Why I’ll Never Be Mrs. America: Another One of Those Posts about Body Image

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Why will I never be Mrs. America? (Is there such a thing?) Well, it’s mostly because of my stretch marks. And the fact that my only talent is being able to make toddler dinners in five minutes flat and of course, sing every word to Ice Ice Baby. But, really, it’s because my body is so damn dinged up now; they would never let me into a swimsuit competition.

Five years ago, before my wedding day, I had a “boudoir” photo shoot for my husband. Photos for his eyes only that I had delivered to him on our wedding morning. It was a silly photo shoot I did with my wedding photographer. Me in sheer tanks and a sweatshirt embroidered with “Mrs. G.” I said to myself, at the time, as if clairvoyant, “I will really, really be happy I did this someday. Like after I have kids.”

And holy Moly am I. Like times 100.

I gained 67 pounds with Parker. This is outrageous mostly because he was 3 weeks early. Can you imagine what I would have been full term? Greenpeace would have started a special fund just for me. 21 months later, I had Celia and (if you start from the same “starting” weight) gained an impressive 75 pounds with her. Even though she was born, at 39 weeks, via C-section and weighed 10 lbs. 11 oz., I was by no stretch of the imagination “all baby.” I was “all nose” or “all double chin” or “all over chubby” but “all baby,” no way.

And yes, my stretch marks and hang-y belly skin and C-section scar are all lines that tell a story of two people (as so eloquently written about in this article). But, when I don’t have the appendage of an eighteen month and three year old hanging off of me, I am just another woman with a muffin top, a flabby belly, those extra ten pounds—or— (gasp!) in Mom jeans.

And on some days I am totally okay with that. When I am feeling all Rosie the Riveter about life and don’t think that anything could possibly stop me now— but just like anything, there are days when I feel not so much like that. Like times 100.

And, like I have written before, this is what frightens me most about having a daughter. First of all, she will learn that her mother is a very vain person. At a girls weekend game of “True Colors” once, I was named as “the one who cares most about how she looks” (That clearly never got to me, right?). Second of all, she will see that I’m not all that in love with the vessel that made her and her brother. I am afraid Celia will see me sucking in my gut, looking in the mirror and grimacing. Day after day, year after year.

The Oprah and Dr. Phil shows I have watched about the topic tells me that girls first hear their mothers criticize their bodies, then they start to look at their own. I am sure this is what happened with my own mother. Although I don’t think I ever had a bad image of myself (I was pretty oblivious of my chubby phases even through college), I know that it played into other parts of me as a person.

A friend told me once that she got rid of a pair of old jeans when she had her daughter. She had used the old jeans as a measuring tool of her weight since high school. Fitting into the jeans meant she was skinny, not fitting into them well, you know what that meant. But, instead of throwing them away when they didn’t fit, she saved them. Using them as a metric of future thin-ness. Fitting into the jeans meant something more than just losing a few pounds; it meant she was worth something. She got rid of them one day as her daughter, just a year old, watched her try them on. I was engrossed in and fascinated with the symbolism of that act. Setting yourself free from the metric that rules you. Telling your daughter to do the same.

I have the same pair of jeans. Zipping them up effortlessly means I have in some way been “good.” Struggling with the zipper and button means I have sinned. I know exactly the number that is on the label inside the jeans and I know exactly the number on the scale that means the jeans will fit.

I have not yet been able to rid myself of my own pair of ten year old jeans in the same symbolic act. Something keeps me hanging on—because well, they make me feel good. They fit well (when they fit) and make me feel powerful, womanly, thin. I like to think that they encourage me to eat better and not gain those 5-10 evil pounds that are always creeping back.

But, we all know what the jeans are. The jeans are a sign that I am not okay with my body. That I know that I am not at my best. And that I will continue to kid myself that being at my best means fitting into those jeans.

I don’t have a resolve for this or a pearl of wisdom for you. I would like to say: accept yourself and love yourself first, not last. Make your metric be the smiles on the faces of your family, not the number on the inside label of your favorite jeans. But in order for us all to follow that and for it to be 100% true, I would have to undo years and years of yo-yo weight gain and loss— skinny jeans and fat jeans. Double chin pictures and “Wow, look at how thin my arms look” pictures. I would have to undo the self-reflection that plays on the inside of every woman’s mind—day after day, year after year.

But I do have this: We are women. People who make people. We need to give ourselves permissions and at the same time not allow ourselves to make excuses. We need to empower our daughters while also keeping our own power and authority as grown women. We need to be supportive, not judgmental with ourselves and with the other women we share our lives with. We may have stretch marks and scars and laugh lines and crow’s feet, but we each have within us the ability to either turn inward or outward. And, the mantra of this blog, on more than one occasion has been to turn out—show love, show appreciation, show happiness. Because those acts should awaken the wonderful person in you more than any pair of jeans with any number printed on the inside ever will.
 

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