7 Body Positive Lessons I've Learned From My Moms Over The Course Of My Lifetime
Being a child of divorce tends to get a pretty bad rep (and understandably so), but for all of the inherent difficulties of living in a split family, there are some upsides. And one of the greatest benefits of growing up in a non-nuclear family has been the experience of having not just one, but two moms — both of whom have taught me to embrace some body positive lessons. While I'm regularly conscious of how lucky I am to have two incredibly strong and intelligent women in my life to look up to and call mum, I think it's vital to spend a little extra time appreciating all of the pearly wisdom my two moms have impressed upon me.
From a style standpoint, my mums are on different ends of the same spectrum. One is bold, fearlessly embraces trends, and under the right circumstances, isn't afraid to flaunt what she's got. The other is a bit more conservative, polished, and creatively classic. They are both, without a doubt, very classy women, with unique tastes and practical attitudes.
Coincidentally, both of my moms have red hair, a handful of freckles (OK, my biological mom has a whole raging posse of freckles, which merge into a glorious tan come summer), and really great overall attitudes about their bodies and women's bodies in general. Sure, they've expressed their occasional gripes now and then, and like most women, they've mentioned this or that about the effects of aging, but on a whole, they've been exceptional role models when it comes to forming a healthy relationship with my own body, and what I perceive to be beautiful about myself and others.
And, if you'll excuse my sentiment for just a moment, I'd like to share that I feel exceptionally blessed, because I recognize that that is not always the norm, and that somehow, I managed to win the mom lottery — twice. I know so many women have struggled because they haven't had mothers who've let them feel comfortable in their own skin. Sometimes our moms have expectations for us that don't align with the reality of who we are — and that can be excruciating. So, to my moms, and to all of the other mothers out there who have respected their daughters for the women and girls they are, no matter what their shape, preferences, or lifestyles, thank you, sincerely, from the bottom of my (our) heart(s).
When it comes to body-positive practices, both my mom and my step-mom have done a lot of leading by example, and between the two of them, I feel like I managed to pick up quite a few solid, and for the most part, lifelong habits. Granted, as I near the magical threshold that is turning 30, some of these practices have been challenged. But, due to the solid foundation they helped me build, even the most aggressive emotional earthquakes haven't been able to permanently shake my resolve to love my ever-changing body.
If you're looking for a few mom-instilled body-positive habits, here are the gems I've picked up along the way, in no particular order:
1. Eat When You're Hungry
If I had a dime for every time my mom said this to me growing up, I'd be able to buy that swimming pool full of chocolate I've always wanted.
Seriously though, the practice of listening to your body is crucial. And sadly, many of us have to unlearn a few social norms before we can do this. We live in a society where set mealtimes are pretty standard, even though some of us are naturally inclined to be grazers, and some of us have bio rhythms that don't line up with the traditional daytime meal schedule. If you learn to discern when your body is hungry and eat once it signals that to you, you encourage optimal digestion and foster a healthy relationship with food as well as your body.
It's also important to decipher what some of your personal connections with food involve, and whether or not your hunger is actually standing in for another need, like sexual desire or emotional comfort, so that you can avoid excessive over or under eating for non-nutrient related reasons.
2. Exercise Because You're Having Fun (Not To Shape Your Body)
My step-mom enjoys walking, whereas my mom enjoys skiing (water and snow), but both have set the example of getting out and being physically active in order to enjoy themselves (and nature). When exercising occurs as a byproduct of enjoyment or practicing a hobby, the benefits go beyond the body-negative aims of trying to create a thigh gap or perfect abs. In fact, scientists are finding that exercising for body-positive reasons has more benefit than exercising for body-negative reasons, so having fun is crucial for your overall well-being and self-acceptance.
3. Stay Away From Dieting
Neither of my moms have gone diet fad crazy. Certainly I've seen them cut out high sugar foods, or eat with healthier intent. They have from time to time eaten smaller portions, but always with a conscious awareness of what their bodies are asking of them, and their focus has always been on eating well rounded, nutrient filled meals. Going back for seconds if they were still hungry was never out of the question, and they both cook large enough portions to ensure that leftovers are a possibility.
What does that have to do with body-positivity? Diet culture sets us up to feel miserable about ourselves, to harshly judge the way we look, and often to strive for body changes in unhealthy ways. Nurturing a body positive outlook can be really tough when you're constantly jumping on the latest diet craze.
4. Be Grateful For You Bod, Because It Works, So You're Unconditionally Beautiful
There is pure beauty in function, and if you're a living, breathing human, your body is working. Sure, many of us have some serious health issues to deal with, but each day we spend living is a pretty huge gift, so it's important to practice gratitude for our functioning bodies and remember that the ability to live in them is true beauty. Both of my moms have had their own sets of health difficulties, and I have to pay tribute again to how inspiring their strength can be. And, I have to say that in those moments, when they have been frightened, and faced what could have been the worst, they have been more lovely and courageous than any picture perfect ideal ever has.
The beauty I see in other women (and in myself) stems from their strength and their uniqueness. We can apply makeup and use beauty and fashion to create a sense of style or express our individuality, but the beauty that matters most is what we each posses inherently, from the day we're born 'till the day we die.
5. Pay Attention To Your Natural Tendencies/Cravings/Energy Levels
Both of my moms and I have a healthy relationship with Ben and Jerry (or home made ice cream). We also have hugely fond feelings for veggies (my first word was broccoli — no joke). What I've learned over the years from their verbally imparted wisdom, and from observation, is that having a healthy, body-positive attitude means listening to our bodies' cues and taking them to heart without too much judgement. Sure, sometimes we want to sit down and eat a tub of ice cream. And while that's not really the best idea for every meal, the great part about having a healthy dialogue with your body is that after you've had a tub of ice cream, you're usually really aware that you need to balance things out with greens, protein, and good nutrients. You'll find that you crave them, even more than you craved the ice cream to begin with. And cravings aren't a bad thing — they're your body's way of communicating its needs.
6. Practice Positive Affirmations
As women with specific beauty aspirations (whether they're wholly personally generated, or a little influenced by the media and society), it can be easy to fall into cycles of doubt and self-loathing when we don't perceive ourselves the way we'd like to. But practicing positive affirmations can change those perceptions and allow us to have a better internal relationship.
Growing up, our bathroom mirror was littered (or maybe, since this is positive affirmations we're talking about, I should say glittered) with little post-it notes proclaiming self-virtue and statements of personal strength and beauty. These daily reminders were both uplifting, and a wonderful way of getting into a self-loving mind space each morning, or at night, before bed. They also served to help fend off negative thought patterns while completing beauty routines, which, is where they sometimes find a way of sneaking in. Even if post-its on your mirror isn't in alignment with your personal decor preferences, you can still practice daily mental affirmations, or statements to yourself in the mirror — the post-its can just be a fun way to keep yourself on track. (I still smile whenever I visit mum and walk into her bathroom, greeted by a yellow array of positivity.)
7. Self Love Is An Ongoing Journey
I am enough.. quote locket on brass chain, $30, Starsbcreations/Etsy.com
And finally, the most significant lesson I've learned from both of my moms is that whether you've already learned to love your appearance or are just beginning to find respect for yourself when you look in the mirror, the journey is and always will be ongoing. Our bodies go through a myriad of changes in our lifetime, as do our mental and emotional states. As women, our hormones have a tendency to ebb and flow — not just during the major milestones of puberty and menopause, but daily. And while we can't (entirely) control the way those fluxes can play havoc on our emotional responses to our bodies, we can control the way we choose to see ourselves. We can practice conscious self love, and make a daily effort to find reasons to see ourselves as beautiful, no matter where we are along the way.
Knowing that self love is a journey, keep in mind that there will be days when you wake up and still feel crummy, lackluster, and can't find a single beautiful trait to identify with when you look in the mirror. And that's OK. Keep trying. Don't judge — give yourself a big 'ole mental hug, look up at your gentle post-it note reminders or pull out your Pinterest board of inspirational affirmations, find ways to love your body right now, and in the wise words of Dori, just keep swimming.
Images: Fotolia; mikecogh/Flickr; Giphy; Courtesy Brands