I pull my laces secure, pop in my earphones, look up, and start pounding the pavement. I can hear my breath in my ears as I start to sweat and push myself up a huge hill. Earlier this year I decided I wanted to train for some races. This new goal was fueled primarily by my desire to accomplish a 10k race at the end of this month. This 10k is particularly important to me because it is a Race for Grief. I am running it in honor of my son Charlie, who died two years ago from SIDS.
I’m not a runner. Not by a long shot. I enjoy working out, but running has not been my forte. However, due to this race, running has become meaningful to me.
I’ve begun running other races besides this 10k because I’ve found that I value pushing my body and discovering where it can take me. While running isn’t intrinsically enjoyable for me, achieving new goals (faster times, longer distances, etc.) is very rewarding and reinforcing. I am discovering a new respect for my body in the process.
Simultaneous to developing new love and respect for my body, an old nemesis keeps trying to rear its ugly head. The other night, while tucking my four-year-old in to bed, she asked me, “Mommy, are you growing another baby? Because your tummy is fat.” I smiled sweetly at her and told her no, I wasn’t growing another baby. But my inner dialogue screamed, “What?! Where did she learn the word fat? We don’t use that word! But maybe I AM fat? I mean, out of the mouth of babes, right?!” This led to an examination in the mirror and the all-too-familiar grabbing and squishing the excess skin around my stomach, which of course led to feelings of sadness and disgust along with resolutions to “firm up and slim down.”
This old nemesis of negative body image was threatening to take up space and energy in my life again. I had dedicated too many years in my young adulthood trying to assuage the violent and demeaning messages this nemesis threw at me. I was never very successful at pacifying that beast. And if for some reason I was successful, that moment of respite was short-lived, and new epithets would soon flood in. As I engaged the vicious cycle of self-loathing and striving toward perfectionism, I finally realized how vacant that journey was. It wasn’t taking me anywhere positive or productive. Despite all my efforts, I never achieved “good enough.”
And then clarity struck, and I became aware of how far off the true path I had fallen. I was in a place where I had forgotten my intrinsic value and worth as a daughter of God. I made a conscious choice at that point to let go of comparisons, worldly expectations, and all my “should” statements. Instead I embraced my body and who I am, in all its perfect imperfections.
As I chose this route of self-love and self-care, I felt liberated to pursue my personal and professional dreams without the shackles of unrealistic, worldly expectations clouding my vision or derailing my progress.
Years of success and personal fulfillment followed in the wake of this choice—years filled with beautiful moments of divine inspiration in my work as both a psychologist and as a mother.
I thought that by this point I was beyond the grasp of this old nemesis. In fact, I have even strived to be a voice of encouragement for others to join me and embrace their intrinsic worth and beauty.
So I felt taken aback and surprised that I was buying into old negative messages at the same time I was building respect and love for my body through training for this race.
But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Doesn’t Satan want me to dislike and abuse my body? Doesn’t he want me to not only forget how amazing it is but even to loathe it? Doesn’t he want me to focus my energy on these worldly pursuits because he knows it will distract me from my greater purpose here as a wife, mother, sister, friend, professional, and daughter of God?
Three children later, yes, my body is quite different than it was when I was in my early 20s. If it was so easy then to hate my body, how much easier is it now to fall into that trap?
But I know where self-hatred takes me, and I no longer want to pursue that vicious cycle. I am choosing to embrace my body for what it is today. And it is amazing. I may not get rock-hard abs, and my breasts are certainly not perky anymore. But my body can take me across finish lines! It can propel me up mountains! It has borne three beautiful children! One of which is a literal angel waiting for me on the other side of the veil!
So when my four-year-old lovingly asks to see my “donut” I will lift up my shirt and push my excess skin around my belly button into the shape of that delicious pastry. And I will genuinely smile as my daughter’s joyful giggles peal in the air around us. Because I am a daughter of God, and my body is perfect in all its imperfections.