Making peace with my body
Bodies that change are part of life. And slowly but surely, I’m coming to a place of peace and neutrality about that change.
I don’t have a pithy opening or hook for this article. And this little piece of writing doesn’t need a whole lot of set up. This is a (very short) story (in list form) about me learning to greet my body with kindness, gentleness and humility instead of anger, pride and frustration.
If you’re a human, your body will change. I used to see that fact of life as a liability and a problem. And while our bodies might change for reasons that are tragic (injury, illness, etc.), I no longer believe that a changing body is inherently bad. There are good reasons our body might change (the birth of a child, a lifesaving surgery, etc). Our bodies might simply change because time is passing, and what a gift that is because it means that we are among living. So while this story is wrapped up in pregnancy and birth and postpartum, making peace with a body that changes is the work of all people when society exalts only a few types of bodies as good.
In the near future, I hope to detangle the faulty theological language around thinness/fatness and explore fatphobia in the church and evangelical discipleship efforts. I want talk more about a theology of eating and movement. I plan to take a closer look at what gluttony really is and posit where we actually see gluttony in society (newsflash: I don’t think it has much to do with the ob*sity epidemic).
But that’s not what I’m here to do. Right now, I want to share a snapshot of my life in hopes that it will encourage you.I’m here to tell you about what it’s looked like to say “hello” to my body that is ever changing.
After my daughter was born, I was among the many women who didn’t “bounce back.” Even though I essentially went back to my pre-pregnancy ways of eating and moving after my daughter was born, I didn’t go back to my pre-pregnancy pant size. Instead, my body remained bigger and softer.
Having my body shift so much because of something oh-so-very good in my life (having my daughter!) shook me up a bit. Until birthing my child, I’d always conceived of a bigger body as a sign of a problem, undesirable at best and sinful at worst.
But these body changes came because of something good, and my body was still supporting me in living the life I wanted. Those facts pushed me to consider if I should spend my precious resources (time, money, energy, etc.) attempting to “get my body back” or if those resources were best spent simply living my life.
My conundrum lead me to study the actual science behind food restriction and weight loss. I learned that dieting (more popularly called lifestyle changes these days) has a track record of not improving health and leading to sustained weight loss. I also learned about the nefarious reasons why dieting still has a foothold in our society despite the lack of scientific support (hint: $ and power).
But more importantly I explored alternatives to food restriction, dieting, and unsustainable exercise regimens. I learned Health At Every Size, set-point weight theory and intuitive eating. I also started to chip away at my idols of thinness and bodily admiration while disentangling myself from very bad theology I’d absorbed about the correlation between fatness, gluttony, and laziness.
Those discoveries led me to a place of theological conviction (and supported by research) where I didn’t want to pursue intentional weight loss.
So, I decided I needed to make peace with my fatter, softer body. Here’s what that looked like for me.
I learned to sit with the discomfort.
After my daughter was born, I smushed down all feelings of discomfort with buying new clothes. Even though I’m a firm believer of having clothes that fit, these particular online shopping sprees came from a place of anxiety.
I wanted my new clothes so I could bypass the grief of a body that changes and all that change meant. I didn’t want to feel sadness of donating favorite clothes to Salvation Army and no longer fitting in my wedding dress, so I distracted myself with a new shirt.
When people saw me, would they think I had “let myself go” after having a baby? I felt shame.
Would people assume I was lazy and undisciplined? Was I lazy and undisciplined? Did my bigger body size reflect a lack of spiritual maturity? (FYI: the answers are maybe, but it doesn’t matter, and no and no.)
I’ve never measured up to the standard of beauty presented in society and a standard that is sometimes equated with godliness in the church, but I was always thin and that brought me comfort. But now, I didn’t even have that in my favor. So, I reasoned, maybe new clothes would help distract from my bigger body.
Padraig O’Tuama writes that when we give a name to where find ourselves in life—especially if it is a place where we do not wish to be—it is an act of truth-telling that can be the key to making peace with life’s pain and discomfort, and move to a place of healing.
My body changed after childbirth. That change brought grief, fear, shame, feelings of unworthiness. I wanted to pretend like those feelings didn’t exist, so I bought new clothes in an attempt to soothe and distract. And my troubling feelings did not go anywhere.
Peace started to come only when I started to identify and understand the places of insecurity, sadness and grief over my changing body. Once I started that process, I could confess my idols, acknowledge the ways society was wrong, and begin to move to a place of contentment.
I bought clothes that fit.
Once I let myself grieve my changing body and what I lost living in a bigger body, I bought clothes that I liked that fit my body.
It’s funny how some of the most scathing judgment I felt was from jeans that I couldn’t button. Developing a kind relationship with my body was much easier when I wasn’t facing criticism from my clothes every morning, or wearing items that I only kept because they “fit” but were ugly or not my style.
I began to live with now as my after.
When you see a before and after phots involving weight loss, it’s often accompanied by a makeover of sorts of someone doing something they didn’t dare try in their bigger body. I asked what I would do if I lost weight, then I started doing those things. I got a new haircut, tried fashion trends that I liked but intimidated me and I started hiking with my daughter.
I edited my social feeds.
I found influencers who wear something other than a size 2. I started following brands that feature mid-size and fat women. Most importantly, I UNFOLLOWED lifestyle brands, products, services or influencers that only showcase one type of body as a success, as beautiful, or as “the goal.”
I made my body and weight the least interesting thing about me.
Or put another way, I found new hobbies. It’s funny how diets and exercise became a default hobby (something I thought about or spent resources on in my leisure time). I made a point to stop researching and reading about the newest lifestyle change, fad diet and exercise I approach. When they pop up on social media or come up in conversation, I just keep scrolling or I wait until the topic shifts.
After my daughter was born, I spent some time figuring out a meal planning system and exercise routine that worked for my new life. That was a good and important thing to do. But, then I started spending my free time doing other things that I wanted to do.
(a little note: I know certain forms of movement, like running, are a really rewarding hobby for some folks that’s awesome. But, it isn’t a hobby of mine, and that’s awesome too. I enjoy moving my body, but I no longer feel compelled to make exercise something I devote my creative energy to or pursue at the expensive of other things that I value.)
I cultivated a kind inner voice.
When I would see myself in the mirror or photos, unhelpful thoughts often arose after my daughter was born. I used to try to ignore them. But then, I stopped shaming myself for having them and started letting them be.
But then, instead of dwelling on them, I named how my body was supporting me in living my life. I would remind myself that my legs took me on a walk. My ears listened to a friend’s sorrows. I hugged and laughed with my kids.
Slowly and thankfully, that voice of kindness and gratitude started to become the dominant one.
Another practice I’ve found helpful in cultivating a kind inner voice is to look at old photos of myself. The photos in this post are from two years ago while hiking in the Lake District of England. I was about 10 months postpartum and I remember seeing these pictures and being sad about how I looked for different reasons.
Now, I look at these photos and I am proud of that woman. She’d gone to therapy. She’d let her life be upended by her new baby, and received those changes with gratitude and joy. She consistently felt like she was messing up in her marriage and at work, but she kept showing up, readjusting, and trying again. I see someone who had the moxie to take her daughter on a 10+ day trip to Europe, navigating jetlag, infant sleep, and breastfeeding on the go. I see someone who was intimidated by going on a big hike, but did it anyway.
When I have unkind and unhelpful thoughts about my body that are focused on aesthetics instead of living, I consider what I’ll see when I look back on photos of this time. That helps me focus on what really matters.
Our bodies tell stories of resilience, hospitality and the gift of living. Instead of seeking to control, manipulate, and tame my body, I am learning to greet my body with gentleness and kindness, collaborating with it as I seek to live faithfully and fully in this life.
Hello to our bodies, and the stories they tell.*
*this idea of saying hello to our bodies is deeply influenced by the work of Padraig O’Tuama.
Links related to what I shared above:
Not Pregnant, Just Fat — by Sarah Cottrell for Fathom.
Size Diversity and Health At Every Size — a great, short summary of this approach to health and medical care.
Tell Me I’m Fat — This American Life
Stop Supporting Intentional Weight Loss! — a blog post rounding up several evidence based, peer reviewed articles about dieting.
A few wins in my kitchen lately.
Bri McKoy’s pumpkin chili. Confession: I was a little underwhelmed initially after all the hype on social media/the blog post comments. That said, once I accepted it on its own terms, I came to really love it and I can’t wait to make it again.
King Arthur’s white bread. Thanks to a friend, I ended up with 50# of really lovely flour, and I’m looking for ALL the recipes. Hands down the best sandwich bread recipe I’ve made.
Food processor pizza dough. We’ve taken to pizza on Friday nights, and the simplicity of this recipe is a game changer.
“When I come across messages saying that we should all be trying to “love our bodies,” it never sits quite right with me. For me, since loving something means I think about it a ton, body love isn’t what I’m going for. I don’t want to sit around all day thinking about my body. I want to be spending my brain space doing awesome things.
Our body is our paintbrush, not our masterpiece.
I don’t think we have that much control over our body size. Therefore, I believe spending your life pouring your energy into trying to change or control your body size will likely lead to an unfulfilling life.”
—Kylie Mitchell, RN + MPH and writer at “Yeah… Imma Eat That.”