We have very few mirrors in our house. It was never a conscious decision to not have mirrors in our house so much as it never became a priority to have a good mirror among our possessions. I realized this when my aunt asked for a baby bump selfie (a bumpfie) that featured my face as well as my growing baby. We do not have a proper full length mirror in our house. (The closest thing is a warped IKEA mirror that has been cracked for well over 7 years.)
Our baby loves his reflection! So, I have spent much more time in front of the few small mirrors that we do have in our house. When I am looking at the mirror, though, I am focused on his reflection, and the reaction happening there. I maybe look at myself once every other day when I am putting my hair in a clip, or brushing out my part. Of course, there is a quick glance when I’m brushing my teeth, and maybe as I wash my face. For the most part, though, everything I do does not require actually looking at myself.
When I did catch a glimpse of myself in a full-length mirror, it was therefore a pretty big shock for me. Now, I was also in my bathing suit, which is not an outfit I normally think about myself in. And, I was looking over my shoulder, holding a squirming 20-lb baby when I happened to glance at myself.
I was out in public, so I repressed the emotional reaction that this had on me. I fixed the gap that had caught the most of my attention, and carried on the conversation with a fellow mother. My internal dialogue was doing a number to repress the shame I instinctively felt upon seeing this body that I live my life in every day.
I knew that I wasn’t at my physical best, and I was okay with that. My body has had many aches and pains so far this year, and I am focused on strengthening it so that those aches go away. Like many new parents, I am sleep-deprived, distracted, and not making my own health as much of a priority as my child’s health. My health is still important to me, which is why I have been putting more and more energy into regaining my strength from before my pregnancy. My appearance, though, is way below both of those aspects to my life on the scale of priorities. However, I was still really taken aback.
I haven’t always loved myself, and a lot of that neglect comes from not loving the looks of my body. “Hello, my name is Jodi, and I am a woman in our current culture.” As a young adult, though, I decided to change that. And, not in the usual way of working out every single day, counting all of my calories, and losing weight in all the right areas and adding some weight in all the other areas. Nope! While I have always been interested in fitness, being a healthy weight, and living healthier, I knew at 19 that health and appearance were two different aspects of myself. By the age of 8, I started to realize that it wasn’t “baby weight” that I would one day outgrow, but that I was actually overweight and should do something about that. For the next ten years, it became my fault that I was so overweight, and I felt the shame associated with being “so unhealthy.” However, at my healthiest age – 25/26 – I still wouldn’t have fit into the cultural idea of what a “healthy body” looks like. I didn’t need that, though, as I was just elated to fit into a single digit size of clothing.
As a young woman, after years of feeling ashamed for being overweight, I knew that changing myself physically wouldn’t change the shame I had for my body. Instinctively, I used positive psychology to slowly fall in love with my body. I started with what I already liked about myself: my hair, and my feet. I have these golden locks of hair, and even today – as the dirty blonde has more and more wisdom glitter in it every day – it is still one of my best features (and needs the least amount of maintenance). I had never realized, though, that my feet were really gorgeous! In fact, I joked with a coworker that I should have them photographed for a foot fetish website.
I started with what I liked about myself, and soon realized that I loved those aspects of my physical body. Then, it started to grow. My calves became super strong in my mind’s eyes, and my knees were pretty perfect, too. My face – contorted into the right angle for the age of selfies – was great. I would stare at it in mirrors, working on different expressions in high school, and by university, I decided to start loving the little lines that were starting to form. Laugh lines, to me, meant that I had been so happy in my life! Soon, I discovered my collar bones and realized that they were amazing. My shoulders were super strong! And my breasts, well, I have never disliked my breasts.
By this point, I had kicked that shame about my body in its ugly face. This is, of course, the only kind of violence I tolerate. Every time I look at my hands, I see my mother’s long fingers and perfectly shaped nails, working hard in service for her loved ones. My forearms are adequate. And the rest? Well, I have found reasons to love them, too. My inner thighs may ALWAYS rub against one another, but that’s just how powerful my THUNDER THIGHS are! As a bicycle commuter, I loved their strength and the speed it provided me, even in the winter months. Always a little bit of a comedian, I fell in love with my upper arms when I lived in an 18th floor apartment. “In case of an emergency,” I joked, “I’ll just open the window, and let my squirrel arms fly us to safety.”
As an older woman, I know that the shame is not my fault. Looking at that body in the bathing suit, I knew that what I looked like didn’t matter to anybody who mattered. As Dr. Seuss wrote:
“Those who matter, don’t mind. And those who mind, don’t matter.”
And yet, that shame still popped up. It lingered below the surface for the rest of the day before I brought it up with my husband that night. As I started to tell him about seeing my reflection, tears came flowing from my eyes. I hadn’t realized until that point how much that shame was still there. Nor how much it needed to be released.
In my day to day life, the appearance of my body matters so very little. What it can do – create life, build sanctuary barns, comfort a stranger – is so much more of a way bigger deal. Body shame, though, is still so prevalent in our lives that after more than a decade of dedicated body love – and a lifetime of caring less about what people think than the average person – it can still bring a strong woman like me to tears.
Remember this any time you think something negative about a woman’s body. It’s fine, we can all have those thoughts. But what you do with those thoughts – something like telling her them – is pretty important. My suggestion would be to keep any negative thoughts to yourself…and then think of ten positive ones to believe instead. <3 <3 <3