My girl and I, Summer of 2014
My toddler has just finished her dinner. “Wow, you ate everything on your plate. Good girl!” I exclaim while simultaneously realizing that nobody should be deemed “good” or “bad” for eating or not eating. And the fact that my being a member of the clean plate club was one of the biggest contributors to my own struggles with food. But I can’t go back in time and unsay it. I can only forgive myself and step up my awareness.
Back in 2012, when the doctor told my husband and I that we were having girl, my first thought was “crap, I’m really going to have to get my shit together”. My next thought was “I’m never going to be able to take care of her, I don’t even know how to take care of myself”. But nine months passed and there I was, a new mother feeling completely lost but utterly high on love (and hormones). I had no idea how much this little girl would change the way I thought about food and body (and life in general). In honor of Mother’s day and my daughter turning three this week I wanted to share some of it with you.
Life is not an all or nothing kind of game
Those of us who struggle with food and body often have an all or nothing mindset. “Oh, I already ate that cookie and totally blew it so I might as well eat the whole box and start over tomorrow”. Seem familiar? As new mothers we sometimes apply this same thinking to parenting. If we can’t be the best mom, we must be the worst. Unfortunately, or actually fortunately, it seldom works. Being “forced” into embracing imperfection, winging it as best we can, is a good thing (although it can sometimes feel like we’re one step away from going completely crazy). Because we can’t just tell our kids -“fuck it, you make your own dinner”, we have to get out the box of macaroni and cheese every now and then and realize that that’s totally okay. Between the poopy diapers and the toys in every corner of your house there is no room for trying to keep up appearances and your kid certainly doesn’t care about you wearing the same t- shirt three days in a row. We are not, as the makeover shows on TV make us believe, a “before” version of ourselves just a transformation away from being the polished, perfect beings that our black and white delusions push on us. How about, instead of stressing out, we try to challenge the beliefs we carry around around that dirty t- shirt and the level of our worthiness for wearing it?
Kid’s don’t blame their bodies for everything so why should we?
Taking a moment to cry or lick their wounds only to be done with it some moments later, ready to start over, ready to once again embrace the world. This is how little children work. They fall down, they cry a little and then get up again. They don’t ruminate for hours over what made them fall and they don’t chastise themselves for falling in the first place, they just see it as a natural part of life. They don’t go to that place of self-loathing and they certainly don’t blame the fat on their bodies for making them fall. So why do we think that the things and people we have in our lives are aquired through and dependant on the size of our bodies?
I admit, I used to be part of the blame it on the fat squad. “I’m not thin enough to call myself a ‘real’ health educator”, “If I could only lose 10 lbs he would love me” and “I didn’t get invited to that party because I’m overweight” were some of the completely ludicrous stories I kept telling myself. I’ve since stopped blaming my body for everything and taken on a somewhat more nuanced approach (grown-up points for me?). And with knowing that I won’t go to a place of body blame or shame as soon as something doesn’t go exactly as I planned it in my, slightly compulsive, mind, failure doesn’t feel so threatening.
Our bodies are the place to be!
Have you ever noticed how little kids just naturally revel in their bodies? They don’t care whatsoever about if they’re having a bad hair day or about the roundness of their belly. Every little nook and cranny is a beautiful treasure waiting to be discovered and they use their bodies, their senses essentially, to discover and explore the world. And explore the world they do. As if sight and touch weren’t enough there is also taste (“oooh, that green stuff on the sole of my shoe looks good, I’ll just go ahead and taste it”), exploring smells (“that bottle of bleach looks interesting, I wonder what it smells like”) and detecting sounds no adult person could ever distinguish from the messy background noise of everyday life (“I heard you flipping through Peppa pig videos without me, what’s that about?”). And while food isn’t always at the top of the inspection list (at least not in our house. If it’s not pasta and ketchup it’s apparently not worth putting in your mouth. Or even looking at.) there is much to be learned from kids that we as adults can apply to our mindsets around food and body (and life in general).
From having been very out of touch with my body I’ve started actively engaging in the world with my senses and discovering my world’s sights, smells, textures, sounds and flavors in a whole new way. As a result I’ve found that Pop-tarts are actually pieces of cardboard sprinkled with sugar and that I have a lot more dimples on my right thigh than I do my left (I could have gone to my grave not knowing these essential facts! :)). And with this I started to find my way back into my body and began to appreciate all the ways that she connects me to the world. So don’t be surprised if you see me on Shark Tank introducing my idea for the adult sensory table!
Our bodies have purpose beyond our minds
Seeing yourself through the eyes of your child is one of the most powerful things that someone struggling with a negative body image can do. Loving your child might come as naturally to you as breathing air but taking in the adoration that your kid has for you is more delectable than any cookie you’ve ever tasted. Savor the fact that your soft belly is now a pillow for your kid to lay her head on, your unstyled hair is the greatest tickling tool, your lap is the birthplace of her sense of safety in the world.
Yes, we are the most evolved version of humanity to date and most of us would probably prefer to stay focused on that fact. But while we’re keeping our great evolved minds continually busy we sometimes forget that we’re still animals. If we weren’t we would be producing our offspring in laboratories (scaaary!). When I came to the realization that my body is the vessel through which I keep my baby alive and adored, I gained a whole lot of respect for it. My body was no longer just an object to be looked at. It had produced another human being. And how could I not marvel at that?
Our bodies deserve supreme care
You wouldn’t skip your toddler’s dinner because they had an ice cream earlier in the day, would you? Then don’t do that to yourself either! Be the same (semi-)stable and accountable parent that you are to your child, to yourself.
When it came to the basic physical needs in life I realized that I hadn’t been doing a very good job of taking care of myself. Sure, I tried to eat healthy, take walks and I cherished my sleep above all else, but I wasn’t paying attention to my needs in real time. I was telling myself stories based on how I thought I should live. So when dinner time rolled around and my daughter was ordering me to make her pasta, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t hungry because I had eaten three cookies during my afternoon slump. But then it struck me; if I was ever going to model basic physical self care to my daughter I had to start practicing it myself. So I started inviting both mind and body to the table and it happens that we sometimes, in unison, come to the conclusion that a nice dinner on top of those afternoon cookies is exactly what I need. I’m still a work in progress but getting better day by day (yay!).
Happy Mother’s day!