Moving Past Body Shaming into Acceptance


He caught me Googling “can I safely lose weight while pregnant,” and I had to try to explain myself.  I mean there’s no harm in just asking questions if you’re going to respect the medical opinion right?  I wasn’t going to try to diet at 20 weeks pregnant, but I thought maybe watching what I was eating and exercising to burn a little carbohydrate-induced first trimester chub was an appropriate idea to research at least.

If I’m being honest, I’ve struggled with my body image for as long as I can remember.  I was always the 12-year-old girl wrapped in a towel at the pool party because I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin.  Of all the struggles I have walked through in my life, body shaming is the one that has followed me from adolescence through adulthood.  I wouldn’t call it a self-esteem crisis because I actually feel confident in who I am and what my unique strengths are.  I don’t have a constant need for approval from others, and I’m not really a people pleaser at this point in my life.

I just don’t always love my thighs.

So every time I decide to make a new resolution, whether it’s New Year’s or a random Sunday, I immediately turn my thoughts to needing to eat right and exercise harder so I can learn to really love my body.  If I just work hard enough, I will get the body that I can finally look at in the mirror and say, “there it is.  There’s the body I’ve longed for since I was 12 years old.”

The problem with this is that I have harshly critiqued what I look like at every single weight. I HATED what I saw in the mirror when I was 30 lbs overweight after the birth of our first son.  In reaction to what I saw in the mirror, I got really diligent about eating well and exercising for the first time in my life.  I lost down to 105 lbs (I’m only 5 feet tall so that’s not as unhealthy as it sounds).  I was in the best shape of my life, but when I looked in the mirror, I still saw imperfections.  I felt like my upper thighs still had a little fat and my tummy looked stretched and used…not like the celebrity new mothers who wore their bikinis like they had never given birth at all.

And since those moments of constantly watching what I was eating and running every day, I’ve had a couple more babies and another one is on the way.  I’ve watched my body stretch and inflate and deflate and change.  I’ve watched it do strong and powerful things, and I’ve watched it fold under the stress of sleep deprivation and hormone-induced nausea and misery.

Nothing has been consistent about my body except its ability to sustain all of these varied states and my inability to accept it for what it is.

So, last week, my husband and I had a long drive home from a family trip to discuss resolutions, and I immediately said my goal is start eating better and make myself exercise even if I’m exhausted.  No excuses.  But I promised to stop Googling safe ways to loose weight while pregnant. I chalked that up to a low moment.  He asked if I could consider resolving to have a little more grace with myself and to eat well when I could, but to enjoy some indulgences too.  I think this was partly selfishly motivated because he’s afraid I’ll make another dish with kale and quinoa and try to pass it off as some really tasty treat.

This morning I sat down to have my morning moment of prayer and reflection, and I quickly realized that it wasn’t time to crack down on my body again.  My body is currently in the middle of working a miracle. It is literally creating another human life – a privilege that so many women long for – and that is not lost on me.  It needs to be nourished and it needs to be cared for, but it does not need to be berated and hated in the process.  So I decided it was time for me to tackle the real issue here.

Why can’t I love my body for exactly where it is today?

Why can’t I be ok with the fact that pregnancy shows up in my thighs as much as it does in my expanding tummy and that there is no shame in that?  Is it possible to learn to accept the genetics I was given and not long for the lean legs of the woman walking by in the park?  Instead of spending this year focused solely on changing my body, I want to focus on accepting my body.

Maybe I won’t be able to look at each imperfection and celebrate it by the end of this year, but maybe I can look in the mirror and not have a harsh word for myself every single time.  I long for a day when I don’t feel like my pants size should determine how I feel when I walk into a room.  I am far more than my pants size, after all.

So I did a new Google search today. “How do I learn to accept my body?”

Turns out the Internet has some great tips:

  1. Focus more on nurturing your body and less on dieting. Eat well because it makes you feel good and gives your nourishment. Take a long hot bath because it relaxes you. Rest when you can tell that you’re exhausted. You know…take care of yourself with same tender love and attention to detail that you give to your children. If we can focus on actually caring for ourselves, we may find that we actually like who we are.
  2. Set exercise goals like “run a 5k” and allow yourself to focus on the joys of meeting goals rather than just watching the scale for your only sense of success.
  3. Stop the comparisons. Your goal can’t be to look like someone else. Don’t allow yourself to fall for that trap. Be extra careful in how you consume media (social media and magazines, etc). Don’t spend any time looking at photo-shopped imagery that brings you down.
  4. Surround yourself with supportive people. Spend more time with the people in your life who build you up and remind you of all of your great qualities.
  5. Remember what makes you special! Make a list of things that you really love about yourself and focus on those. Each time you look in the mirror and think a negative thought, force yourself to stop and replace it with a positive one. Some of us (most definitely me) have an inner critic that has to be silenced. Do the hard work of learning to tell that woman she’s not welcome anymore. Force yourself to think more about your strengths than your flaws.  It won’t happen overnight, but we can make baby steps each day to choose better.

In closing, I want to ask all of you body-confident women out there to share your secrets with the rest of us!  I hope this post will be filled with comments from women teaching other women to accept and love our bodies. Period. No conditions.  I’m not advocating unhealthy living or accepting that we have to stay where we are.  I’m choosing to believe that there is a way to love your body at each and every phase and shape. So give us all your best tips and strategies at quieting the inner critic and learning to truly live in and love the skin that you are in!

Cheers to a year of great health and to a giant helping of grace (and occasionally a sensible helping of ice cream) at every step along the way.