My curves are an outward symbol of my inner-stress. Contrary to how the Dove ads would like me to feel—I’m not in love with them, and I certainly don’t want to show them off this summer. I know that in this enlightened, feminist-rising era, curves are symbolic of powerful women who aren’t ashamed of their bodies. My story is not one of shame, but I do feel uncomfortable in my expanding waistline and chaffing thighs. My growing size is a manifestation of mounting pressure, my struggle to cope, and a reliance on mindless eating. Self-care is on the back burner, and it shows in the tight grip of my jean shorts.
I remember my first diet. It was in preparation for prom. On that unmemorable prom night, I do recall scarfing down a savory In-N-Out double-cheeseburger (animal-style). I had slipped into my tight red dress and then gorged. This marked the beginning of a weight-loss game that I’d play for the next 17 years (and counting). My weight peaked in 2002 while studying abroad in Siena, Italy. I absorbed the idyllic culture, and all of its calorie-dense pasta and gelato. Once back in the states, I rebounded, joined Weight Watchers, and reached my thinnest weight. But at my heaviest and at my thinnest, my mental state remained burdened by an obsession with what I put in my mouth and how much I weighed. Food was rapidly becoming a substitute for comfort, self-love, and acceptance.
Since those two extreme times in my life, I’ve nurtured three babies in my womb and resumed a healthy postpartum weight. Currently, almost four years after my last baby, my weight is rising—and my attitude towards my body and health is plummeting. I long for the comfort of my patterned leggings and chunky sweaters. But the summer heat keeps demanding swimsuits and scant beachwear.
The more I hear “flaunt your curves” and “love your body” this summer, the more I want to stay in my air-conditioned house, in my elastic-waist pants, and lament. I’m brooding over a sorrow deeper than my flesh. It’s one that many parents face—endless responsibilities, obligations, and tasks, with little overt rewards. The rewards are nuanced, like the soft, squishy hand of my child as I protect them when crossing the street. Or when I catch my child’s eye during gymnastics class, and they give me a warm, carefree smile. These are the rewards, but often they’re flickers of light that are missed when preoccupied with life’s storms. When drowning in the stress of it all, self-care is often the lifesaver just out of reach.
I’m not writing for sympathy about how hard parenting is or to create a stir about body shaming. I’m writing to say that it’s OK to not love the extra pounds. Feeling uncomfortable in mind and body is a great catalyst for change. It’s a reminder that I’m not taking care of myself, and my health (mental and physical) suffers.
Prioritizing my self-care is the first step. Like many caretakers, whether parents of little ones, nurses by profession, or the caregiver of a sick parent, it’s easy to give too much of ourselves. Before becoming a mom, I was a social worker. I’ve always loved to care for others; it comes naturally to me. However, I never learned how to first care for myself.
I recently read Julie Burton’s book The Self-Care Solution. She outlines ways to achieve self-care in all facets of life. In her chapter on honoring your body she writes, “The real goal for your self-care solution in this area needs to be focused on how you feel—your energy level, your mood, and your level of acceptance, love, and appreciation for your body.” I want to feel invigorated about life and to beam with self-love. I know junk food and overeating won’t lessen my overwhelming responsibilities or relieve me of my feelings of sadness and anxiety. Emotional eating is a quick fix with no means to a solution. Digging into a bag of peanut M&M’s or skipping breakfast only to later splurge on potato chips is not helping me get closer to living a more serene life. Choosing balanced, nutritious food and consistent exercise can help. But I also need to dramatically shift my attitude about self-care. I have to put myself first and not feel guilty about it.
Body activist, model, and author Ashley Graham is shattering stigmas about women’s bodies. She suggests we speak kindly to ourselves about our bodies. In her essay for The Edit she explains, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a size 2 or 22 as long as you’re taking care of your body, working out, and telling yourself ‘I love you’ instead of taking in the negativity of beauty standards.” I’m teetering between practicing self-love by embracing my current body and hating the extra pounds because they represent my lack of self-care.
When I think of times that I felt good about myself, I think of moments when I finished a great run, had fun with my husband and kids, or when I’m writing—to name a few. These are moments when I felt strong, brave, and proud. I may have felt fleeting joy when I was at my thinnest and fit into my skinny jeans, but that joy was superficial. What brings me happiness isn’t weight loss, but rather spiritual gain. To feel fulfilled I have to harvest a healthy relationship between my mind and body. I have to connect with myself by doing the things I love.
If I can find time to think nasty thoughts about my expanding thighs, then I can find time to make a cup of tea and meditate. It’s not going to be easy. There are no quick fixes to becoming my best self. I will work on kind self-talk and loving my body. That means eating consciously, exercising regularly, finding time to be still and reflective, and letting go of negative thoughts. I hope that at some point this summer, regardless of how snug or loose my bathing suit fits, I can play in the pool with my kids and enjoy the moment. Perhaps, over time, when I’m blasting Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” I can belt, “I’m in love with your body!” and believe it about myself.