Sunday, October 18, 2015

It is The Most Amazing Thing You Will Ever Own

Tabs was born on the 30th of August after 6 minutes of pushing. I was vacuuming up until 30 minutes before she was born. It's a great story, but not one I will tell here.

Instead, I will tell a story with a little more weight:

I was fat in high school. I had no idea how to eat healthy, be healthy or to get healthy. I was getting up into the "obese" numbers by the time I was...14? 15? At any rate, I had hated the way I looked since I hit puberty. I felt a passionate loathing of myself in all reflections and photos, so much so that I developed a fear of getting my picture taken, lest I should end up having to look at it.  I had a long list of things I would change about my body once I could afford surgery.

At the age of 15 I started going on fad diets. I tried to exercise and I used both of these as a way to punish myself for looking the way I did. I desperately wanted to be anorexic but never was and was envious of girls so thin they died. Let me repeat that last part: I was envious of girls who starved themselves to death.

I don't think I was atypical. I could be wrong, but I think my reactions are fairly common among American girls. Our culture a toxic environment for girls. Getting sick is a normal reaction to being fed poison.

At age 17 I decided to go on another extreme diet: Vegetarianism. As I had just spent several months on the Atkins diet, it seemed very radical. I declared myself a vegetarian and started doing internet research to discover what being a vegetarian was all about. Of course, once I researched slaughterhouses my extreme diet turned into a moral diet, and after a while it became my normal.  I've never regretted the choice to become vegetarian. It's a choice I applaud my younger self for making. It's a choice I'm proud to make today. It turned out to be a choice that changed my life.

It changed my life because as it turns out, vegetarianism is not an extreme diet, but a healthy one. I lost 20 pounds in the first year without obsessing about it (I had bigger problems by then). One day I saw a photo of myself and realized I looked slim. I hadn't tortured myself into being slim; it just happened while I was paying attention to something else. Still, I couldn't actually LIKE the way I looked, that would be asking too much, so at the age of 19, even though I was in a healthy weight, I thought of myself as fat and ugly. I once again found myself on fad diets and wishing I could starve myself into something pretty.

But this time I had the advantage that my base diet was actually healthy: lots of salads and no meat. I also had the advantage that when people know you are vegetarian, they assume you are healthy and since people treated me that way I slowly began to learn more about what "healthy" actually is.  I read more, I learned more, I ate less high fructose corn syrup and drank more water.

Years later I was married and pregnant. The pregnancy became a huge problem as I realized that no matter what I did, no matter how I ate, no matter how much I exercised, I was going to gain weight. I hated my body during my pregnancy.  I felt betrayed by my body even though I had been abusing it for over a decade.

I decided to have a home-birth. I read and researched birth and home birth and came across some strange notions: A woman's body is capable. A women's body is strong. A women's body can do amazing things. I couldn't wrap my head around these ideas. Strong? Capable?  But isn't the only purpose of a women's body to be sexy?

I read more, I learned more, I grew more. The end of my pregnancy was marked by a beautiful birth that left me with something I had never before felt for my body: respect.

Four months later I was training for a half-marathon. I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight by the time my baby was nine months old. Once again, I hadn't tortured myself into running that far or losing the weight. I had to work hard, but I had to be kind to my body in order to do it.

Due to health complication, in order to become pregnant with my second child I had to drastically change the way I ate. I had already stopped eating processed foods and made whole  vegetarian food from scratch as much as possible, but in order to become pregnant I needed to stop eating sugar and dairy and really focus on eating leafy green vegetables. I didn't treat this drastic change as a fad diet intended to torture myself into getting the results I demanded, instead I treated my body with kindness. To be kind to my body I fed it foods I knew would nourish it and I kept away from foods I knew would harm it. This change in attitude had a powerful effect on my self-confidence and on my perspective.

Still, I found myself falling back into self-loathing at my pregnant self  for gaining weight. It takes a lot of hard work and a long time to break old habits.

When my second daughter was born I spent one morning looking at her perfect, beautiful, tiny body and wondered if she if she would hate it one day. I gasped out loud. I had just spent nine months creating that beautiful body! I had spent eight hours pushing that beautiful body into the world! I had sacrificed so much, including MY body, to give her that body! She better be appreciative! She better be grateful! She better not, not for one second, EVER hate her body!

And yet, when my second daughter was nine months old I looked in a mirror with despair: I weighed just as much as I did on the day she was born. I was overweight and unable to exhibit self-control over my food or exercise routines. What was wrong with me? If I hated the way I looked,  I should be determined enough to change it. If I couldn't lose weight by being kind to myself then I should force myself into being thin! I just HAD to lose weight! And then I had a small epiphany: Why? Why did I have to lose weight? Did I owe it to society to conform to their idea of sexy? Was my only worth a number on a scale?

I wasn't getting up and running in the morning because I was exhausted: my nights were spent feeding, loving, and soothing a small human being that needed me every two hours. My days were spent caring for and nurturing an active, bright three-year old, and spending time with my wonderful eternal companion.  I volunteered in my community, I tried to magnify my church calling. I ran a household, I spent time with friends and family. I read and wrote, discovered and developed talents and passions and was still trying to recover from a life-threatening kidney infection. And yet, I hated myself because I wasn't sexy? Because lowering a number on a scale wasn't my highest priority?

So I gave myself  time. I took care of what was important, and my love-handles did not make that list.

This came about because I had recently realized that there were women all around me who hated their bodies with the same passion I had toward my body as a teenager. In my eyes these women were beautiful. They had strong, capable bodies and nothing to lose in terms of weight. Still, they hated themselves and I didn't understand why.

So I went and did some research. My incredible sister-in-law recommended a documentary, I read several blog posts, I watched a few short clips on You Tube and I viewed and contemplated this statement of art. I was stunned by the enormous, disgusting mess our society had created. I was angry that women were suffering, that young girls were hurting themselves, and that I had spent to much time in self-loathing, why? So some people could make money? We were suffering because of money?

I was so angry and disgusted and hurt. I couldn't quantify how big the problem was and I couldn't even begin in to figure out how to change it. This was the exact time I was called into Young Women and put in charge of an activity to help the girls who were dealing with feelings of hate towards their bodies.

In an effort to to put together that activity, I turned to the gospel for help and was amazed to discover that our prophets, apostles, and leaders were very aware of the problem and had the solution.

Eventually, when my kidney infection was gone, when my daughter slept through the night, and when I found the motivation through friendship instead of through the desire to be sexy, I was able to devote my some time into working out and eating better. This time I didn't judge my success by the falling numbers on the scale, but my energy levels, my ability to more push-up than I did the day before, and in respecting my body.

As of  November of last year, I was at a healthy 897* pounds. In January, I found myself 12 weeks pregnant, at a doctor's office, and being asked to step on the scale.

I hesitated. Seeing numbers on a scale really messes with my mind. Even though I understand I am a person, a human being with a meaningful life, somehow when I see the numbers, I feel as if they are telling me my value, not my relation to gravity, and no matter what they say, I always want them to be lower. ALWAYS.

I stepped on the scale backwards, so I couldn't see the numbers and explained to the nurse that I didn't want to know how much I weighed.

She acknowledged my request and pressed whatever buttons you have to press to get the machine to tell you the numbers.

"Ok." she said, "you can step off and put your shoes back on." She then took up my chart and as she was writing down the results, she announced "897."  I assume she has a disease where she has to say aloud everything she writes?

My mind raced. In a matter of seconds this is what I thought: 897? I'm twelve weeks pregnant and haven't gained a single pound? It must be because I'm eating so many vegetables! It must because I'm throwing up so much because of morning sickness. It must be because I'm staying so active. How can I make more of my food vegetables? How can I make myself throw up more and eat less? How can I be more active? How can I make it so that I stay at this weight and not gain anything this whole pregnancy?

Not one thought was "Is the baby gaining weight? Is the baby growing as it should? Am I giving my body what it needs to nurture this baby?"

I had to talk sense into myself then, and several times over the following weeks as I entered my second trimester and did start gaining weight. I had to ignore the numbers and instead tell myself the baby was growing and that my body was amazing, I had to tell myself that my worth was far deeper and more complex than a number could ever represent. I told myself that being sexy wasn't anything compared to the ability to grow a human inside myself.

That was the key for me; to be able to say that I was of infinite worth, and being sexy was negligible. That I was important, and more important things to do that worry about my looks.

On September 6, a week after I had pushed a new life into this world, After taking a shower I glimpsed the reflection of my naked body in the mirror. I stopped and turned to examine that reflection. I looked at it not with the eyes I had developed over the last several years: eyes that looked at a whole person, at a human being, and a force of life with dreams and fears and hopes and insecurities, but with more critical eyes; ones that look at a leg, and then at a hip, and then a bulge or a puff.

But instead of loathing what I saw, I was impressed. A week ago my stomach was stretched at least four feet, today it was sucked back into a surprisingly flat position. A week ago I had been stretched out to the point of breaking in half, today I was walking around, feeling fine. My hips were round, my thighs large, but they looked like the pictures painted by the masters, and I was happy with that.

"Looking good." I said to myself.

While being constantly bombarded with society's image of bodies, society's opinion on the value of women, and society's sickening perversion of sexuality, I find it so very difficult to keep a positive attitude about myself.  Having lived so long with thoughts of self-loathing and habits of criticizing my body  I find that the change to set positive habits is a daily struggle.

And yet, It's a much better life to live. When I love and accept myself as a beautiful human being with flaws and strengths and hopes and accomplishments, I can accept others as beautiful human beings with flaws and strengths and hopes and accomplishments, I can set a good example for my daughters, I can try and change the world so they will not have to go through what I did, what I see so many others struggling with.

The world would be so much better if every woman accepted herself and others. The world would be so much better if every time a teenager saw herself in the mirror she would smile, instead if scowl.

My world would be so much better if every time I saw my body I simply told myself "Looking good."

* Numbers have been changed to protect the readers and writer from comparisons