The beach used to be my self-proclaimed “happy place,” especially in the summertime. I would often go on a whim after work to relax and soak up some sun. A quick change in the car into my bikini and then a dash into the waves felt like a baptism of sorts. It was carefree, simple actually. But, most of all, it was rejuvenating. As you know, MANY things change once a baby arrives, and beach trips are certainly one of them.
With the sun finally out, and guests in town, we embarked on our first beach day as a family of three. It’s incredible how the time it takes to prepare for and then clean up from a family beach day is often longer than the time actually spent enjoying the beach.
I’d thought of everything: sunscreen of every sort, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, beach toys, trash bags for our wet suits, plenty of snacks and drinks, and changes of clothes for everyone. We purchased a new umbrella to keep Ella, our one-year old shaded and finally understood why the beach wagons we’d made fun of are actually quite helpful.
Moments before loading into the car, I walked upstairs to get dressed. I put on my blue bikini – the one I wore before getting pregnant, and throughout my pregnancy. While pregnant, I was rounder of course. I filled the top out quite a bit, and as my bump grew, it became harder to see the bottoms. Even with those very obvious changes, I rocked it. My bump was a source of pride. But, as I put it on again before our family beach day, I didn’t feel comfortable. Pre-baby, I was strong. My body reflected that. Perfect, it was not. Yet I was confident. As I stood in front of the mirror, I did not feel proud or confident; I felt shame and sadness. Shame that I hadn’t tried harder to get back into shape and at the thought of being exposed to others. Sadness at what I saw reflecting back at me.
In that moment, none of the personal development I’ve done, or the positive affirmations I’d memorized, or even the work around self-love and body positivity was helpful. All I could focus on is what I saw in that mirror. I was much larger around the hips and middle. Sagging skin and breasts and a soft middle were new to me. I no longer felt at home in my own skin.
I doubt there is a woman anywhere who hasn’t wanted to hide her body in shame at some point. Unfortunately, after having a baby, this is even more common. I constantly see moms on the beach or at the pool completely dressed and out of the pool likely preferring to avoid having to face their post baby body. It’s ok to cover up. I thought about it– I could easily wear shorts and a tee-shirt and be less exposed. But, why was I doing it? Out of personal preference? A sincerely held belief in modesty? Concern about sun exposure? No, for me, covering up was because of my embarrassment that I didn’t look better, stronger and slimmer. What does that say about how I feel about myself? What message does that send to my young daughter? Sure, she’s only one year old. She won’t remember. But, in truth, I knew covering up would be setting a precedent I didn’t want to set.
As reported on NationalEatingDisorders.com, girls as young as 6 are already discussing diets and feeling shame around their bodies and their weight. Psychologists are seeing that boys struggle with body image too. I don’t want that for Ella. I want her to know that her body is beautiful as it is, that she has no reason to be ashamed, that perfection is not the goal, and that enjoying life and simple moments like swimming at the beach is more important than how her body appears.
How could I want all that for her, if I wasn’t willing to ‘walk the walk’? As ashamed as I felt that my body looked completely different, I’d feel more ashamed perpetuating a societal belief that “only perfect and model-like bodies belong in swimsuits.” I couldn’t imagine Ella growing up feeling like in order to get sandy and run in the waves and do cannonballs into the pool, she’d have to be either covered or perfect.
We are our child’s greatest teachers. Not through our words, but through our actions, through the example that we set. If not for Ella, I think I would have put on a full bodysuit and stayed too long in self-hate picking apart my body with laser focus at every part that was ‘wrong.’ But as I looked at her innocent smile, I knew I had to move towards love, towards acceptance, towards gratitude. I was able to snap out of it, but I know this move towards grace for myself is a struggle that I’ll confront over and over again. I accept being a work in progress.
I’m grateful for that hectic beach day because I’ll always remember it as the day I vowed to SHOW Ella, that all bodies are beautiful. They are the vessels that carry us through life and all of its adventures. We wouldn’t want to miss out on making memories because we are ashamed of it. And with that commitment, the beach again became my “happy place” and no longer the place I wanted to avoid until I had my body “back.” I’ll always have my body, and I commit to treating it with the graciousness and love it deserves. Will you?