I struggle with body image sometimes, just like most women.
In my head I know that being healthy is what’s important – that if I am eating and moving and resting well, the physical manifestation of that is my personal “healthy,” and healthy is more important than skinny.
I don’t even like the word skinny. People are created in different shapes and sizes and women who are healthy can vary greatly in their outward appearances. For some naturally curvy women like myself, being “skinny” would reflect malnourishment and not health. For others who have exceptionally lean body types, the word can be hurled at them with disdain as somewhat of an accusation by women who are hurting and grappling with their own negative body images.
I have stretch marks from my earlier pregnancies that have aged over the years into silvery ribbons. My pregnancy in my thirties didn’t yield those scars, but skin that has been stretched more than usual and gathers in ruffles around my navel and lower abdomen. I have decided that my ideal weight is evolving as I mature into womanhood, and I am giving myself grace to grow into my life and be changed by the seasons I walk through.
I struggled deeply with all of the body changes that motherhood ushered in when I was only in my early twenties. I don’t dwell on it as much now and there are certainly times when I feel strong and empowered by the marks of my life’s journey; but I’d be lying if I denied that there are moments when I feel insufficient and wonder what it would be like if my skin was smoother or tighter or if I weighed what I did before I had children, especially when I see other women openly self-loath and do everything in their power to erase or alter what they consider to be their own imperfections. And sadly I have been that person who has complained about her body in front of other women, likely on some level reinforcing their own self consciousness and shame.
I want to overcome this for myself, for my daughters and my son and husband (it affects them too). I want to vanquish this, bone-deep in me, for the sake of a humanity obsessed with both the superficial esteem and the degradation that comprise the two-sided coin of our obsessive pursuit of perfection and our consequent objectification of our mothers, sisters, daughters and ourselves. I want to believe, with more than just my head, that I am good enough – that I am beautiful the way God made me, that life changes us inside and out and that that’s okay, even really good. I want my every cell to reverberate the truth that real health, and that includes peace with oneself, is more important than numbers on a scale and the unrealistic expectations of strangers.
When my third child was three days old I looked at her and then at my fresh postpartum self, and in a moment of profound love and revelation I was inspired to photograph her alongside the belly that carried her.
This is the body that enveloped her and the womb that swelled with love for her, the skin that’s silver scars whisper reminders of how I brought my older children earth-side, the marks that echo the story of my flesh and blood and entire intangible being growing and birthing all those beloved souls.
When I look at these photographs I cannot help but love my body.
It is frail in many ways because I am only human, but I was created with exquisite love and incredible purpose. And regardless of your story and whatever lies you find yourself tempted to believe, so were you.
*Photographs by Cristina Howell