Today, on this day of our Lord April the 11th, I was wearing one of my first tank tops of the season. This was also the day when my toddler, who was on my hip, noticed the armpit crease rolls that inhabit my upper boob region. He noticed this part of me in the way only toddlers can, with much ooing and ahhing, pointing, and COUNTING. Yes, he proceeded to count the tiny folds in my armpit rolls. “One two, four, one two, one two.” He isn’t terribly great at counting, to be honest.
This moment sent me spinning into quite a mental process, which started with a gut-reacting, “GIVE ME SOME HAND WEIGHTS IMMEDIATELY!” and ended with a deep, unexpected joy and gratitude. Parenting is such a mind game…
What happened in that moment, and what led to the ultimate overwhelming sense of gratitude was this thought: I have come so far. I can’t believe it.
Some of my most vivid memories of adolescence are shopping with my mom in middle school. I distinctly remember her always encouraging me to show a little more skin. Perhaps she could tell that in my middle school mind, covering up was becoming my only option. It was probably her way of affirming how I look and who I am, hoping I could gain a little confidence and comfort with my body as it changed and grew. Mine is the story of almost every woman I know, rejecting the idea that there is goodness in the body we inhabit. The body existed to be subdued, starved, belittled, and hated. Basically, abused. (In what other context can we starve, belittle, and hate with so much celebration) I felt expected to treat my body as separate from myself, as a sort of enemy. I was learning to love as Christ loved, but extending that to myself was always the exception.
It’s funny how completely unrelated self-love and my actual appearance are. Divorcing my size and my skin clarity and my muscle tone from my worthiness of love has been some of the most profound and life-changing work of my adult life. Choosing to pursue love for myself has deepened my capacity to love the people around me. And it is a choice I have to consciously choose again and again and again. It still has never felt easy, but tasting freedom has changed me.
In the moment with Ezra, the smallest most mundane moment, I got the chance to step into his world with him and laugh and count together. It was a moment that would have been lost a few years ago, when my focus surely would have been on the actual existence of fat deposits on my body. Instead, it was just another sweet moment shared between the two of us. He won’t remember it, and I don’t need him. But it served as a beautiful reminder of how far I have come.
In that moment I felt the weight of what might have been. How easy it would be for me to pass down that same message to him I have had to fight against. And I’m sure in so many ways I am passing down my traumas, as I fumble through life navigating who I was, who I am, and who I am becoming. But I am convinced that if I am ever going to expect Ezra to see himself as lovable, I have to embody that toward myself. If I want to live in a world where people of every size can love themselves, I need to also love every inch of me.
There are people in my life who have modeled this for me, and it’s changed my life. They’ve taught me that self-love doesn’t happen over night. That it is a choice to practice each and every moment. It is available to me always, no matter what mistakes I make or how many armpit rolls show when I am wearing a tank top. And they have also shown me that when I choose to love myself, I am participating in the transformative work of Christ. I am seeking justice, in the most intimate way. I am embodying God’s divine work in the world.
So, friends, may you choose to love yourselves today. And choose it again and again. The next time my toddler triggers a gut-reaction of shame in me, I may not find the strength to stay present in that innocent moment with him. But grace keeps me showing up and thankful I get to be on this journey, surrounded by people who call me toward a better way.