When Your Wedding Gown and Teeny-Bopper Jeans Don’t Fit Anymore (The Struggle With Body Image and What To Do About It)
When I was pregnant with our first son, about 20 years ago, my hubby gave me the sweet gift of a Y membership. I was thrilled because a) I really wanted to MOVE and do something productive and b) the time that worked for us was right during the swim classes. (If you didn’t know, being pregnant AND being in the water is an awesome thing: read…in the water equals no gravity, soooo, I felt amazingly light and non-beach ball-ish! Yahoo!)
I loved getting to participate in this swim class (well, it was a water-WALKING class, so I was definitely, uh-hum, the youngest one there). But no matter! I got my water fix and felt great and, unknowingly, was about to get the biggest lesson of my female life.
After class I began to meet some of the older ladies swimming with me. They always commented on my pregnant belly and usually had sweet things to say from a “Grandma” point of view. I was such a new momma that I drank up the advice and all the “enjoy this, it will go fast” talks.
Two particular ladies stood out to me. The first I’ll call “Helen.” She was stunning, really. She was almost 80, looked about 50, and totally rocked a swimsuit. It was really inspiring to me to see how she took care of herself. However, I also learned pretty quickly she wasn’t a “sunny side up” kind of girl. I came to avoid her and knew ahead of time to prepare my heart to ignore her spouts of negativity. Interestingly enough, her peers avoided her, too. I think most of these ladies knew they were in their sunset years and they didn’t have the time or energy to walk through life with a glass half full.
My other buddy filled the room with rainbows and sunshine. “June” exuded life. She constantly encouraged my journey as a young momma and blessed everyone in her path. It was obvious that the rest of the girls were drawn to her and loved being around her. Even though June lavished her love on others and constantly made an impact on them, she definitely walked around in a physical body that was a little worse for the wear. She hadn’t spent her whole life working out and she had obviously placed other things higher on her priority list. She definitely enjoyed the water workout but didn’t seem to place too much pressure on herself or anyone else to “look just right.” It was almost as if she knew her “tent” was carrying her on to her real home, and she planned on getting every last drop of use out of it until she left!
Of course, being in the middle of a pregnancy, it was easy for me to struggle with my body image. Childbearing women (or not), raise your hand! It’s a beautiful time, almost otherworldly to feel a live human person inside your belly, but also a difficult shift in our perception of how we look. Watching these two women gave me something so valuable that I really couldn’t place too much importance anymore (or at least try VERY hard not to) on my physical appearance.
I have yet to meet any gal who doesn’t struggle with how she looks. She may run a family, a corporation, and make apple pie with homemade crust, but ask her if she looks good….well, pretty much never will you get positive feedback for that question. Why??? Of course, I’m not talking about ostentatious narcissism, just basic “okay, this body keeps me here and helps others get here, so I’m content with that” kind of outlook. Nope, it’s a vicious struggle and it’s across the board.
And what’s so funny is we’ll tell our best girlfriend how GREAT they look. And we will complement someone’s cute hair, how their jeans fit, or how long their eyelashes are…but defend how WE look? No way!
Looking back, now in my 40’s, I am inching ever closer to the wisdom of my sweet June. The value of this earthly life is ever so much clearer. I see more wrinkles, cellulite, and gray hair, yet I feel an easier transition to thankfulness above the struggle. I do my best to move and eat well and feed my body, but after that, the real health and the real joy of my existence has to come from somewhere deeper, and I can sense that more keenly now than ever before. I’m convinced of the real difference in health and “looks.” And I have to choose (constantly) that I will be more beautiful to others and (gasp) even myself if I exude joy. If I am loving. Kind. Real. Raw. Messy. Just embracing this precious gift of life.
June never knew how much she impacted that brand-spankin’ new momma. Helen didn’t either, for that matter. My wedding dress is now boxed up for MY girls and those high school “girl” jeans have no place in my “grown-up woman’s” life.
And for now, I’m good with that.