A friend asked me to share her story with you – and I am delighted to do so. Valerie is a new mom to a darling little boy. She, like most of us, has struggled with her body image but is finding joy in the way her son responds to her body. Here’s her story:
by Valerie Bojarski
One warm morning, after nursing my son, I was sitting on my bed with him in front of me. I was in a nursing sports bra and shorts, he in just his cloth diaper. That morning he officially turned 20 weeks old. I started telling him about what things were like 20 weeks ago, when he was first born. Upon hearing my voice and seeing me interact with him, he smiled and started excitedly kicking his feet. I told him, “Not too long ago, you were kicking me from the inside, now you’re kicking me from the outside!” and tickled him. He squealed with delight and kicked harder. The heel of one of his feet hit my stomach and sank into it pretty far. He pulled his foot away, and repeated the movement, alternating both feet, an expression of great concentration on his face, fascinated by the squishy surface into which he was pressing his feet. A happy moment immediately turned into one of embarrassment, and I felt hot all over as shame washed over me. I looked down at my stomach, lined with stretch marks, and felt disgust. My inner voice told me, “One day he is going to be ashamed of you. He won’t even want to be seen with you in public. You’ll just embarrass him.” I stood up and scooped him up, holding him against me. I looked in the mirror and was struck by the contrast of our sizes.He picked that exact moment to start squeezing and pinching my upper arm. I turned away from the mirror, too ashamed to look any more.
When I first learned that I was pregnant, I immediately asked God to give me a boy. Being fairly new on my journey towards body positivity, I didn’t want to risk causing a daughter to have the same issues that I had. While I know that boys can be insecure in their appearance as well, I felt like having a son was “safer” somehow. I was so relieved when I learned that our little one was male! As I carried him within me, I promised him that I would never cause him to feel as though he was not good enough. I pledged that I would never, not even when he was a baby, speak ill of my body or anyone else’s, and if I heard someone else do it, I would make a point to say to my baby, “We don’t talk about people’s bodies that way, because there is no right or wrong way to have a body.” I had the best of intentions.
That evening, after feeling ashamed of myself in front of my infant son, I told my therapist about the situation, how my squishy tummy was entertaining to my baby. Saying it out loud, I felt ashamed all over again — both of the situation and my response to it. I was enjoying my baby, interacting with him, playing with him, and I ended it because I had an emotional response to an innocuous behavior by my baby. While we processed it, I thought of other ways he has interacted with my body. While nursing, he will press on my breast or stomach, palpating it, almost as if the softness comforts him. He squeezes my upper arms and smiles. He will reach up and squeeze my chin. He nuzzles into my bosom when tired. He turns to me, my body — as it is now — for comfort. He loves me, all of me, as I am. This body, as it is now, carried him for 39 weeks and five days. It nourishes him. It cradles him. It comforts him. It protects him. That sounds like an amazing goal body to me. This body belongs to his mother. And he accepts it, without question.
I can either let other peoples’ perceptions of what a good “goal body” looks like cause me to question my own motherhood, or I can choose to be a good mother right now. Deciding that my body is a reason to hide, to be ashamed, and to judge myself will only take me away from these innocent moments where my son doesn’t know what fat or thin is. My therapist pointed out that If I carry myself in a way that shows that I am embarrassed of myself, or I refuse to go out and engage with the world, he will think that there is a reason to be embarrassed. If I go out and do things with him and not allow my size or fear of judgment affect me, he won’t be embarrassed. I can say that there is no right or wrong way to have a body until I’m blue in the face, but if I act like my body is a wrong body, it will mean nothing.
A few days later, I went to the zoo with a friend. I briefly agonized over whether I should wear a sleeveless shirt. Ultimately, I dressed comfortably, and had a great time at the zoo. I posed in pictures with my son. After looking at the pictures, I immediately noticed stomach rolls and flabby arms. I looked again, and saw a mom with her son, having a great time and making memories. There is no reason to hide. When my son looks back on these pictures, I hope he doesn’t see an embarrassment; I hope that he sees a mom who loves her son and took him to the zoo.
Regardless of whether or not I achieve society’s standards of a goal body, I hope that my son learns that our bodies, as they are, are worthy. Loving them should not wait until or unless a change happens. Our bodies, as they are, are good. As long as we use them to love one another and be there for one another, they have already achieved a goal. Also, squishy tummies are fun for kicking.