I guess I’ve always assumed God didn’t care one way or another about my body. Certainly, we can only delight in each other if I’m alive, but, past that very low bar, I pictured him opinion-less on other corporal issues, assuming him to be more the heart-and-soul kind. Plus, this body – flesh, to echo the Apostle Paul – only gets me in trouble anyway, right? In a Flesh versus Spirit contest, we’re always pulling for Team Spirit.
So in January of this year when God kept whispering to me about a renaissance, I assumed we were talking “spiritual awakening.” I kept my eyes open for when he might show me something new or arrest my attention on my drive to work and dissolve me into a puddle of tears.
Didn’t happen. At least, no more than usual.
Which means I didn’t even recognize it as “spiritual” the first time I looked at my toddler’s face last winter and audibly gasped at how jaw-droppingly much she looked like me at three years old. It was almost spooky – you pull that girl’s bangs back and voilà! It’s little Amie, but with lighter hair.
Other people noticed too. I began hearing the clichéd “mini me” stuff. We ran into one of my former professors who said, “Well, didn’t your mama just spit you right out?” (My daughter, confused, said, “No.”) Luckily, though, she takes this as a compliment and even asks me regularly, “Will you put my bangs back so I can look like you?” (Tears!)
That’s when I began to understand. I don’t have to lose weight to be a better mom. My being overweight does not consign her to a life of the same. She is not me, and her life experiences will differ from mine. BUT if her appearance is constantly equated with mine and I’m constantly talking about how I don’t like the way I look, she’s going to absorb this about herself. I knew this already, but I began to grasp the urgency. When you’re three, if Mama says it, it’s true. If Mama says it enough, it becomes your bedrock belief. Whatever I uploaded to her about myself, she would compute as a message about herself.
This revelation fueling me, I made excellent health choices for a few months. I felt wonderful about how I was treating my body and what I was teaching her about hers. Then in mid-March, I was hurled into the dark canyon of postpartum depression, about six months after giving birth to my younger daughter. Postpartum depression for me is a ravenous, chilling, inky black that seeps into my brain and consumes all light. I didn’t know it had been crouching in the shadows, waiting for a vulnerable moment, nor did I know when I’d be able to wrest myself free. I felt angry and helpless and feral. And for the record: I don’t feel one ounce of shame over the way I ate during that period. There are times I believe we must simply survive, even if it means allowing the better angels of our nature to hibernate.
But, three months later, I resurfaced. I remembered watching a boyfriend run a 5k on Thanksgiving a decade earlier, noting with surprise the varied sizes and shapes of the runners. I remembered the urgency I felt to raise more body-confident girls than I had been. I remembered the maternal care I had solemnly promised to give myself when I started my weight loss journey in 2011. I remembered the merlot-colored leather pencil skirt and chic black sweater I wore at my 28th birthday dinner. I remembered the feeling of blowing a kiss to the mirror in the morning after I finished my makeup. I remembered, in short, who I was.
That’s when God’s promised renaissance sparked. In July, we moved into a house with a pool. I got in every time I wanted, in a swimsuit without a T-shirt, no matter who was around. I realized my body was swimsuit-ready and that I had to show my daughters regularly that theirs are too. In October, I started running. In November, I ran my first-ever 5k with my sister. For my birthday, I got my ears re-pierced and sayonara-ed everything in my closet that made me feel ugly. This month, I established myself with a primary care physician for the first time since my childhood. (I used walk-ins for a couple of decades since they don’t weigh you.) I’m halfway considering springing for an Infinity Curl Pro with any Christmas money I might receive because I love curly hair. I’m eating well 80% of the time, which is the least strict and most committed I’ve ever been. Weight is coming off, slowly, but speed is no longer my focus.
I’m coming around to my body; we are on speaking terms now. I’m not trying to destroy it with sugar or punishing workouts. I’m not holding it to an impossible standard and then berating it when it can’t keep up. I’m trying to get to know it, care for it, and do with it what I hope my girls will do with theirs: show it respect. This is completely foreign to me, but I’m only 33. I’ll get there. And as best as I can, I’m going to raise this firework to keep dancing in tulle-skirted princess dresses with superhero capes because that is one thing these bodies were always designed to do.