Motherhood as Meditation: Reflections on body image


While I was getting ready for work yesterday morning, my mind was whirring away, running through all the things I had to do plus handily providing a running commentary on how I didn’t look right (my mind, I’ve discovered, can multi task like a pro and provide many different voices at the same time).  So, after a particular thought about how my arms looked flabby and untoned, I suddenly became aware of a much quieter voice, pitched below the hubbub that simply stated, “Your /our arms are strong and capable.” With that voice I simultaneously experienced a twinge in my sore arm muscles which reminded me that the evening before, I had swum 1.25 km in a cold lake.  That small voice stopped me in my tracks and I quietened down to hear more.

Since becoming a teenager, I’ve more or less consistently been unhappy with my body shape, always believing that I’m slightly too fat.  Rather than delve into the physicality of it, I think it’s my belief that I was fat together with my unhappiness caused by my belief that is key here.

This belief was intensified during two pregnancies in which I gained a lot of weight.  Rather than focus on the miracle that my body was making a baby, I focused on my ever increasing girth.  After I gave birth, rather than focus on how my body was again keeping my baby alive by providing breast milk, I despaired at still being in maternity clothes six months postpartum.  In retrospect, this sounds absolutely crazy, even to me.  How could I be so disassociated from my body when, without any input from “me” (ie my mind), it could grow, push out and nurture two babies?

It seems as though now, at the grand old age of almost forty-two, I’m beginning to think about establishing some sort of relationship with my body.  Just hearing that tiny voice has prompted me to reflect on this body which I’ve inhabited for so long without any real connection to.  I’ve realised that I’m tired of this one track of thought and I’m ready to change the record.  I’m committed to moving through this world with kindness, and yet the thoughts I direct towards my body are downright cruel at times. 

Almost six years on from pushing out my last baby, I’m able to acknowledge the reality of how my body actually is now rather than how I would like it to be.  There is a curving softness to my tummy, hips and thighs which seems to ebb and flow according to its own rhythm rather than due to my force of will.

I think I tend to be surprised when I see myself in a mirror as I’m so much more used to seeing my daughter’s perfect little bodies rather than my own.  The contrast is startling.  But I guess this is my point.  We are sold the idea that we should be lean and toned, without any lumps or bumps.  It’s almost a cliche now how ‘celebrities’ bounce back from pregnancy to their pre-pregnancy bodies within a matter of weeks of giving birth.  But it is a pervasive idea…

What we don’t have is a realistic image of how our bodies should look post-partum, or five years on, or ten years on…

Reflecting on this, maybe as in pregnancy, my body does know better than “I” (ie my mind) do.  So, the curvy, dimply, softness of my body contours do serve a purpose. The softness of my body reflects the softness required for mothering.  It represents, in the physical, the gentleness, softness and kindness needed for myself and for my children.  I’m beginning to realise that motherhood is knocking off my sharp edges, sanding down my certainties and blowing my seemingly fixed ideas about things out of the water.  And let’s not forget that the softness of my body makes for some damn fine cuddles, as my girls will testify.  But this softness is not be confused with weakness.  I feel stronger than ever in my core, both physically and emotionally.  I have a solid strength that can sustain me through this tough phase of early motherhood and which could also propel me to come out fighting to defend my babies if circumstances required it.

There must be a reason why universally our bodies evolve and change like this. Now I’ve started reflecting on this, it seems so petty to hate my body because it won’t fit into a garment that has not been designed for a postpartum body (yes, I’m looking at you black trousers from Gap).

All these reflections are quite raw and new.  In order to give space for my body’s voice to emerge, I have to stop the fight, to try and let go of the mind controls of what I should eat, how much exercise I should take, what I need to DO to shift and alter my shape.  To be completely honest, I feel like I have nowhere else to go.  About two years ago, my body stopped responding to my strict rules of how I wanted to look.  It stopped responding to strict diets and exercise regimes.  I cannot force my will on it anymore, and so, I have to give up.  Maybe in the process of letting go, I will begin to understand what my body is telling me and I will come to terms with what my mind expects my body to be and what my body actually is.  Maybe, just maybe, in the space between expectations and reality, I will find some sort of acceptance and peace…


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