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My Body Image Journey: The Inside Story

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I was reading fellow coach Jeannette Maw’s blog post about her belly spell this week (The belly spell really cracked me up! Soooo funny! I love Jeannette!) and it inspired this post. I have struggled for many years—my entire life, actually—with body image issues. I can remember clearly when I first started disliking my body. I was ten years old, just beginning those pre-teen, puberty-ridden years, and I saw a video of myself. I was horrified. From that day on, I fought with my body.

I do not have a traditional model body. I am not tall and thin. I am of medium height and muscular build. I tend to look fit and athletic when my body and I are getting along, but I do not weigh in at a featherweight number, ever. When I was struggling with overeating, emotional eating, and severe body dislike, my weight went up near the two-hundred pound mark.

I’ve since returned to my body’s natural weight, but even after the experience of actually being overweight, I struggled to like my body. I kept thinking it should look like the “ideal.” Yet, even when I went on strict diets, my body would drop maybe two to five pounds below my natural weight and then I would get sick. It was clearly a fight that simply didn’t need to be fought. My body is perfectly happy weighing 143 pounds. It is my mind that argues with that.

Much of my personal mind-body work has been directed at this body image issue. I longed to love my body instead of fight my body. For many years, I thought this meant I had to change my body. Then I realized I had to change my relationship with it instead. I had to connect to it, learn to live in it, learn to listen to it, learn to feel my emotions, and recognize mind-stories that weren’t serving me. (Like “I should look like a model.”)

I started to see that stressing about my weight and body was one of my biggest ways to run from my emotions and avoid facing feeling them. It was what I call a decoy—something that successfully occupies me so I simply have no attention left for my emotions. All of this self-awareness combined started to help me love my body more and more. I didn’t love it every day, but I was tipping the balance way more to the love side.

Then, something happened. In January this year, I got pregnant. I was so excited, and so very ready to embark on the motherhood journey. I was excited to experience the changes in my body and the magic of growing a baby in my belly. Like Jeannette, I’ve often wished for a flatter belly, but I was willing to let it expand to hold a new little one inside me.

It was a little disconcerting to notice my jeans fitting more snugly. At only six weeks pregnant, I started to feel somewhat puffy. Then at eight weeks, there were some clothing items that were downright stretched. At nine weeks, I was pretty sure I’d need some new clothes soon, and the waistband of my favorite jeans was uncomfortably tight. I could feel my backside expanding, too. While I understood it was necessary, I admit to a wince or two after glancing over my shoulder into the mirror.

At nine and half weeks, I miscarried.

The shock was unbelievable. The grief was overwhelming. The physical pain was tiring. I felt empty in my belly, lost in my heart, and just . . . sad. I was so ready to be a mom. It felt like there was a hole in that mom-space I’d created, both internally and externally. My body was tired and aching, my mind confused, and my emotions strong.

Even as I grieved, I could see the power in my body’s wisdom. It was aware of things I couldn’t know, and it knew this pregnancy wasn’t a go, for whatever reason. I didn’t have to know the details in my mind to feel that my body knew best. I let it do what it needed—sleep, rest, and cry.

After a few weeks, I started going back to my normal routine. Letting the grief flow allowed me to start healing, allowed my body to start regaining energy, and I began to feel like I was almost alive again. I had moments of joy shine through the fog of grief.

One day, I put on my jeans to run an errand. I’d mostly been wearing yoga pants for my resting, sleeping, and grieving phase. I slipped the jeans on, threw on a shirt, and started for the door, purse in hand. Something in that movement caught my attention. My jeans weren’t tight. The waistband wasn’t cutting into my belly anymore. There was room to move in them.

I felt the loose jeans from my belly straight to my heart—a visceral, shocking, upside-down moment.

I set down my purse and cried. I ached for that tight-jeans feeling. I wanted it back. I wanted my belly to still be expanding. I wanted my backside to be popping seams. I wanted to be shopping for maternity clothes. I didn’t want my jeans to be loose at all. One of my lifelong desires simply vanished in that instant. I could have cared less how I looked, how thin I was or wasn’t, or what anyone in the world thought of my body. I could have cared less for fashion or the shape of my waist, or any of it. It all paled in comparison to the longing for what was lost.

I never thought I’d be sad because my jeans were loose. I never thought I’d see my body from that vantage point. But because I did, I have something powerful to hold in my mind. Because life goes on, you know. I now have the same old thoughts pop up about how I look in my pants, whether I’ve gained a pound or lost a pound, why my belly can’t just magically transform itself to something much cuter, what dreadful fashion designer cooked up the latest non-flattering style on purpose just to torture me. They come into my mind. And sometimes they bug me for a day or two.

But then I can simply remember. I can drop back into that moment when I was heartbroken that my jeans were loose. I am grateful for that moment, because it gave me a new relationship with my body. I saw what my body can do—it can grow life in it! How amazing! It can heal from loss. It can serve me, every day, even if I’m angry with it. It doesn’t have to look like any prescribed ideal to be completely, totally perfect. Yes, it changed even from a short pregnancy. Yes, I am a little older these days than in my teen years. Yes, I have a wrinkle or two.

But in the end, my body is healthy. We’ve been through chronic pain together, she and I, and now we’ve been through this, too. She’s a war-horse. She’s strong. She still takes to the jogging path and the hiking trail with energy and enjoyment, even after all she’s experienced. I’m impressed. She bounces back. She brings me daily enjoyment in so many different ways. Without her, I’d have no home for my soul. I wouldn’t have a voice, a mind, a heart. I need her. She needs me.

So we’re working together, my body and me. We’re on the same team. Even if we have the occasional disagreement, our relationship is much improved. The war is over. I love her. She’s always loved me. We’re friends. And she hasn’t dropped a single pound or shed an ounce of fat for me to come to this place of connection, love, and peace. She carried a baby for me. She took care of me. She was there. And truly, that is all I need.


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