I’m too sexy for my…BODY.

So, it’s February now, Folks. Time to ask ourselves how we’re doing on meeting our goals for the New Year? Specifically, the goal of achieving great health and fitness! Are we kickin’ it’s butt? Have we fallen off the wagon?

“Lose weight” makes my list every year. Over the last few years, I have lost weight, just like I wanted to. And then I gained it back. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it is supposed to work. As I thought about what might happen in 2012, I wondered what I could do differently.

In November, a friend of mine forwarded a message to me about an online Body Restoration class being offered by the Brave Girls Club at www.bravegirlsclub.com. I knew about the Brave Girls, but I hadn’t heard about the class yet. If you are unfamiliar with the Brave Girls Club, they describe themselves as “a worldwide community of women who want to live the best, happiest, most productive and fabulously brave life they can possibly liveā€¦and that means something different to every single one of us.” It was founded in 2009 by Melody Ross and Kathy Wilkins. While they offer many amazing opportunities, I think they are best known for their Soul Restoration workshops and Brave Girl Camps. Their website is beautiful – filled with gorgeous images and inspiring words. I am in love with it.

The class sounded intriguing, and fun, so I registered. Before the class even began, I figured out what would need to be different in order for me to meet my great health goals by the end of this year. First, I knew I had to want it. I knew that because my Weight Watchers leader told me so when she heard me say, “I need to…” She told me that if I thought I needed to lose weight, I wouldn’t, but if I wanted to do it, I would. That made sense to me, especially since most anything I think I need to do gets put off until the last possible second. Second, I knew in my heart that if I was going to change my lifestyle, it had to come from a place of self-love, rather than self-hate. Ouch. It hurts to even think about how much I have hated myself at different points in my life. This requires going to a dark place and until recently, I was afraid of the dark. Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences – I’m not sure I do), as I figured out what needed to be different, I also figured out that the Brave Girls’ Club Body Restoration class might very well help me to bridge the gap between self-hate and self-love. Ahh…huge sigh of relief. Not even a brave girl should have to go into the dark alone.

The objective of the class is to “make peace with your body through art and journaling.” Obviously, I love journaling and the art part entails making collages. SO FUN! My mom is taking the class too. She is a master journaling artist. Her journals are beautiful. She cuts things from magazines, newspapers (God help you if you discard a newspaper while traveling with her), and catalogs to make wonderful collages right in her journal. Then she journals around them. She makes cards too. I am in awe of her artistry. I covet her journals. I convinced myself that I would never have time to journal like her. I rarely get to reading my magazines, let alone cutting them up afterward. Although now that I think about it, maybe cutting them up in lieu of reading them would save me a lot of time? Anyway, one of the many aspects of beauty in this class is that Melody Ross and her team have already spent hours creating art and words to use in the class collages. Melody is a fabulous artist. I love her style. And I love love LOVE having the opportunity to take her work and incorporate it into my very own collages. Let me tell you something else too, on the few occasions that I actually committed to making collages with my mom, I quickly learned that one can literally spend HOURS in search of the “perfect” word for a collage. Especially one who may exhibit signs and symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’m not mentioning any names. So the brilliance of the idea that all the words and images I need are provided for me on .pdf files that I can download and print at home is not lost on me. At all.

Okay, so the whole point of this post is to process the collage I just finished. There was so much involved that I need to debrief. Last week’s lesson was about how we objectify ourselves and other women. Hard pill to swallow. I received many a training in relationship violence back in the day, I have a degree in Social Work, and I’ve worked with young girls as a Girls on the Run Coach (www.girlsontherun.org). I have both received and given lessons on body image and the multiple ways in which we objectify women in the media, especially in print. I’ve done my fair share of ranting about the injustice of it all and the disallusioned men who buy into it. I don’t remember ever really taking to heart the possibility that I buy into it.

It’s very simple. When we pick apart our bodies and other people’s bodies, we objectify ourselves and others. I’ll use my breasts as an example. They are big. See? When I say they are big, I am seeing them as objects. The point of the lesson is to really see that we, nor any parts of our bodies, are objects to be looked at and picked apart. This is what I LOVE and what really hits home for me: we are not our bodies, WE ARE SOULS. Admittedly, this is not the first time I have heard this message. There is something that happens though, when you spend time cutting out images and words. Then more time figuring out how to lay them out on paper. Then more time handling them, covered in Mod Podge, placing them each individually on the collage. Then more time brushing them again and again, with Mod Podge, so that they stick. Sealing them, securing them. I come to treasure each little piece of paper and the image or words it contains. We develop a relationship, in the quiet of the night, when my children are sleeping, and it’s just the images, the words, (the Mod Podge), and me. I handle each piece with care. I am deliberate. Sometimes I cry.

Here is the collage I’m talking about, No Woman is an object to be looked at and picked apart…We are all souls:

You’ll need to piece it together because it covers two pages.

I used Melody’s images and some of my own. Here is a picture of me when I was pregnant with my first child, Sweet Baby James:

Even though I loved being pregnant, I had fears, like any woman on the brink of motherhood. Like anyone really. In pregnancy especially, we need to know that we are more than our bodies. My mom took a lot of pictures of my belly. I had no idea what a luxury it was then to have SO MUCH time to just sit, rubbing my belly, or waiting for James to move around in there. We took pictures with the other two, but it was much more of a blur, in the midst of caring for the person or people who were already born. I might sit for a little bit, but it wasn’t long before I needed to get up again.

The woman in the middle here, the middle of the three in white, she is Minka Kelly:

I had to put her on my collage as a reminder that she is indeed real. She played one of the love interests of Tim Riggins, my fake boyfriend, on Friday Night Lights. I was real-life jealous of a fake person. Whatever. She is real. Not an object.

Here is Oprah. I had to have Oprah on my collage!

Although she doesn’t know it, Oprah and I have a love-hate relationship. I started hating her when I walked into a bookstore in the mall once, many, MANY years ago, and saw a huge display of journals with a sign above them that read: “JOURNALS, AS SEEN ON OPRAH.” I was offended. No, I didn’t invent journals, but for the love of God, Oprah didn’t invent them either! I loved her again when James was first born. I was at home with him and Oprah was sometimes the first adult who spoke to me each day, at 4:00, from the television set. One day she had a show about the reality of motherhood. I have loved her ever since. I don’t care what the haters say, Oprah does good stuff. And she is real. And she keeps going.

This is a picture from two summers ago of some of my goddesses and me.

I love this picture. My goddesses are a really special group of friends. If they weren’t entering right along with me, they were there to welcome me into motherhood. They have supported me through my three pregnancies and births, through mothering and married life, through the loss of my dad, and just about anything else that comes my way. We don’t all share world views, but we are all very good people, and we provide a safe space in which to explore our differences – with no judgment (okay, maybe a little judgment, sometimes, but we still love each other at the end of the day). I don’t know if my goddesses know this, but I think they are mostly responsible for showing me the value of taking special care of myself. Come hell or high water, we have gotten together at least once each year for a Girls’ Weekend for the past 12 years (roughly…). We always treat ourselves to a spa treatment. I had NEVER had a massage or anything outside a manicure from the local beauty school in my home town until our first weekend together. Even when it only occurred once a year, that hour or so of being pampered has been pure bliss and I am so grateful to my goddesses for showing me that I am worth it.

From left to right, we have Paige – she is a teacher and she thinks a lot. She thinks about teacher stuff, and other stuff too. Then, Michelle – she is hilarious! She can impersonate Molly Shannon. She makes us all laugh, and so she laughs. Next is Janelle – she is a photographer, so she creates. Then me – I give. I thought that was appropriate because I hosted that weekend. I gave out goody bags. Then Libby – she tries, really hard to be the best person she can possibly be. My wish for Libby is that she will see that she already is the best person. And finally, Holly – she hurts. She was the first in the group to lose a parent. She lost her dad and she misses him and it makes her heart hurt.

Now, look at this woman:

I have no idea who she is, but I think she is beautiful. Look at her eyes. She has stories to tell.

Here is my sister and me:

She IS a beautiful human being. I want her to know that she is okay. She is a-okay.

And this is my mom.

Isn’t she lovely? After my dad passed away someone told her that rather than torturing herself with the unanswerable question: Why did he die? Why not ask, “Why did I live?” Torturing is my word. The person who made that suggestion was much less dramatic. So, here she is after climbing to the top of a dune, something she wasn’t able to do the year before. She IS alive! She also deserves a loving chance. Oh, she has so much love to give. More than anything, I want her to find love again. She definitely deserves that.

Creating this collage was so incredibly powerful. I was moved to tears. Even now, looking at it and thinking about it moves me. I love every woman on my collage. At the end it was so much more obvious to me – the point of this particular process – to really, truly, tangibly see that we, all of us, all the women in the world, are definitely NOT objects to be looked at and picked apart. We ARE all souls. And, the beauty of it is that we are ALL alive, we all keep going, we all think and laugh and create and give and try and hurt. We are all beautiful human beings, and we all need to know that we are okay. We ARE all okay. All of us. For real.

Time will tell what 2012 holds for me and my body. But, I can tell you this, I PROMISE not to pick myself apart anymore and I promise not to pick you apart either. When I look at you, or at myself in the mirror, all I see is a big, beautiful, bright, shiny, super smart and sexy soul. Did you hear me? That’s a promise.

Oh, and you can still register for the Body Restoration class, if you are interested. Go to http://bravegirlsclub.com and look for Body Restoration. There is also a link to their site on the left side of my homepage – the one about whimsy and inspiration. Their daily truths are wonderful.

mind-BODY-spirit

In sharing my journey toward a deeper mind-body-spirit connection, I guess it was inevitable that I would need to address my body at some point. This is a little tricky for me. You know when girlfriends are hanging out together, pointing out perceived deficiencies on their bodies? Comparing muffin tops? I don’t have a lot to say. Not because I am without muffin top, but having dealt with body-image issues for as long as I can remember, talking openly about my muffin top presents some problems for me. (Men, I imagine you do the same when you’re hanging out with your buddies, right?).

As soon as I had a concept of “larger” and “smaller” I knew I was in the larger group. Sadly, I see in hindsight that this was probably because I was taller than most of my other friends. Of course I was larger, but I didn’t know how to differentiate between larger-taller and larger-wider, and honestly, I’m not sure that would have made a difference anyway. I thought I was too large and I went with it (looking back, I feel so sad for that girl who thought she was too large because she was damn skinny!).

While I’ve reconciled my body-image issues for the most part, I am still pretty sensitive to sharing, even with most of my beloved girlfriends. In the spirit of this journey, I think it is time to change all that. Please bear with me as I take a few steps outside my comfort zone.

In the midst of muffin top discussions, it never fails that I wonder: What exactly are we striving for? What are we comparing ourselves to when we decide our bodies are too much of one thing or not enough of another? Usually, it is some ideal or another, like when we think that someone we saw at the gym last week has a perfect body. Or we see some gorgeous mom breeze through the pick-up line at school. She is fit, stylish, friendly, and she smiles and hugs her children tightly when she sees them. She looks like she has it all. We want her body. Even worse, we want Gwyneth Paltrow’s body or Jennifer Lopez’s body – bodies we don’t ever even see in their natural states. We can all dream, we can work-out, we can starve ourselves, or eat healthy, well-balanced meals, but at the end of the day we have only one body. Our very own, unique, individual one and only body. And we must work with it.

The body I’m working with is definitely in the larger group these days. I think my body and I have developed a relationship much like an older couple who has been married for many years. We’ve been through a lot together. We love each other, but we’re not always in love with each other. Other than a gradual explosion in body size when I started college, and then again when I first started taking “the pill,” my weight was never truly an issue. I could have lost 5-10 pounds here and there, but for the most part, I felt good in my body. Right before I became pregnant with my first son, I even felt great. I was in pretty good shape, I exercised regularly, and I ate well. Then I gained 15 pounds as soon as I found out I was pregnant. I’m not kidding. I have no idea how it happened, but it did, and then it happened again three more times. I have heard there are other women who have had the same experience. It is just another prenatal phenomenon, I suppose. I didn’t over-indulge too frequently, but I ate whatever I wanted to whenever I wanted to while I was pregnant. I didn’t obsess over weight gain and my doctors didn’t either.

I enjoyed answering my crazy cravings (lots of citrus) and overall, I simply loved being pregnant. I was in complete awe of my body while I was pregnant. I loved knowing that while I sat watching a movie with my husband, someone was inside me growing ears. I loved watching my body grow and change. I thought it was fun to wear maternity clothes. I loved the butterfly flutters I felt in my belly as my baby grew and started to explore and I marveled at the punches and kicks I felt as he got bigger. I was not as fond of the sensation I had during the fully-reclined-with-foot-in-my-rib phase of pregnancy, but he came out soon after that so there are no hard feelings. I felt like I was a living, breathing miracle of life. If I hadn’t developed a deeper love connection to my body and its capabilities by the end of my pregnancy, I fell head over heels in love with my body when I gave birth to my son. It was the most exhilarating, empowering experience I had ever had in my body. Once my sweet baby James was out safely and I held him close for the first time, I knew my body and I could do anything.

As life went on with my new son, I slowly got back into shape. I was almost to that major milestone in a new mom’s career – pre-pregnancy weight – when I found out I was pregnant with our second child. I was elated! In keeping with tradition, I gained 15 pounds instantly. And then I had a miscarriage. I was devastated. One of my friends described her experience with miscarriage as feeling like a little girl whose balloon got loose and floated away into the sky. It’s funny how my mind works. As soon as I saw that positive pregnancy test, I was flooded with hopes and dreams for our second child, and for James as a big brother. I asked my husband to meet us for ice cream at a diner near his office and dressed James in a “I’m the Big Brother” shirt I had been keeping for this special occasion. It was all so sweet and dreamy. Our family was growing…I was so confused when I realized none of those hopes and dreams would be realized for this baby. I became very depressed. As I reflect on that time in my life, I wouldn’t be surprised if at some level I felt like my Superwoman Mama body had failed me. Maybe that is when I stopped taking such good care of it.

A year later, almost exactly a year later, we learned that I was pregnant again! I gained fifteen pounds instantly and many more pounds after that. Alexander the Great was born. And then, almost exactly two years after that, I found out I was pregnant again! Another 15 pounds instantly. I swear to God! And then Sophia Pearl, our baby girl was born. And somewhere in all of that, I completely lost track of my body. I distinctly remembering trying clothes on at a department store while I was pregnant with Sophia and noticing for the first time that I had back fat. I was mortified. I wondered how it got there.

When Sophia turned two I started training for my first 5K. Running was something I never ever thought I would do, but I loved it! It was liberating. I had a blast making playlists on my iPod and running with the wind. The night my dad died I was running on the treadmill. I felt this surge of energy, like I had never felt before around 8:30 p.m. I think that must have been when he died. A couple hours later my mom called and you know the rest of that story.

A few months after my dad died I stopped running. I became addicted to yummy coffee drinks. I tried to fill the hole in my heart with chocolate and pastries. I gained back all the weight I had lost since I started running and then some extra weight, just for good measure. When I realized that I had gained additional weight, I was really disappointed. I think I again felt as if my body had betrayed me. Who could blame it though? I had completely disengaged from everything I needed to be doing to care for myself in a sometimes desperate effort to care for my children. I cut-up apples for them and then ate cookies myself. It was ugly.

I started practicing yoga more regularly in an effort to reconnect with my body (and quiet my mind and lots of other things) and that has worked beautifully. I feel much more in tune with this vessel that carries me from playdates to pre-school pick-up and back again. Slowly, but surely, I’ve begun running again. We’re on pretty good terms, but my body is asking more of me now. We both want to be as healthy as possible in the coming years of motherhood.

So, my body and I are starting a new “plan” next week. I’ve been thinking that this feels different. This is an effort born of love. I love my body, even though it’s large. I love my muffin top and the stomach below it in all of its stretch marked glory. I am especially fond of my deformed belly button, compliments of Sophia. I love how the right side of my stomach sticks out a little farther than the left side because it reminds me how each of my children seemed to prefer snuggling up over there in utero (maybe the other two had no choice after James stretched it out for them). I love my large breasts even though, well I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that nursing three babies was a very transformative experience for me (and my breasts).

In Martha Whitmore Hickman’s book, Healing After Loss, she says “I care for myself in honor of my life and all who have shared that life with me.” It’s really that simple. Out of love for myself, my body, my life, and all those who share it with me, I care for myself. This isn’t about wishing I had a different body or making changes because I don’t measure up to an ideal. For me, this is a journey about taking better care of my body because this body is truly a gift to be treasured. I hope, or I trust, that made in the spirit of love, this journey will take me right where I need to be.

Wish me luck!