Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Does Motherhood Do a Body Good?

"Youth is wasted on the young."

The first time I heard those words (originally said by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw), it sounded like just one of those old people sayings, repeated by those mourning the loss of their youth.
Little did I know, the next two decades would zip by in a flash and that saying would eventually make so much sense. 

Take body image, for example. 

In a recent survey by Glamour magazine, 97% of  "young women" (whatever that means) admitted that they not only have major issues when it comes to how they see their own bodies, but are also subject to brutal verbal abuse about their appearance several times a day. The saddest part, it's they, themselves, doing the abusing. 

The good news: As I did a little more digging, I found that the older we get - sometimes facing huge physical hurdles --  the more the negative self-talk subsides and is taken over by acceptance and, dare I say it, love and respect for ourselves.

I'm no stranger to that metamorphosis. In my 20s, I struggled big time when it came to body image. I would spend hours going through my closet, never happy with what I'd put on. I refused to ever wear things like shorts - oh no, I'm not showing those knees! I constantly compared myself to my tiny friends and never felt like I measured up physically. 

In my 30s, my body began to mean something totally different. I had two boys via c-section (one at a whopping 11 pounds) and had a health scare. In fact it was five years ago this week that I underwent a double mastectomy, the first of two surgeries that year. And while my big babies stretched my tummy to an unrecognizable state and my surgeries forever changed how I look, I discovered that the more I experienced, the better I felt about myself. I'm still shocked to admit that I am proud of all my body has handled - I am a warrior. A few extra pounds could never take that away. 

In an unofficial online poll, I asked women to rate their body image from 1-5, with 5 being the most positive. Natalie, a 29-year-old mom, admits that "before having a baby and nursing [body image was a] 2. Post pregnancy and nursing -- 4." While she says she "should lose some weight," she also celebrates her physical self by adding, " My body has done me well." Interestingly enough, her 22-year-old friend merely gives herself a 2.5.

Tertia, 42, who rates her body image as a 4 out of 5, says that high rating is something she would never do when younger. "Even though I was in better shape, I thought less of myself -- too much angst. Getting older is great. I like me."

Karena takes pride in her career as a nutrition and fitness expert -- and she should. Because not only is she the author of Osteo Pilates and host of Pilates for Healthy Bodies, she also travels the world teaching and connecting with women who want to achieve health and wellness at any age. But Karena's no stranger to body battles, her fight with bulimia and anorexia began at a young age, even contributing to a heart attack when she was just 19 years old.

But while she may feel a few more aches and pains as the years pass, Karena, too, embraces her outer strength, along with the inner. "I think body image has improved with age for me. But as far as my body being a traitor -- pain issues for me primarily --  I'm always looking at it like a cheating husband, like when is the next shoe going to drop."

And maybe it's exactly that attitude that makes the rest of us women accept a lump here or some flab there. Is it that we now have appreciation for all our body has done and gone through? Or maybe we just realize we have bigger fish to fry bake, and now look at healthy eating and exercise as a gateway to optimum health and not just to fit into those skinny jeans. And with that pressure off, maybe now we'll begin a love affair Brussels spouts and boot camp.

A girl can dream, right?

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