. “I” wanted “my body” to be less fat, more toned. “I” wanted “my body” to have more energy. “I” wanted the chronic pain in my leg to leave “me” alone. “I did everything right, so why was “my body” not cooperating?
I see now my body was trying to speak to me, but I refused to listen. “You are not the boss of me.” I told my body. Today I know different. How did I get there?
One gift along the journey was learning to dance. When the girls were still very little, Jeff and I joined our good friends for swing lessons and ballroom dancing. It did not come easily to us, and it made our brains hurt. But it was an excellent choice for date night—it got us up and out of our rut and taught us to connect in a new way. And eventually we got good at it. We started to love it. And there it was again—I found myself coming home to my body, to its power, its capacity for joy. I remembered how to flirt, how to be sexy, how to love being a woman, how to love being in my own unique body.
As I learned to enjoy being in my body, I slowly lost some of the extra weight and gained strength and fitness. I fell in love with roller blading, rekindled my love of cycling, and continued to learn to dance. More and more I came to see myself being in partnership with this body of mine—I started to grock that we were—for better or worse—in this together. I was starting to live what I wanted for my girls.
With one great exception. I could not find a way to reconcile my life with chronic pain. Ever since my later teen years, my right leg caused me pain, stealing energy and fun from me like a thief. Every single day, my leg would begin to hurt—sometime between the hours of noon and 4pm—and it would continue to hurt until I went to bed for the night. I tried everything I could think of—physical therapy, stretching, orthopedic shoes—nothing I tried seemed to make any difference. I tried exercising more, exercising differently, not exercising at all—still the pain came. So I ignored it. I pretended it wasn’t there. Even so, I remember going to parties and sitting dances out because I could not take it anymore. I remember feeling sullen and put upon as I watched other women in high-heeled shoes dancing the night away. I remember that it felt so damned unfair.
At thirty, I finally decided to talk to my doctor about the chronic pain in my right hip and leg. I did this because of this exchange, one Sunday in early December.
Miranda: Mommy, can we set up the Christmas tree?
Me: Not tonight, honey, my leg hurts.
Miranda, disappointed and hurt: Your leg always hurts.
Well, that got my attention. I thought I did a pretty good job of hiding how much pain I was in, how tired I felt each evening. But, in the wake of Miranda’s comment, I resolved to try again.