I did not love my 16-year old body. The mirror said: “Your teeth aren’t straight. Your thighs wobble. Your skin has too many moles and freckles. Your smile is more gum than teeth.” Every picture I saw of myself at 16 was a painful reminder of each flaw.
I did not love my 26-year old body. The mirror said: “Your teeth may be straight, but it’s still more gum than teeth. Your thighs wobble. More than they used to. Your skin has even more moles, and some scars to add to the mix. Your chin is too round.” I avoided pictures whenever I could.
My 27-year old self got married, and my body had to come along for the ride: insecurities and issues wed with intimacy. “He loved me despite my gummy grin,” I thought. “Despite the wobbly thighs.” But my husband loved my 27-year old body. He loved it without criticism, without comparison, without complaint. He seemed delighted with my asymmetrical form. His voice began to compete with the shrill accusations of the mirror. “You’re gorgeous,” he would say. “You’re blind,” I would reply.
My 30-year old body got pregnant, and as that little seed began to grow in my hearth, so too a new seed began to grow in my heart. What if bodies were meant for more than looking at? What if, after three decades of believing that the mirror doesn’t lie, it turns out that the mirror was lying after all?
I watched in wonder as my belly swelled with life. This tummy that had never been flat enough, thin enough, pretty enough for a bikini … this same tummy was enough to grow a human being. What if my stomach wasn’t for looking at, but for sustaining life?
In the hours after my daughter was born, I sat amazed as my asymmetrical, pencil-test-failing breasts produced first colostrum, and then milk. The perfect combination of nutrients and antibodies, custom designed for my infant and served at exactly the right temperature every time. I thought: what if my breasts were not for admiration, but for my husband’s joy and my baby’s nourishment? Are they not wonderful? Yes. They are wonderful.
I shouted in triumph as I gave birth to one, then a second, and then a third baby. This body that had never been athletic enough, never fast enough, was enough to go through labor and delivery, and recover three times.
My arms, which had never been toned enough or bronzed enough, were strong enough to hold my newborns for hours. To soothe them to sleep. To snatch them from harm. To feed them their food. My legs, which had never been thin enough, were perfect for walking up stairs, carrying the umpteenth load, for teaching toddlers how to play hopscotch. My face, which had never been pretty enough to turn a head at high school, was delightful enough that my babies would stare and coo and grin at me for hours.
My body was made for more than looking at. It was made for me: to live in, to laugh in, to touch with, to serve with, to feel with, to nurture with. It was made for use. It was made for enjoyment.
I love my 36-year old body. My teeth are the same. My thighs even wobblier. My stomach squishier than it’s ever been. My skin has added wrinkles to the moles and scars. But I love my 36-year old body, and the mirror is no longer allowed to speak. From time to time it tries to shout its accusations, but I’m learning to walk away. And now that the mirror is quieter, there’s another voice I am able to hear more clearly:
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14 NIV)