Tag Archives: Body Appreciation

Live a little. Like your body.

Text and image via Caroline Caldwell.

Text and image via Caroline Caldwell.

On Sunday morning I got up, showered, and put on tights, pencil skirt, short-sleeved blouse. We were travelling to a family baptism, and while Tim’s family are, without qualification, the nicest people I have ever come across, I get a bit quivery about these things beforehand. My Stress Items that morning included the 100% likelihood that T would dirty his pants at some point during the day, and the Introvert’s Dilemma, i.e., the real possibility that I would forget how to talk and smile like a human when faced with large crowds of people. The clothes were on the stress list too. What did my arms look like, exposed like this? Would my skirt ride up when I bent over small children? Did I look fat? I went out to the car, on edge. I applied lipstick outside the lines as we drove down country lanes.

Anyway, all Stress Items were relatively unnecessary, as always, and we had a lovely time. On Monday morning I got up, showered, and put on a printed blouse, a bright jumper, a pair of skinny jeans, Hogwarts socks and leather trainers. I looked at myself in the mirror and felt overpowering, heady relief. I wear a version of this outfit almost every day. It gives me permission not to worry about belly overhang or wobbly thighs. I can leap to grab a wipe in an emergency and rough-handle a pushchair over tree-roots and mud. I can do anything, and it feels most like being myself. Oh, the buzz of returning confidence nearly knocked me over. I went out cheerfully. I smashed my to-do list.

Accepting how you look and wearing things you love seem to me to be two sides of the same coin. They say: I inhabit this body with appreciation and without shame. I deserve to take up space. I deserve to be happy, regardless of what shape I might see in the mirror. It’s not a message women get from many places. The more I think about feminism, the more I realise that when you don’t find what you need around you, then you have to get on and carve it out yourself.

Accepting how you look and wearing things you love seem to me to be two sides of the same coin. They say: I inhabit this body with appreciation, and without shame.

I would have saved myself decades of Stress Items if I’d concentrated on loving what I saw in the mirror, rather than wishing I saw something else. I felt out of place as a teenager with a slight, flat-chested frame, at a time when my peers were filling bras and having their straps twanged in class (sometimes I think that if teenage boys weren’t necessary for the propagation of the species, they would be caged and quietly sedated). Pregnant-me couldn’t control how much she weighed or how big she got at all, and to my shame – there’s that word again – it was one of the hardest things about it. I don’t want to repeat that mistake if I head towards pregnancy again (a possibility we still haven’t ruled out).

As Caroline Caldwell says, ‘In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act’.

I am ready to be rebellious.

So, instead of Stress Items, I have set out four Items of Body Appreciation for myself.

one, Eat More of the Good Stuff (Along With the Less Good Stuff; I’m Not a Sadist)

Hi, here comes a person who could live entirely on beige foods – bread, cheese, potatoes, custard – and call it good. While I will defend the noble carb to my dying breath, I do feel and look worse (I’m talking flaky nails and spotty skin here, not fat) when I’m not eating a properly balanced diet. I will not hear of cutting out food groups, ESPECIALLY the nice ones, COME ON, but I have been making huge efforts to buy in nuts, fruit, unusual vegetables, fish and spinach, and eat more of the good stuff. The best thing about it is that I feel like I’m taking care of myself. No, the best thing about it is that I’m still eating chocolate. But the first one is the other best thing.

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two, Walk Fast Every Day

I’m not in a running phase right now – the pure hatred has temporarily overcome the benefits – but I love walking and, with the school run, usually get through about five miles a day. The effect it has on me is miraculous: the air, the birdsong, the woods, the feeling of boots in mud, the muscle strain of lugging the pushchair over bumpy ground… I am more relaxed, more expansive, and feel better about everything. When it pours and we can’t get out, I feel basically the opposite of all that.

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three, No Weigh-Ins Unless I Have Excellent and Pressing Reason

I wrote about this here, and I’m sticking to it. If I’m prioritising points one and two, there is no reason on earth that I need to know what numbers are on the scale. How could you – you, with all your history and your loves and struggles and hormone waves and mysterious depths – know anything about yourself from a number? It. Is. Irrelevant. After a lifetime of anxiously totting up each pound, I’m trying so hard to let it go. Like Elsa, but about love handles.

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four, Never Ever Ever Trash Talk My Body In Front of My Kids

H wore just a t-shirt to school the other day, for the first time, but demurred about showing his arms. ‘What on earth’s the matter?’ I asked him.

‘I don’t want people to see these’, he said. Pointing to two minuscule freckles on one skinny forearm. It was the first time I’d ever heard him criticise his body, which in his four-and-a-half years has only ever been something that could run, jump, climb, laugh. For a moment I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

I have never trash-talked freckles in front of him – I have approximately seventeen thousand; what would be the point – so it’s possible that he’s got that from someone else. But he has certainly seen me stepping on the scales, and pulling handfuls of chub away from my hips, though I try not to say anything negative out loud. How dare I? How dare I teach him about body anxiety – huffing my discontent about the belly that grew him – before he’s even learned to read?

In a world in which they will learn which parts of them are acceptable and which are not, and very quickly, the only thing I can do is surround them with countermessages of acceptance and love, as strongly as I can. They deserve to love themselves. They can only do that if we show them how it’s done.

I’m going to practise how it’s done.

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My body is amazing

That’s what I’ve been making Henry repeat over and over around the house lately. You can do that with two-year-olds. Mostly I do it for my own amusement, but this time I mean it.

‘Your body is…?’ I prompt, helpfully.

‘Amaaaaazing!’ he chips in. With jazz hands.

He runs, he jumps, he stands on one leg and thinks it’s hilarious, he draws around his hands and counts on his fingers. Today he wanted to look at belly buttons, so we did: his a proper button outie, mine a stretchy, pockmarked valley, a casualty of birth. He put his head down on my stomach to listen to the food squelching inside, and pummelled the skin like bread dough, which is what it most resembles. I worked hard, hard, harder not to say anything negative about my squashiness. I told him about the boys that had lived in there, and everything my belly has done. I told him it was amazing.

I make a huge fuss of the good food he eats, tracing the vitamins and energy from his stomach, down his arms to the tips of his fingers and soles of his feet. At night we talk about the little men in his head, switching off his eyes and making his limbs heavy, so that they can help him grow and repair while he sleeps. (I hope to get more scientific on this one as we go along.)

He’ll get a different message eventually, but for now, this is the one I want ringing in his ears.

His body is amazing. Jazz hands.

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I think I took that phrase from Hollie McNish’s poem ‘Wow’, which I cannot, cannot recommend you hear enough. (I tried hard to find a transcript, but couldn’t – here’s a performance of it.) 

Five ways to throw yourself a thank you party and mean it

Big news! Next year I am thirty, and I’m preparing for it with a grapefruit scented face wipe.

By rights the Big Three should set off all sorts of anxieties and crises. It might, yet. But I thought it might be nice to spend the year leading up it trying hard to take care of myself, and appreciating my body for everything it does. It’s a good egg, my body. The last few years have been pregnancy-birth-pause-pregnancy-birth, which is all miraculous and everything, but does take a lot of hard work on the part of my cells. Well, put your feet up, cells. This time’s for you. Here’s a grapefruit wipe to show my regard.

Here are the five ways I’ll be treating myself right this year, in small ways and large:

clean up better. 

These wrinkles, they’re not messing around. I’m sorry to admit in such a public forum that I’m the sort of skanky toad who leaves their make up on at night. It’s true, alas. But now I’m taking off my make up every night before bed (hence the wipes), and using face cream. Do you know, my face feels all soft in the mornings now. I just want to rub it against things.

bath better.

I don’t actually know whether baths are good for you. I tend to use water hot enough to scald, so perhaps not. But they make me feel better, which means less stress, which means less nail-biting, fast-breathing and anxiety-bowel-churning.

eat better.

We came home from the States feeling greasy and exhausted. Did you know that eating too many chips will turn you into one? We’re off fast food completely for January, just to recover (ohhh, those burgers. I REGRET NOTHING). Thereafter, while I’ll worship at the Altar of Doughnut as enthusiastically as ever, I want to stop eating when I’m full, and eat more of the vitamin-packed stuff that will make me feel good. I switched to whole-wheat spaghetti last week. That’s how much I mean it.

move better.

Blech, exercise. I am not the sort to feel fresh and buzzing with life after I’ve come in from a run. I feel like all of my internal organs are crying salty tears into open wounds. But thanks to my sister, I have a free gym membership, and I think my body would thank me if I used it. Yesterday I went in and ran and stretched and planked until I sweated. Normally I only sweat when sprinting to stop Henry using Teds as a bobsleigh, so it was a nice change of pace. My abdominal muscles appear to have left the building without telling me, and today I am a walking bruise. But I think I do feel better.

think better.

This is the big one. I was dressing for church while we were at my mum’s over Christmas, and looked critically at my outfit before we left. Hmm, I thought. A bit fat. Then, for the first time in, I don’t know, EVER, I thought you know what? I just had a baby. It’s really ok. So I turned firmly away from the mirror and didn’t think about it again. Every time I feel guilty this year about looking like I had a baby, I have resolved to give myself a mental slap. I did have a baby. It’s really ok. And my reflection doesn’t own me. It sits in two dimensions, and lucky, lucky me, with my arms and legs and eyebrows and small intestine, all of it fitting together like a dream: I get to run around in three.

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