Three Kids Later, I Still Love My Body—But On Different Terms

mom with three daughters

This is my body today: Rumpled against the warmth of my husband's chest, thwacked awake at 2 a.m. by a flailing daughter's limb.

Or ... balanced on wedge heels, bent over a desk, one arm around a student's shoulder.

Or ... crouched in the corner of a gymnastics gym, one hand clutching the video camera, my voice loud: "Go, baby! Go!"

Or ... biting into my husband's shoulder, hoisted against the tiled shower wall, a giggle escaping as a child bangs on the locked bathroom door.

Five years and a third baby after I wrote this article about finding confidence in my post-baby figure, I realize that the journey to loving my body doesn't start at the mall. (Although a trip to TJ Maxx is always cathartic.) When I look at my body in the mirror, I still see beauty, but now on different terms.

After giving birth to two daughters in quick succession, I thanked my stretch marks for helping me accommodate such precious cargo, bought a slew of better-fitting bras, and ditched the daily yoga pant get-up. I gained peace with my body back then by feeling gratitude for what it had done — made babies, helped feed them, etc.

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As the mother of three young daughters, I think a lot about messages of beauty. I'm not the kind of mom who buys Waldorf-inspired rag dolls in lieu of Barbies because Mattel perpetuates a wrong-headed social construct of beauty (although I confess to stealthily balancing out the racial demographics of the girls' collection and to throwing away several one-inch mini-skirts). I don't outlaw Disney Princess dress-up clothes or forbid my children to play with makeup. 

I am the kind of mom who checks in constantly to make sure the girls know that makeup may turn their cheeks sparkly or color their eyelids purple, but it doesn't do a thing to their beauty.  

My youngest daughter's body is dense, blonde and squishy, with the hint of a toddle still left in her step. My middle daughter's body is gangly and straight, her skin translucent, her hair feathery and her expressions exaggerated to the point of alarm. My first daughter's body is toned and taut, with a thumb-sized plateau across her brow that emphasizes constantly questioning eyes.

Each of them are the very picture of beauty. And so am I.

When I look into the mirror, I don't see just a body. Sure, I see crow's feet snaking out from my eyes when I smile; I see a mass of curly hair. But mostly, I see a person: my husband's wife, my children's mother, my students' teacher. A future novelist — maybe? I love my body for what it does — not because of how it looks.

Beauty isn't a matter of working toward the image of a supermodel; it isn't about hiding your flaws. It's about rocking what you've got, working toward what you want and forgiving yourself when you fall short. 

As the legendary poet of my new hometown writes:

"Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say, It's the arch of my back
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me."

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What does it mean to love my body, anyway? Does it mean going on a paleo diet? Hitting the gym every day? Throwing out the makeup and using mineral deodorant? If I love my body, do I embrace the aesthetic value of the purple-brown scar that runs down to my unmentionables, evidence of pushing three children into the light of the world?

As it stands, I'm not too shy about my figure. I'm done obsessing about my saggy boobs and on to stuffing them in to push up bras. I love skinny jeans as much as the next skinny girl, and I don't much care about the loose skin that flops over the top. 

It's not that I wouldn't like that skin to disappear. It's just that I know that it doesn't matter.

Besides, my middle kid loves that flap of skin. Once, on my way to the gym, she mournfully asked me if I was going to lose it. I told her I was pretty sure it wasn't going anywhere. "Good," she replied. "Because it is the pluffiest part of your body and I like it."

It sounds absurd to take body image advice from a five-year-old. But the real absurdity lies in the love we lose for our bodies as we grow.

"What is the most beautiful thing about you?" I ask my daughters. 

"My heart."

"My cute little teeth."

"My voice."

"Who is the most beautiful woman you have met?" I ask.

"You!" they chime in chorus.

"What do you think makes me so beautiful?" I ask.

My oldest daughter looks puzzled. My youngest daughter says, "Your toes! They are so cute!"

And my witty middle daughter hits on it, "You are beautiful because I love you. Obviously."

She has found the answer: Instead of worrying about the way I look, I surround myself with people who love me. That way, I will never look less than phenomenal.

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