My mother had what would be termed by all standards an “attractive figure” when she was young. She was tall, thin, had long legs, and a trim waist. With age, a baby, and the inevitable slowing of life, she gained weight and with it she lost confidence in her beauty. She began to duck out of the room when pictures were taken, she declined to dance at events and she gave up many of the activities that had previously brought her joy.
On a trip to the beach, my daughter asked my mother if she would go swimming with her. My mother replied, “Oh, Grandma doesn’t swim.” Her tone was gentle and kind but her message was defeatist and heart breaking. For what she was really saying was “Grandma is embarrassed by her figure and doesn’t want to be seen.” Hopefully at the tender age of four my daughter didn’t fully understand what I read as the real message. My mother no longer saw her own beauty. Her worth had become wrapped up in her appearance and she was letting her fears and insecurities dictate what she did and didn’t do. This made me so incredibly sad. Sad not only for my daughter who wouldn’t experience the fun of swimming and splashing and building sandcastles with her grandmother, sad for my mother who was so broken by whatever and whomever made her feel so low, but also for myself because I too carry shame about my body. I don’t exercise enough, I enjoy too many brownies, I have wobbly thighs, flabby arms and a stomach scarred from carrying two babies. But when I look at my mother and when I look at other women, I don’t define their essence by their weight, by how many dimples they may have in their thighs or the number of rolls of belly under their shirt. What I see is the kindness they show toward others, the love they show their children, the smiles that are on their faces and the strength in their character. And really, when it comes down to it, isn’t that far more important that the number on the scale or shape of ones body? Yes, I struggle to see images of myself and perhaps I always will but I cannot let my insecurities define me or consume me. Instead I try to remember the qualities and gifts I bring to the world. And that really, I am only one amongst billions of other people and that the size and tone of my body is inconsequential to the big picture. There are far more pressing issues to attend to, battles to be fought, and children to raise than there are reasons to define myself and my worth simply by my appearance.
I want my children to remember that I always chose to play in the water with them no matter how I looked rather than opting to sit on the sidelines frozen by my fears of being seen. For that is what is truly important; that they know they are unequivocally loved by me who, like everyone else, has flaws but also has great strengths and that I have the privilege and honor of being their mother.
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