I thought I had come a long way in my relationship with my body and the mistaken equation of self-worth = perfect body. I have been reading about and working on self-care and self-love (though the wise Elizabeth Gilbert says self-love is too intimidating a concept and being friendly with yourself can feel more accessible) over the past two years. And even as my weight has crept up, and the wrinkles have settled in, I've found myself looking in the mirror and liking what I see, and remarking often how crazy it is that I am able to (most days) love this soft, generous body more than I was ever able to love my younger, fitter one.
I thought I could check off the "comfortable with and grateful for her own body" check box on my journey..... until I went to the beach today.
I put on my one piece black bathing suit at home, remembering how I first bought it years ago, when my son was a baby, and how much I loved the vintage looking cut, and how thankful I was that it still fit (though a bit tighter these days). I added a floppy hat and big sunglasses and felt almost glamorous, even as I sweatily lugged 3 bags of beach gear and a cooler to the car.
When I arrived, among the scores of families set up for picnics and bbqs beside the lake, the voice inside my head started to chatter. It was noticing all the moms sporting bikinis and tight abs, and counting up all the kids they have and chiding me for not making the time to work out harder, eat better and look like that. By the time we had set up our blanket and picnic and settled in, the voice had made me incredibly uncomfortable in my bathing suit, aware of the way my stomach rolled when I sat down to build a sand castle with my kids, and sure that these fit moms were judging me in the harsh way the voice in my head was judging myself.
Unlike the past though, I've cultivated more awareness around these thoughts, and an ability to step back and observe them. Instead of taking the voice for truth, I began to get curious and kind towards my thoughts and emotions. First, I remembered that this voice is often an asshole (one of the best lines in Dan Harris' 10% Happier) and that these thoughts are just that - thoughts - and I could choose to get wrapped up in them and spend the day in arguments and shame inside my own head, or I could notice them, name them (oh, there's judgement, there's shame) and let them go.
I wish I could say I snapped out of it immediately, but it was, as all things are, a process, and ebbed and flowed with the day. As I let the judgement and shame float away like clouds in the sky, I remembered to feel grateful for my able body, as I swam beside my kids, and as I kneeled in the sand, carving out rivers and dams to fill with buckets of water. I thought of my own mother, dealing with cancer and near constant pain and decided to just be thankful that I was able to play and enjoy my kids in this way.
I looked around again at all the families, and especially the mothers I had been sure we're judging me, and instead tried to imagine the stories that made each person, acknowledging that there was no way to know who they really are beneath their bodies, these mere coats we wear around our souls as we walk this earth. I silently apologized for judging them, and assuming that their bodies meant they were the type to judge others.
I made a point to notice the moms that were having fun with their kids, not noticing their bodies, but how they were swimming and splashing and pulling little blow up boats filled with giggling toddlers. I noticed their smiles and their joy as they gave their kids the only thing kids ask for, our presence.
I chose to be present on the most beautiful sunny day, aware of how the sun was warming my bare shoulders, of how the sand felt on my skin as my daughter buried my feet, of the joy in my son's toothless grin as he doggy paddled to the dock, of the glee in my daughters eyes as she jumped off the dock for the first time. I chose to be grateful for this day, this body and this family.
Being friendly with myself, and loving the body that houses my soul is becoming easier each day that I practice it, and I am realizing daily that "kindfulness" (my son's made up word combining kindness and mindfulness) is the best way that I know to be more present, grateful and content in all aspects of my life.