Summer is here, even as the clouds roll in.
It’s a season that can often intensify whatever we’re feeling about our bodies.
Summer heat can make us more aware of the physicality of everything - how our bodies feel, self-regulate, ache and move - and also, of how we look.
More of us, and of everyone else around us, is ‘on show’. Reminders of the sun-kissed perfectly toned ‘bikini body’ are everywhere
The journey towards accepting both how I look, as a middle-aged mama, and how my body ‘works’ (and doesn’t work) has been a challenging one for me, as I suspect it is for all of us. But finally, more often than not, I'm loving myself as I am.
Tonight, we’ll be talking about our mum bods at #somum, our monthly mama get together in Mamas’ Everyday Retreat (if you're not already a member, just request to join and we'll add you) from 8.30 to 9.30pm BST.
We’ll be talking about our body struggles, and the physical impact of motherhood and beyond. We’ll explore aging and changing, the parts of our bodies that we can bring ourselves to love, and those we can’t just yet. We'll think about how we teach our children to appreciate their own bodies.
The mum bod
In many ways, it was motherhood that helped me to fall in love with my body for the first time. To see it as purposeful and miraculous, instead of something shameful that I needed to reshape or reduce to fit in.
My body created children. It fed children (not as I would have liked, but it managed it by itself sometimes, and with help at other times). It held children. It soothed children. It still does. And holds many others along the way.
My children help me to see my body differently too. While they often like to tease me about my deliciously big bottom, my daughter also delights in my squishiness, the softness of my skin, the cuddly joys of sitting on my pillowy lap and snuggling into my chest. Unknowingly, she helps me to love those things about myself.
My children are the reason that when I get up in the morning and look in the mirror, I smile at myself. That I stretch. Not just my body itself, but also my comfort zone: I stretch away from safety towards the emotional discomfort of being seen, just as I am.I risk embarrassment and the mean opinions of others. I overcome the voices in my head that say my body is not OK.
My children are the reason that now I proudly wear a bikini to jump in the water with them. That I eat good healthy food, and do all the different kinds of exercise that I love (swimming, yoga, crazy dancing...). They are the reason that I talk often and with love about how strong and beautiful and useful my body is. Even when I’m finding it hard to believe that.
And when parts of my body still don’t quite work in the way I would like them to, or look the way other people say they should, my children are the reason that I try to be kind to myself, to soothe and allow all the difficult feelings that come up for me around these ‘imperfections’.
I don’t hide my knee and foot pain from my children, but I do try to soften my frustrations and self judgement first. They know it’s hard at times, and also, that it’s is nothing to be ashamed of, or to dislike about myself. It’s simply a difference. Something to shift and strengthen if we can. And to understand and accept if we can't.
Because those children are my witnesses, little sponges soaking it all up.
And each day that I overcome my own body gremlins to see the beauty in myself instead, I'm providing my kids with a way to do that too. With language to talk about their own bodies. With loving ways of seeing themselves, alternative perspectives to those that will surround them as they grow.
Becoming an older mum
Witnessing the shifts in my body as I age - and noticing those changes speeding up in my forties - is bringing my awareness to the time-limited nature of every body phase.
Many of those changes are related to motherhood, but some are simply shifts that come to all of us. As I watch my stomach and breasts change shape, gently becoming slightly less elastic, moving closer to the floor, I can't deny the general direction of travel...!
Looking back on photos of myself as a teenager, as a young woman, I see the beauty that I couldn’t see then. And it wakes me up to the thought that perhaps, just maybe, there is also beauty in me right now. Beauty that I will finally appreciate in ten years time. Or maybe - beauty that I could appreciate right now.
Because we only have so much time in this precious body as it is.
And only so much energy to give to this beautiful painful messy life of ours.
How much of that energy have I wasted on disliking my body, when I could be using it for so many other more valuable things, like playing on the beach, with the wind in my hair, and seaweed attached to my backside by a giggling child?
And I wonder - if I don’t try to love and respect my body as it is right now, when will I ever love and respect it? If not now, then when?
Although getting older brings a new set of challenges, it also brings more confidence in myself - a growing awareness of what’s most important and valuable about me.
And I’m finding that these days, how my body feels is much more important than how it looks.
Tending to my health
I’ve started to accept my soft large imperfectly-stretched rolling-belly big-bottomed body just as it is, right now.
Even as I work to get stronger and healthier still (because these things are not mutually exclusive).
And one of the knock-on effects of this shift in perspective is that I’ve also started to take care of my whole physical self better. Not just by eating well and exercising in ways that I love - I’ve been doing that for a while - but by paying more attention to my ailments and pain and injuries.
Vitally, by making time to tend to these in a way that I haven’t in the past, when l was always too 'busy' for that, and everyone else’s needs came first. Instead of assuming that all my physical pain is a necessary part of my body experience, I've been allowing myself time to visit the doctor, the physio, the gynaecologist. To ask for help. I’ve stopped ignoring what hurts, and I’ve started treating it.
Some of this journey has been successful, some hasn’t. But even where the pain and challenges remain, asking for help has been a powerful proof to myself - and to my children - that I matter enough to try. That all of my body is worthy of love and attention, just like every body. Just like yours.
I don’t want to pretend that this shift of attitude towards my body has been easy. It hasn't and it isn’t. It's a long haul. But it is so worth the continued effort that it takes.
We're hoping to see you, in your body, at 8.30pm in Mamas' Everyday Retreat. It will be a safe kind space to be honest about our mama bodies, and to think about how we might just be able to love them a little bit more each day...
Because truly, your body is beautiful, just as it is right now. Take good care of it.
Sending you a little bit of extra love if your precious beautiful mama body needs that today too,