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?
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?
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.