There are brief moments, as you walk this path of healing and mending and truth-telling, when you realize you are different than you once were.
It’s a glimpse really, quite insignificant and ordinary.
No one else would likely even catch it, but you—in all of your in-depth understanding of the subtle, idiosyncratic moments of your fleeting life—know that something has changed.
I experienced this recently when one of my sons was watching me get dressed in the morning.
I am not one to advertise my getting ready for the day. Rather, I often try to sneak away while my children are engaged with something else in the mornings—Lego construction, fort building, arguments over breakfast plates—so that I can dress myself in peace.
This particular morning, my oldest was laying on my bed and I was pressed for time so I didn’t make a big fuss about my nakedness in front of him. I thought I could slip into my work outfit quickly and that, if he caught me, it would be an opportune time to simply allow myself to be comfortable with the fact that he is curious about my female form.
I want him to be able to admire the human body, revel in it and celebrate it daily, so I just carried on.
Yet, while I was dressing he pointed to me, laughing, and said, “Mom, your butt is floppy. And your boobs sag.”
My heart dropped. I instantly felt my shoulders slump and my breath collapse. Something froze inside.
My immediate reaction—though silent—was defeat. I tried to cover this up by replying, “I like my body,” while I hurried to put my clothes on before he could hurt my pride even more.
His father was in the room and immediately defended—with a firm tone—what he knew was a complete blow to the heart for me.
My son then shuffled out of the room with his head hanging and hid in his own bedroom. He locked the door.
I knew that my son was feeling ashamed about what he’d said because I’ve seen this reaction before. We try to encourage free expression in our home, though there are times when his openness makes my jaw drop. His honesty strikes me and I have to sit a minute and regain emotional consciousness.
Only when I wake up from my psychological blackout, can I reframe the events with clarity and respond accordingly. That’s when the teaching moments—for both parent and child—seem most accessible.
In this instance, now clothed, I sheepishly walked to his door and tapped to enter, requesting that he unlock it. He did, then scurried back under his covers to hide. I crawled in his bed beside him and calmly said that I didn’t like when he talked about my body and that what he said hurt my feelings.
He replied that he was just stating what he saw.
Shoot. He was right. six-year-old: 1. Mom: 0. I was officially not succeeding in proving my point.
“I understand that maybe you weren’t trying to be mean, but I felt that you were making fun of my body. It hurt my feelings that you would laugh at my body, no matter what size or shape it is. You know, you came from my body and in order to love you fully, I also have to love my own body fully. I would prefer that you speak to me about my body with kindness.”
My son looked at me and saw the honesty in my eyes. He kissed my cheek and said, “I’m sorry, Mom. What can I do to help you feel better?”
My reply: “You can love your own body and be kind to others who look different than you.”
Him: “Okay, Mom. Do you want to know which Legos I want for my birthday?”
And so on. Back to regular life.
It only took me a few minutes to pause, drop my armor and let him know what I was experiencing to help him understand that his actions affect others.
The takeaway moment of awe for me in this little morning exchange was that I would have never been able to shake that comment 15 years ago. I would have dwelled on it, obsessing over the fact that my body might not be perfect, meanwhile scheming up ways that I could better shape shift into some version of myself that would ensure greater acceptance.
My son doesn’t know this. My son has no idea of the insurmountable inner turmoil women experience about their size, their shape and their body image. My son does not live in a world where beauty defines his worth or where his physical features so greatly affect his potential to succeed.
He will not ever know the years of personal work it has taken for his mother to stand naked in front of him and claim her love for body so that he can learn to love his own body and all the bodies he may ever embrace in his lifetime.
Yet, life will do this.
Parenting will do this.
Relationships will do this.
They will all give you these simple, ordinary moments to integrate the deeper, more meaningful, more delicate and vulnerable heart lessons learned along the way so that over time you formulate a core understanding of your value and your worth.
So that you feel brave enough to share that worth with others.
So that you can stand naked in front of anyone and say that you love your body.
So that you can rewrite the story of shame and self-loathing and begin to celebrate what is unique and particular about your beautiful form.
So that you can see your beauty long enough and openly enough that beauty becomes the only thing possible to see in another human being.
May we all celebrate our bodies.
Author: Melanie Everett
Apprentice Editor: Lois Person; Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Image: Simon Blackley/ Flickr