Beyond the Scale

Nothing highlights how your life has changed more than going on holiday with two small children. We’ve just returned from two lovely weeks in the sun. It was our first holiday abroad in three years and we chose a very family friendly resort so that the kids would be well catered for.

Anyone who’s taken their pre-schoolers on holiday will tell you that the days of relaxing on a sun-lounger with a book and a cocktail are long-gone, at least for the time being. But this isn’t the only change I noticed around the pool.

In my late teens and early twenties I went on several girls’ holidays with my friends. The only similarity between those days and the present is the lack of rest! I remember sitting around the pool with my two closest girlfriends, ten years ago. Both were tiny size eights and I was a twelve. I used to feel so paranoid about being bigger than them. Of course if I had a time-machine I’d go back and tell that foolish girl to make the most of her pert figure because gravity and pregnancy would soon take it’s toll and one day her stomach would sway when she walked.

Usually before a holiday I’d be frantically crash-dieting, but not this year. Having recently recovered from a serious bout of depression (which admittedly involved a fair amount of comfort eating) I simply wasn’t in the right place to begin a diet. I didn’t have the emotional energy to dedicate to a diet and I don’t think I’d have handled the stress well. My bikini days are well and truly behind me and I packed my trusty one-piece swimsuits, thanking my lucky stars that they’re fashionable at the moment.

In contrast to the days when I used to look with envy at other girls’ bikini bodies, this time I noticed similarities between all of the women around the pool;

The body of almost every woman I saw on holiday showed signs of having experienced pregnancy.

This was something that I found incredibly comforting. I can honestly say that I think I saw three women out of the hundreds in our resort, whose bodies still looked perfect. I even asked one of them what her secret was. Turns out there’s something to be said for vigorous daily exercise!

Now I have never felt particularly comfortable in my skin. But this has been magnified since having children. I was enormous in pregnancy and I’ve been left with an unsightly “pouch” of skin on my lower stomach. I don’t hide the fact that if I had the courage and the money I’d get it surgically removed.

Why are so many of us surprised and disappointed with our post-baby bodies?

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For lots of women, a major goal in life is to have children. Whether consciously or otherwise, a great deal of effort goes in to finding a partner to reproduce with. For some, conception is easy and for others it can be a painful journey taking many years. Then comes pregnancy, birth and often breast-feeding. Here is this amazing little person you’ve created, nurtured and sustained thanks to your incredible body.

Yet, once this stage is over, many of us (myself very much included) will look in the mirror from time-to-time and shake our heads. Poke at our once-lovely boobs and prod our jiggly tummies and dimpled behinds, wondering what happened.

Pregnancy happened. Childbirth happened. Life changed forever and beyond recognition thanks to the little person (or people) you brought in to the world. Yet somehow we expect our bodies to remain unscathed. To not show any sign of the miracle they created. We look at the marks left behind and we view them with disdain, as a sign of imperfection. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we compare our bodies with our peers and with air-brushed images of celebrities who somehow make it back on to the catwalk within days of giving birth. (I often wonder about this. Where do they hide the massive brick-sized post-natal sanitary towels in those skimpy outfits, anyway?!).

But who is watching us, when we stand in the bathroom scowling at our reflections?

Our children are watching. They are listening and they’re learning. Their little sponge-like brains are forming opinions that imperfection is bad. That fat is ugly. That image is so very important. That mummy doesn’t like herself very much. Perhaps even that if they get fat too that mummy may not like them anymore, either.

I read a fabulous quote from Kate Winslet, online recently:
“As a child I never heard one woman say to me ‘I love my body’. Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. No one woman has ever said; ‘I am so proud of my body’. So I make sure to say it to Mia, because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age”.

Now granted, I’d find it easier to love my body if it resembled Kate Winslets. But that’s not the point. Our daughters (and sons) need to hear this. We simply MUST learn to lead by example when it comes to teaching healthy body image to our children. They need to know that imperfection is acceptable. Regardless of their shape, size, colour or countless other factors, they need to know that they belong and are loved.

Through the eyes of our children, we are beautiful. We’re their beautiful mummies. Who are we to argue with their views and to tell them that they’re wrong, to point out the flaws in their logic along with those on our bodies?


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A friend recently told me how her seven year old daughter came home from school in tears. Another child had called her fat and she wants to go on a diet. Seven. Years. Old. This makes my heart hurt on so many levels. That a child should have this worry on their shoulders is devastating. That another child should use the “F Word” to another child to hurt them is equally awful.

I want my children to accept and embrace people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. I want them to be confident enough in their own strengths of character for appearance to not be their only defining factor. I want them to never be the child hurling insults at others.

This has to start with me.

We women are our own worst critics. If we’re not beating ourselves up by comparing ourselves with others we’re often bashing other women. Discussing or criticising the appearance of our peers. This only serves to make ourselves feel more insecure. If we’re discussing someone else’s weight gain, surely someone else is doing the same to us, right? And who is listening, when we’re sitting in a room discussing how such-and-such lost all that weight and has now regained it all? Who is taking in every word we say, filing it away for future reference? Yep. You guessed it.

Think about the women in your life. Think of who you see as beautiful. Are they all perfect size eights? Are they all jiggle, line and stretch-mark free? Of course they aren’t. There is so much more to beauty than physical appearance and size.

To truly set an example to our children we need to learn to respect and honour, if not love our own bodies. Inside and out.

This is the only body I’ll ever have. It’s seen me through a lot and given life to a two whole new people. That’s amazing. There’s no question about it.

In an ideal world appearances wouldn’t matter at all. What we wear and how we look would pale in to insignificance versus our good deeds and our kind spirits. We’d all be recognised for our talents and strengths and no-one would give a second thought to weight, skin colour or any other physical attribute. But this sadly isn’t the society we live in.

This, too needs to change. But the diet and beauty industries are worth far too much to the media. We and our children will be bombarded with images of how we’re supposed to look. How we’ll only be truly happy if we drop a dress size (or four)/wear this/buy that.

Our ammunition against this tirade of negativity is our own self-esteem and rational mind. We simply must remind ourselves and our children how many qualities we have, beyond looks. How clever and kind we are. How thoughtful.
By pointing out positive characteristics to our children we can take some of the emphasis off physical appearance as the only gauge of a person’s worth.

I just hope that I can put a sizeable deposit in to my children’s self esteem bank: If someone throws an insult at them, they can draw on a reserve of strength. If they see a magazine article which tells them they’re “less-than” I hope they’ll be able to laugh it off.

I can only truly achieve this when I start to accept my body for the imperfect marvel that it is.

Of course our insides are far more important than our outward appearances. I hope that being slim or beautiful won’t be defining factors for my children. I want them to see beyond the scale and the mirror when it comes to calculating their worth. But at the same time I hope they’ll realise that whatever shape or size they are, they’re beautiful. Like their Mama.

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Guest Post: When I Grow Up, I Want to be Like My Children.

I’m lucky enough to be on holiday at the moment. I’m hoping to write a post during my break, but so far, on day three we’ve managed to lose Monkey once, Madam has escaped from her cot (head-first) and we’ve had several smashed glasses in restaurants! Luckily we’re in a family friendly resort and there’s usually several children misbehaving at any one time, so we feel right at home!

I’m sharing a post that my dear friend Lizi posted last night. It’s from her blog Through Accepting Limits which you can find here. Lizi has four year old twins, J&L. They’ve been in our lives for only a year but it feels like we’ve known them forever. I strongly suggest you read and devour every word on her site. You’ll be glad you did.

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When I Grow Up, I Want to be Like My Children

About six months ago, L started to notice that J was “different”. She asked why he sometimes ignored her when she was talking to him. She asked why he always needed to repeat his daily scripts as we passed certain points when we were out in the car. She asked why he clamped his hands over his ears and shouted during tannoy announcements in supermarkets. She asked why it would sometimes take J a few minutes to answer a simple question; why he could not cope with making choices; why he would lay in bed screaming in the early hours of the morning; why he was obsessed with meerkats. She asked a lot.

At the same time J listened to L’s questions. Her enquiries meant that his difference, his “strangeness” was being pointed out to him. And whilst he made no comment I could see he was absorbing L’s questions. I saw the anxiety and confusion flicker across his face as L reeled off the ways in which he failed to behave like “normal” preschoolers. And I knew that my reply: “Because that’s just what J likes to do!” wouldn’t cut it for long.

So that’s when I first considered the idea of introducing the term “autism” to my 3-year-olds.
I initially broached the subject by gently introducing the concept of “disabilty” to them. L had only recently noticed that one of the presenters on CBeebies is missing the lower half of one arm. We had discussed some of the things she might find difficult and how others might be able to help, both practically (offering to tie her shoelaces) and emotionally (not saying mean things to her). And suddenly L’s world changed. Difference was all around her. She was, inevitably, full of questions. Why did that lady need to sit in a chair with wheels? Why did that man sound funny when he talked? Why did that big boy keep hitting himself on the head? Why did those people need sticks to walk? She very quickly grasped the idea that sometimes there will be part of someone’s body that doesn’t quite work the way it should, or work like everyone else’s. She understood that it might make life a little harder for that person, and that we should all do what we can to be kind and helpful to each other.

We talked about the infusions I do each week and she grew to understand that part of Mummy’s body doesn’t work like everyone else’s either – but that you can’t see it. L learned what an immune system is, and shouted angrily at her “fighters” to “make those germs scram” when she caught a cold. And finally we talked about J. I explained that whilst J’s body works fine (I’ll save the explanation of hypermobility for another day!), he sometimes thinks and feels differently to others. We revisted all of L’s “whys” and she started to put the puzzle together. J shouts in the supermarket because he hears everything really loudly and it hurts his ears. J sometimes ignores her because he can only think about one thing at a time. J screams in his bed because his brain isn’t very good at going to sleep. And gradually I introduced the word “autism”. At first it was hard to explain such an intangible condition. But then L would start to ask “Did J do xxx because he is autism?” (I still can’t get her to say he has autism!). Sometimes I would reply “Yes, I think J probably did xxx because he has got autism”. And sometimes I would reply “No, I think J did xxx just because that is what J likes to do”. Again, J listened and absorbed. And as autism by its very nature likes facts and answers, rather than intangible questions, J seemed at peace with the answers that were emerging.

And of course, we talked again and again about how much we love J, and how the things that make him different also make him very, very special. I knew I had overdone the “J’s autism makes him special” when L tearfully insisted that she is “a little bit autism” too. I didn’t protest too hard. We’re probably all a little bit autism after all.

And as time has gone on, “autism” has become just another word in J and L’s ever-increasing and hugely impressive vocabularies. It is simply another descriptive term. L has got blue eyes and curly hair, is very little, and loves to sing and make pictures. J has a wicked laugh and autism, is great at reading, and loves shapes and tickles. Sometimes J will refer to his autism and a little more often L does. Occasionally I have found it very useful in explaining J’s own behaviour to him, when he seems confused by his physical and emotional responses to different stimuli. But mostly no-one in our house mentions autism because no-one needs to.

I did not take the decision lightly to tell my children at such a young age that J has autism.

After I had done it I worried constantly about whether it had been the right thing to do. Their response reassured me to a certain degree. But it was a conversation we had today that finally left me in no doubt that I had done the right thing.

A little boy, B, has recently joined J and L’s class in nursery. B has autism. I know very little about him, but it is clear that he not at the same point of the spectrum as J. He is non-verbal and it seems that his autism is notably more severe than J’s. In the car on the way home from nursery today J suddenly said “Let’s talk about B!” I asked what he wanted to tell me about B and he said B had kept opening the classroom door today. I remarked that this was funny – B likes opening doors and J likes closing them. J said “Yes, B is like me!” A split second later came L’s inevitable question: “Is B autism?” “Yes” I replied, “I believe B has got autism”. “Oh!” said L. “That’s why he doesn’t talk!” Bearing in mind J’s verbal communication skills are excellent I was surprised she had made this connection. L went on to explain all the autistic traits B displays during an afternoon at nursery. I have to say her diagnostic observations are impressive.

Then L told me B had pinched her today. She said it hurt. I thought about my response before saying that I didn’t think B meant to hurt her or be naughty, but he still needed to learn that he mustn’t pinch people so L must tell the teacher if it happens again. Then L said something that brought tears to my eyes. I have reproduced her words as faithfully as my memory allows:

“Poor B” she said. “Maybe he wanted to be my friend but didn’t know how to tell me. I don’t mind that he pinched me. He probably knew that I would be kind to him because I know all about autism. If he does it again I will say ‘No B, pinching makes me sad. Do you want to play instead?’ Do you think that will make him happy Mummy? It must be very upsetting to not be able to talk or to tell people what you want. Maybe we should have a play date with him”.

Then J, who had been quiet for some time, added: “B has got autism like me. I will be his friend”.

If my children go on to climb Everest and win Nobel prizes, I can’t imagine ever being prouder of them than I was in that moment. At four years old they have openly understood and accepted difference and, through their own volition, considered ways to embrace it. They have shown empathy, compassion and kindness. The thought that B will grow up remembering the two children who offered to be his friend rather than shying away from him fills me with joy.

I have learned an important lesson today. I have been so busy trying to change the world so that everyone is loving and accepting and understanding towards J, I forgot that he has it in him to be all of that for another.

A year ago I could never have imagined being grateful for J’s autism. Now I am just starting to realise how many gifts it has given us. And the greatest of all is that it has made my children into the kind of people who wish to befriend a boy who might otherwise remain friendless. What parent could ever ask for more?

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