Women experience the greatest changes of their lives—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—during their pregnancy and postpartum time. Almost without exception, these changes will force a woman to come face-to-face with her acceptance and love, or lack thereof, for her body. This is a personal story from my experience, and it will serve as inspiration for any woman—pubescent, pregnant, menopausal, or golden years—who’s ever felt a lack of love for any of her “parts!”
I attended a private Catholic grade school. That might imply that I had a Catholic family that could afford private school education. In fact, we weren’t Catholic, and my single, hard-working mom stretched each dollar to keep the household going.
Every summer she would make an appointment to meet the school director, Monsignor Botik, to petition for a hardship and academic scholarship for me. Combined they would cover tuition for the year. With every visit, she would endure a lecture about being divorced and not baptizing her children Catholic (fair enough—we were on their turf). Then we were granted another year’s free ride.
Books and uniforms were expensive, but since there were venues to buy them used and at serious discounts, that’s where my earnings from a summer of washing neighbors’ cars and walking dogs came in.
First through fifth graders wore a thin white button down shirt with a jumper over it. In sixth grade the uniform changed from the jumper to a skirt worn with that same thin, white—see-through—shirt. So that’s the time, needed or not, girls started wearing bras.
Most girls in sixth grade were 11, if not already 12—and pubescent. Having started school earlier than most (a late fall birthday) and then skipping first grade (an early record of academic accomplishment) left me 10 as classes started.
Picture the contrast: the body of a skinny 10 year old in a class of well-fed 12 year olds.
My concern, as summer’s end approached, wasn’t our serious financial struggle nor lack of any adults in my life with whom I felt safe. It was that come September, I was going to be called “flat”—by the boys and the girls.
I lay in bed the night before the first day of sixth grade—my uniform and new training bra (training?—what a term!) pressed and hanging on my door—thinking, “Is it possible that my boobs will grow in time for school tomorrow?”
I woke up disappointed.
From then almost through high school, being thin worked against me. No butt, no boobs. Then, college time. That’s when I traded places in the “I don’t like my body” mode of existence with the girls who’d had sexy shapes. Suddenly, they had big everythings to match their boobs—which had started to hang. I had—if not full—at least something perky to speak of.
But that didn’t mean I loved my boobs. I’d spent so many years feeling that my appearance were inferior that I didn’t really appreciate my body when it was finally—according to the general public—acceptable (even considered “hot” in some camps).
Over time, with a growing appreciation of nutrition, exercise, health and gratitude, I began to love my body, partially for its appearance, but primarily for how it served me, allowing with its resilience and mobility great opportunities in my life.
However, true love of my breasts was still elusive—maybe because we live in a world in which we are bombarded with the message that we’re attractive if we have a svelte body and enormous, projectile breasts—a combo that rarely happens in nature, and happens increasingly as women risk their health and very life under the knife.
It wasn’t until I was 42 that I truly loved my boobs. I was 38 weeks pregnant and taking a long, luxurious soak in a warm bath when it happened.
I looked down, and there falling from my breasts into the water was colostrum—the “first milk” produced late in pregnancy, and a sign that childbirth is nigh.
I smiled and cried. There it was. I had a baby in my womb. I had beautiful, perfect breasts, producing the perfect life-giving food for my baby who I’d be meeting face to face any day now. And I had, for the first time, not only complete acceptance of each and every molecule of my body—but I truly loved them all.
I finally felt that I was a perfect, beautiful WOMAN—and that all women are perfect and beautiful. Great and small, mothers or without children, in all corners of the earth, our female bodies are a perfect expression of creation, created by the Creator.
I know it wouldn’t do much good to tell the “skinny flat” teenager, or the “fat hanging” teenager, or likely any teenager—but I wish I could reach every girl on Earth and help her feel the depth of my realization, help her know that she’s beautiful and to feel gratitude, to care for, and to love her body. There are so many people (entire industries!) whose very reason for existence is to convince her otherwise.
Amazingly, just yesterday as I was considering how to conclude this piece, a woman in her 50s—hearing that I was nursing my toddler—said to me, “With those? Don’t you need big ones to nurse a toddler?”
I was shocked.
I hadn’t heard a comment like that in decades—and at the moment I’m writing this piece a woman with two grown children thought it was acceptable to think or say that to another woman.
It was no accident that she said that to me now—it was a sign: it’s not just teenagers who need to hear messages of body-love. It’s likely the great majority of all women.
And so, dear Women, old and young, short and tall, fat and thin, pale and dark, smooth, frizzy, straight, freckled, wrinkled, stretch-marked, scarred, and missing parts:
You are the masterpiece of The Maestro! Rejoice in your flesh and give thanks!
So I’ve told you. Maybe you needed to receive this message now, or maybe you have a daughter, niece, friend or neighbor who needs to receive it and you can pass it on.
Body love, like any true love, is probably something that can’t ever be felt simply by hearing a message—but a message can plant the seed.
And seeds—sooner or later—bloom.
Along the way to finding this body-love, if you hear a disparaging comment from a man or women, if you can stay grounded and centered, you can look at them with love, smile, and say nothing—understanding that the source of the comment is ignorance or their own pain.
However, if you’re not feeling abundant, free-flowing love, and you really need to, there’s always…
My boobs are fabulous, B#tch!
Illustration, Top of the World, used under license from artist: Jane Delaford Taylor