In my lifelong journey toward having positive body image (sigh), I finally hit a milestone when, about a year after my daughter's birth, I accepted my body as it was. It wasn't about having lost the baby weight — lord knows some parts of my body will never be the same — or getting on a consistent diet or exercise routine. It was a quiet acceptance. I looked at my C-section shelf, my stretch marks, my boobs, and thought, "This is it." A year after carrying a baby, I reflected on how intense that was, and though it sounds cliché, I truly felt grateful for my body for being able to achieve such a feat.
The thing about body acceptance is that it's not synonymous with having this perfectly positive body image — that, I'm still working on, and there's one important thing I'm determined to change. I am no longer taking "you've lost weight" as a compliment.
It's weird how so many of us hear that phrase — or, the question form, "Have you lost weight?" — and equate it with, "You look great!" That's what I always heard. Even if an actual compliment didn't follow. Even if I knew I hadn't lost weight, or felt pretty sure I'd actually gained weight since the person last saw me. Because in my head, and unfortunately, in so many others' heads, being thinner or weighing less or even just looking smaller is always preferable.
For my sanity and body image, I'm reshaping how that phrase hits my brain. It's not a compliment. "You look great!" is a compliment, as is, "You look healthy." Here's the extra-difficult twist: I no longer say thank you when someone suggests I've lost weight. This has been so much harder than I imagined, because that weight-loss observation is always something I wanted to hear, even when I wasn't trying. I won't lie: not saying thank you is awkward. I've tried to come up with other ways to respond that don't sound as short as "Hmm," or "Probably not," but in truth, keeping it short and just moving on may be the best tactic.
I don't want my daughter to hear me thank someone for noticing I lost weight and automatically equating it with a positive.
While I'm partially doing this for me, I'm really doing it for my daughter. She's only 2 now, but observations about how people talk about their bodies start early, as do feelings about it. I don't want her to hear me thank someone for noticing I lost weight and automatically equating it with a positive, like I did. I know I have to model the behavior if I want her to be OK with her body, even if it's a struggle to do it for myself. I have to break the association that thinner is better.
Like so many people, how I felt about my body was heavily influenced by how my mother felt about hers, and that wasn't great. When I was young and throughout my teens, I always remember my mom being on a diet, trying different weight-loss fads, and chasing the dream of shedding five to 10 pounds. She was never happy with her body, and though I may not be ready to say I'm happy with my body (I'm trying!), I feel lucky that now, I'm being a lot kinder to myself than I used to be.
I can't control my daughter's environment and the influences and imagery that she will take in that will mold her body image — in fact, I shudder to think what she will face in the future — but I will do my part in creating a positive foundation. I'll start small. She's worth it.