As women, we are bombarded by ads and advice for products or remedies designed to cover gray, lift your butt, reduce the appearance of wrinkles, make scars go away, make your boobs look bigger, flatten your tummy, and in every possible way, minimize your imperfections. As mothers we must consider a whole other list of “must-have” products to minimize stretch marks and other pregnancy-caused changes. We worry our lives away about all these imperfections, each mark upon our bodies, never once stopping to consider them as the story of our lives, of who we are, etched into our bodies by Mother Nature herself. We are told through visual images, subtle words and sometimes even outright statements that we must fight against these things because they make us imperfect.
The fact is that we don't have to fight this implied war. Because there isn't a problem to begin with.
Every mark on my body tells my story: The scar on my forehead speaks of the time when I was two and needed stitches for running into a wall at full force. The stretch marks on my inner thighs tell of my incredible growth spurt when I was 14. The scar on my wrist tells of when I had surgery to remove a small ganglion cyst. And the stretch marks, well, everywhere else, tell of my first pregnancy, the one which changed every aspect of my being from soul to belly. They tell of the water I retained, and the amazing little girl who grew inside me. They are a part of me. Imperfect. Beautiful.
I recently watched Babies with my kids, a documentary chronicling the lives of four babies across the globe from before birth to toddlerhood. It was incredible. Honest, heartwarming, cutest stuff on the big screen, ever, and, most of all, enlightening. One thing that struck me was how the mamas in Namibia, who were always shirtless, looked like so many mamas I've seen on The Shape of a Mother, and not unlike myself in some ways -– but they carried not even a hint of shame. Pendulous breasts, swinging, yanked around by the baby -– and it was normal. Because it is normal! Their bodies tell their stories. They haven't been told to live to the the standards to which we hold ourselves. Because no matter what, our bodies will change as we grow older gracefully. These mamas just sit there in all their normal beautiful imperfect selves. All women –- those who have birthed or mothered children as well as those who haven't –- should strive to live that free.
I'm a people watcher. I'm drawn to imperfections. I happen to find them unique and lovely. I remember being in middle school and admiring all the cool girls, even their imperfections. The way their hair didn't cooperate, or maybe their small breasts or rounded belly, their sloppy handwriting or scribbles, a nose that might be considered long or large –- these were my ideas of beauty. Of course I could not apply these beauty rules to myself until very recently, and even then only by some sort of mental force. I've had to work at it. Every picture of me with bad posture, or where I am making some bizarre face, or which shows my double chin, I've had to make the conscious choice to shrug and tell myself, “Oh well. That's who I am. And I AM beautiful.” No excuses for it. No ignoring it. My beauty encompasses my entire self. My beauty, inside and out, tells my story.
“No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful.” One of my favorite bands ever, They Might Be Giants, taught me one of my favorite quotes ever in their song, Don't Let's Start. I'm sure the duo didn't intend it to be about body image, and yet, the quote fits the topic. I've met very few people who are fully happy with how they look –- most everyone feels this frustration of wishing they had something else. It is beautiful –- in part because we are in this together and can support each other in our journey on this road to loving ourselves wholly. More importantly, and more simply, it is beautiful because it is beautiful. You are beautiful. Your story is beautiful. Your imperfections, particularly, are beautiful.
The entire act of living is imperfect (and that is beautiful), so why on Earth do we expect this aspect to be any different? But what's more is that once one has embraced imperfection, she finds that it, in itself, is beautiful. Each little line that caresses my belly, the joy springing around my eyes, the strands of silver hiding among my ash-brown hair -– this is my road map that will show you my travels. And the path my story has taken has been twisted and difficult at times, but I wouldn't change it for anything because it brought me to where I am now. And my body will show you that. And that is perfectly beautiful.
One more thing.
The homework that Karen suggested this month is powerful stuff. I know this because I've done it. Years ago. I didn't even realize what I was doing at first, and a large part of me worried that I was being vain in taking so many self-portraits. But it's not vanity; it was an instinct that lead me to take photos of various aspects of myself, almost obsessively. Some part of me knew it would help to heal my view of myself. Over time, the need to photograph myself lessened as the ability to find beauty in various aspects of myself became easier. I haven't followed her homework this month as much as I originally wanted to, and I find that is partly because I don't need it that deeply right now. But I still want to participate! So I think I will focus, specifically, on my so-called flaws that tell my story and the parts of my body which I sometimes forget to love.
Check out this amazing video from Caitlin Crosby and realize there are no flaws.
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Own Your Beauty is a groundbreaking, year-long movement bringing women together to change the conversation about what beauty means. Our mission: to encourage and remind grown women that it is never too late to learn to love one's self and influence the lives of those around us - our mothers, friends, children, neighbors. We can shift our minds and hearts and change the path we follow in the pursuit of authentic beauty.
This blogger is also featured on EndlessBeauty.com, a website focused on a fresh look at beauty, from skin to hair to makeup, plus celeb style, fashion, and fitness.
Bonnie Crowder blogs at The Shape of a Mother.
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