"I love my body. It's not perfect – far from it – but it's mine and it tells my story. From my hair, greying at the temples just like my mother's, to the rounded hips from my love of food, to the hardened soles of busy feet.
But I didn't always love it and it's the parts that people don't see that say the most.
I've never been all that slim. Since reaching adulthood I've not been smaller than around a dress size 14, which at my entirely average height is a little heavier than we are told is healthy and a lot wider than fashion and media tell us is beautiful.
I've never considered myself all that pretty. I don't tan, my skin is dry and the shape of my face is just nothing special. As a teenager I was a loner and didn't exactly have an army of boys chasing after me.
Then I fell in love with someone wonderful who loved me back. I'm not sure which of us was more surprised. Several years later we were married and starting a family. Having kids is never easy and difficult births are commonplace. My experience was a long, painful, terrifying one. Illness and slow progress conspired to see me facing my biggest fear: an emergency caesarean.
I'll spare you the details as they don't really matter here, but suffice to say that it was the most traumatic thing I have lived through. My body was damaged by the experience. I had purple stretch marks across most of my abdomen and round my hips, a long scar across the top of my pubic hair from the operation, and a number of little spots on my hands and lower back from drips and epidurals.
In a way, these scars represented everything that had gone wrong, all the pain and indignity I had suffered, all the things that were done to me about which I had no real choice – not if I wanted my baby to have the best chance at being born healthy.
In the first few weeks after the birth I had some terrible nightmares. Mostly they focussed on my baby being disfigured or disabled, not the perfect little boy he was.
Sometimes they focussed on me. I recall one particularly vivid image of my caesarean scar being a wide, gaping, festering wound. Slowly the scars began to heal. With counselling, and support from my husband and friends, so did my mind. I began to believe that my baby was growing and developing normally, nourished only by the milk my breasts provided. The evidence was there in front of me every day that this wounded, scarred body had produced life and even more miraculously was still sustaining it.
As my little boy grew so did my confidence in my parenting abilities. I began to believe that I was a good mum, but somewhere in amongst it all I had lost me. In the early days I had all but hidden away from the world, but slowly I came back to it. I was overwhelmed with how much it welcomed me back. Friends that I hadn't seen for months if not more offered smiles, hugs and kind words. Some of them even flirted with me a little, which at first I had no clue how to respond to. I began to remember that they loved me, and the scars under my clothes and in my mind made no difference to that.
As my boy started to eat real food I started to cook better, healthier family meals, thinking more about what I put on my plate because I'd be putting the same on his. Rather than rely on the car for every journey I walked, often with my child on my back, safe and snug in a sling. I also took up yoga, strengthening my core muscles and improving my flexibility. I was the slimmest, fittest, happiest I had been in years. It glowed through everything I said and did, even the way I stood. An old friend even commented that he had never known me sexier.
Through all of this I came to the realisation that my body, scars and all, was amazing. The folds of puckered skin on my belly tell the tale of how my body carried a child inside. The thin line underneath tells the story of how I was prepared to face anything for my son. The solid, toned muscles hidden inside tell of the inner strength I found with the help of my friends.
I carry these stories with me everywhere. It doesn't matter that nobody else sees them, because they are part of me. They are part of the woman who can fight her own corner, who can stand up and be counted, and who can draw so many positives from the most terrible thing she has ever experienced."
"Dear Body - I love you."
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