This is a strange thing to admit, but this summer–the first summer I was heavy enough to qualify as medically overweight, with a BMI of 30 and an honest-to-goodness spare tire tummy–is the first time I have ever felt comfortable in a swimsuit in public.
As a healthy, vibrant teenager, I remember feeling self-conscious about my stomach all the time. And my thighs. Sometimes even my neck, which a kid in 6th grade had told me was “fat.” (True or not, those words stung for a good ten years at least.)
As a brand new mom, I fussed about the change in my body shape and dreaded swimsuit season.
But this year, 32 years old and honestly overweight, with stretch marks that prove I’ve given birth to four not-so-small babies, I was able to walk across the concrete at our community pool without thinking about what I looked like or who might be silently judging me.
So, what changed?
For years I have worked on this problem from the outside–usually with diets, calorie counting, excessive cardio, and heaps and heaps of food guilt. But whether I was a size 4 or a size 12 (I’ve been both) I felt the same way in a swimsuit: not good enough.
A few years ago, I wrote this post about dreading swimsuit season, when I found my first spark of true physical self-acceptance at a public pool.
But then began the really hard work. The work from the outside in. What I call the deep work.
Because what I hadn’t realized before was that, in the deepest, most aching places of my heart, I didn’t desperately long for a buffed-out pancake-flat belly or cellulite-free thighs. I longed to know that I was accepted, appreciated, loved, and cherished–regardless of how thin, well-dressed, or put-together I was.
And the thing is… I was. I was loved. But I couldn’t comprehend it or accept it from the place I was standing.
The only way for me to know those things in my heart was to look inward and work out the tangles, fears, gunk, self-doubt and lies I’d allowed to creep in.
I’d built this wall of worry and hopelessness around myself.
I wasn’t letting the love in. Worse: I was continually feeding myself negative self-talk.
I was blocking the good and pouring in bucketloads of fear, despair, and self-cruelty.
Our lives as women are filled with these kinds of stressors–deep, self-destructive pain points masquerading as some supposedly surface-level problem.
I thought I was frustrated with my husband leaving socks on the floor because it made more work for me, until I realized that I was interpreting that action as devaluing the work I’d done to keep the house clean. Picking up the socks (or complaining about the socks) didn’t help me feel better, because the socks weren’t the problem.
The deep, vulnerable work of sharing my heart and hurt and fear with Steve, of asking for his perspective about my value as a wife, mother, and homekeeper (even when I was afraid to hear it), of working through this in my head and heart over and over until it stuck–that’s what helped me feel better.
That’s what took out the sting.
I thought I needed to lose weight to feel beautiful, until I realized that my own self-perception was making me feel less-than, unlovable, and unattractive.
I can lose weight, eat well, and exercise to be physically healthy, but my emotional health required the deep work of confronting and healing from the cruel ways I spoke to myself in the privacy of my own mind.
I thought I needed to suffer through the stress of trying to constantly coordinate crafts, reading, and one-on-one play with my kids to feel like a “good” mother, until I realized that that style of high-paced parenting didn’t fit my values, goals, or needs.
Instead of trying to emulate what I saw other mothers doing, I needed to accept my own strengths and weaknesses. I needed to honor my personal need for space, quiet time, and connection. I had to allow myself to be the kind of mother I really was, to play to my strengths, and to do the deep, sometimes frightening work of learning to deeply trust myself.
What about you, mama? What pain points come up again and again in your life? Are they surface problems that surface fixes can solve, or do you need to get vulnerable and do some of the scarier-but-holier deep work?
I would be honored to hear what things are weighing on your heart and mind right now. If you want to share, you can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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