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Body Image Is a Truly Complicated Beast

Body image is a complicated beast—a juggernaut extending far beyond the physical and into the mental, spiritual and social aspects of our unique experiences and yet, I have always felt uncomfortable talking about my lack of body love because, well, it's far easier to be like, "YOU GO, GIRL! I AM BEAUTIFUL JUST THE WAY I AM!"

My friend Amanda (who also happens to be one of the great writers on the Internet, and if you aren't reading everything she writes, I suggest you do) recently wrote an incredible essay about how detrimental it is to wage war on ANY body, regardless of its size. Specifically referring to Lane Bryant's response to VS' "Angel" campaign with "I'm No Angel," she writes:

The either/or and good/bad positioning perpetuates a one-upmanship of womanliness or authenticity. I am one of the people who has lived between angel and not, never quite plus-size, never ever busty and slim. I do love the flutter of feeling desirable, but the more solid foundation (heh, bra humor) is feeling powerfully multidimensional. I am smart. Tall. Bilingual. Funny. Crafty. Curvy and sinewy. Rough and delicate ...

At 5'8, 140something pounds, I have always been a little on the soft side. I spent a large part of my teen years sucking in my stomach, which pooched even before I had kids. I obsessed over my "inadequate" body throughout my adolescence. The pressure to look bangin' in a bikini was real. Thinness was a prerequisite where I grew up and because, relatively speaking, I was never skinny, I always felt like a physical failure.

Compounded with the size of my breasts (EEE) in my late teens, my body was the thing I most feared and wanted to escape. Which is what, in a way, I did when I underwent breast reduction surgery at 18. At the time, I was unhappy with the way my body looked and I tearfully begged both my parents and my doctor for liposuction on my upper arms (they wouldn't comply), which I am still so self-conscious of that I refuse to wear a tank top in public. EVER. Even when it's 100 degrees out. (I always joke that I would rather walk the streets naked with a bolero on than fully clothed with my arms exposed.)

As an adult, I have learned to embrace my body as a thing I am OK with not loving all the time. In other words, I have made peace with the parts I cannot help but loathe. Instead of trying to embrace my body, I have embraced my inability to do so, and found peace through accepting that I was never going to be the body-confident superhero I always wished I was. And that? That has set me free.

When I gave birth to my first daughter, I decided to forgive myself for all the times I cursed my reflection when I should have been in awe of it.

"I love you anyway, self. I love you even though you said all of those terrible things. We're in this together, yo. You and me, girl. For life.

My body issues were so paralyzing, I prayed for a son every night when I was pregnant with Archer because I didn't think I could EVER be a good mom to a daughter. I was afraid she would struggle with the same shit I did. Ten years and three daughters later, I have learned to live in the moment when it comes to raising my children. I have learned to embrace my body by looking not into the mirror, but through it.

And yet. There's still that nagging voice—the one that reeks of criticism and shame and self-loathing. The voice that appeared somewhere around my 13th birthday and has loitered within me for the last two decades.

"Your knees have cellulite! You can't wear shorts!"

and

"A two-piece? Are you kidding? No one wants to see that shit, girl. Come on."

And then there's:

"You look pregnant in that picture. And that picture. And that one ..."

Which brings me to last week, when Revi came home with her "Happy" collage and the words she dictated to her teacher that read, "Mama's tummy makes me happy."

I mean. Of all the things in the world, that is what she picked? My post C-section/lumpy/bumpy/bulge-y belly?

Amazing. And all at once I felt my heart punch THE VOICE in the chest.

"Take that, voice! You don't know shit, voice! YOU DON'T MATTER ANYMORE, VOICE."

I think a lot about body confidence. I live in Hollywood where youth is bought and sold. The girl who once begged for lipo has become the woman who refuses to color her hair. I want my kids to see what age looks like. I want my daughters to see that I can rock some gray strands and still be beautiful and confident and powerful. I feel the same way about my emerging wrinkles.

I want to battle the voice that has, for as long as I can remember bullied me into thinking I wasn't "fill-in-the-blank enough."

And every day I do.

I have taught myself to compensate with a rebellion against my own self-doubt, substituting insecurity with a sing-it-sister kind of self love. I have become militant in my need to keep my natural hair color and parade around my house naked and unafraid so that my kids can see my lumps and bumps and scars and grays and know that THIS is what a 33-year-old mother of four looks like.

It is liberating to know that I can own my body in front of them in ways I cannot with myself. I do not care how pregnant I look or whether my belly is rolling over my jeans when I sit down — not at home and not with them. Having daughters gave me new mirrors to stand in front of every day, and it has made all the difference.

"Let's name the faces in Mama's knees."

"This one is Princess."

"Hey, Princess."

Their acceptance has become mine.

Their pride in my body—Revi's happiness—has liposucked the shame out of my soul.

***

There is a picture of me pregnant that Bo and Revi (Revi especially) ask to look at constantly because they know I looked the way I did because they were in there. I have a hard time looking at the photo because I look— well, unnatural—which is so awful to write but that is how I feel when looking at this particular image.

And this one:

I was huge, and huge, even when pregnant, is something we have been programmed to wince at. During those last weeks of pregnancy, people would tell me to my face that I made them nervous. That they felt like I should be home resting. Out of sight?

Fuck that. THIS IS WHAT I LOOK LIKE GROWING TWO HUMANS. AND IT'S EPIC.

It was epic then and it's epic now, three-plus years later.

Not pregnant. Just ... my stomach looks like this now.

***

I told Fable I was going to write this post and asked her if she would draw a smily face on my belly to illustrate Revi's collage. She did. And then she kept drawing. And then Bo and Revi joined her until they were all drawing all over my belly and IT WAS AWESOME. I cried a little even. And then I thought about "pregnancy belly art" and how rad it would be if we could, as a community, come together and do something similar for our postpartum bellies, with our KIDS' drawings.

After all, one cannot spell "POSTPARTUM" without "ART" and "TUM."

And I don't know about you guys, but it's impossible for me to feel shame for a belly covered in the drawings of its former inhabitants. I MEAN, THAT SHIT IS AMAZE.

Thank you for the body confidence, Coach Revi. I love you with my whole entire WONDERLAND of a bod. And indeed it is one. I know it is. Even when I don't.

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