There are days when I hate the body I see in the mirror. Days when I can only see the wrinkles and age spots; the cellulite bubbles and weird fat bulges that squeeze out of the side of my tank top between my breasts and upper arm.
I notice the poochy belly. I tuck my stomach in and squeeze my abs as tight as possible while still being able to breathe, and then I exhale. That’s when my first-trimester-even-though-I’m-not-pregnant belly returns.
If I’m feeling particularly punishing, my gaze will move down to my legs, focusing on the skin that folds over my knees and robust ankles that in other generations would have indicated I was from “good stock.”
Some days I don’t even need to look in the mirror to feel the surge of disgust and disappointment at the way my body has changed in recent years. My thighs rub together, my knees pop, and if I’m wearing anything other than tennis shoes with orthopedic inserts, my heels throb with pain.
I don’t always hate my body or the way I look. In fact, most days I feel pretty good about my body. But on those days when the critical voices are loud and particularly obnoxious, I can usually shut them down by reminding myself of all that my body has been through.
This belly has housed a human; these breasts have fed a child.
This waist has bent over thousands of times to pick up LEGO and toy trains.
This chest has been a pillow to sleeping heads; a soft spot for tears to be shed. It has literally given life — so how could it not be a little stretchy, rounder, looser, or saggier?
These arms have held sleeping babies, carried 10 grocery bags at once, and lifted suitcases well over the 50-pound weight limit stuffed with blankies, books, and toys. They have carried tantruming toddlers out of restaurants in a football hold.
These arms have lifted children in and out of swings and helped them get down when they climbed too high. So what if they are a little less taut, a little softer, and a little more robust?
These hands have braided hair and wiped butts. They have held the hands of toddlers waiting to cross the street and shown preschoolers how to hold a pencil. They have turned the pages of books, wiped tears, and clapped loudly at the end of approximately 192 school performances. How could they not be a little thicker and swollen, calloused and spotty?
These legs have hiked mountains, run races, and chased after runaway toddlers in the grocery store. These legs have jumped and biked and danced. They have run up the stairs — sometimes taking two or three steps at a time when a child’s cries are heard. They have jumped off diving boards and swam with fish in the ocean. So what if they have a few lines and bubbles, ripples and creaks?
These eyes have seen my spouse’s tears when our babies were born. They have witnessed first steps and about a million falls. They have seen thousands of sunsets and nearly as many sunrises. They have watched the joy and pain expressed in children’s eyes. They have seen a million different kinds of happiness, and fortunately, fewer kinds of sadness. How could they not have a few creases in the corners and lines etched above them?
This mouth has smiled with joy and whimpered with pain. It has laughed at knock-knock jokes told 10, 20, 30 times in a row. This mouth has made silly faces and feigned excitement over the latest Minecraft house. It has shrieked with glee when given a child’s handmade gift. How can that delight and pain not be engraved with a few feathery wrinkles?
This body has been a physical manifestation of decades’ worth of love and loss, joy and pain, strength and vulnerability. How in the world could it not be altered as a result?
Sometimes I look in the mirror and see these alterations as flaws. I look at these signs of aging and motherhood and wish them away. I rub my fingers down my forehead as if I might be able to smooth away the lines like a giant pink eraser. But to do that would be to erase the signs that I felt excitement, surprise, and joy.
Just as a woman’s heart is forever changed, becoming bigger, rawer, and braver once she becomes a mother, a mother’s body is also forever changed, growing softer, stronger, and fuller. Why should I wish that away?
This body as lived life, given life, and nurtured life.
The ripples and cellulite bubbles, the saggy skin and stretch marks, the creaks and groans, pooches and rolls — they aren’t flaws. They are embellishments and beauty marks of a life lived and a woman transformed.