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Using Words, I Make It So. (Karen Radcliff)

May 9, 2011

I was brushing my hair one morning when my son came in to the bathroom. He hugged me around the waist, then lifted my shirt and poked my belly.

“Why do you have a big belly and not a small belly like my friend’s mama?”

I love questions from my son.

I was prepared for this one. I’ve been preparing for the last seven years, since he was born, since I realized, some months after his birth, that this was the body I was going to be living with. It’s not so different from the one I’ve been living with my whole adult life, not so different from the one I had ten years ago, or fifteen. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, this waking up one day with a round belly, dimpled thighs and little purple lines on my calves. I’ve lived with, and loved, women who have the exact same shape my whole life. And I look like them now.

We have an open-door bathroom policy at our house. We never wanted our son to feel that there was anything to hide about our bodies, and while he could ask for privacy in the bathroom, we have generally allowed him to come and go as he pleased. There is the assumption that as he gets older and becomes more aware of himself and his body, he will both ask for more privacy himself and will wander in to visit with one of us with far less frequency. So, starting from birth, my boy has been in and out of sight of me nude for his whole life.

How does this make me feel? I had to decide how it was going to make me feel. I had to decide, to determine, the answer before a wee boy with no qualms or tact decided to ask me why I didn’t look like my slender friend. I had to decide how I was going to feel about myself long before there was any situation that could put me in shock, could eke from me a response that was at odds with my open and unashamed bathroom policy. Historically, I have been ashamed about my body, but if I wanted to raise a child who would not judge others by their topology, I had to stop judging myself with the same unkind eye.

So when he asked me that day, “Why do you have a big belly and not a small belly like my friend’s mama?” I had an answer ready. I told him, “Mamas come in all shapes and sizes. Some are short and some are tall. Some are dark-skinned, some very pale. Some have small breasts, some big. And some have round squishy snuggly bellies, and some have flat ones. And in between ones, too.”

He looked at me. “Okay.”

Did I believe this? Does it matter? Yes, actually, eventually it does matter. Because when I say these things, I am saying out loud that my self–skinny legs, round belly, soft breasts and sloping shoulders, flat face and big eyes, all of it–is a welcome guest. It is an acceptable iteration. It is one of many possible combinations, but it is as viable and real and lovable as any other set of attributes is. I’m saying to the universe that this is how I am. This is likely to be how I stay. And it’s just fine that way. Hopefully, I will come to believe it as much as my son does. One day recently he stopped in the middle of crossing the street and again threw his arms round my middle. He looked up into my face and cried, “I love your squishy belly, mama.” I was overwhelmed by the love in his statement. He never once qualified it. He never said anything about me losing 10 pounds or not being as pretty as someone else.

Then we walked on.

Someday, I will think of myself the way that my son does now. Fully present acceptance, never qualifying the statements of affirmation by wishing I had someone else’s stomach or butt or legs. The journey from here to there is made of small steps, each one a small statement of fact: My self is one of many possible combinations, it is lovable and welcome. This is how I am. And it’s just fine that way.

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9 Responses to “Using Words, I Make It So. (Karen Radcliff)”

  1. Mina Says:
    May 9th, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Great post. Sounds like you handle these types of questions well.

  2. Violet Says:
    May 9th, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    Great answer, momma! It all begins with us :)

  3. scs Says:
    May 10th, 2011 at 7:44 am

    I love this. I don’t hide my nudeness from my son either and its the same for us in the bathroom. my son tells me I’m beautiful and u know what. that’s all that matters to me

  4. Prairiebean Says:
    May 11th, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    I literally burst into tears when he said he loved your belly. It is so hard to accept that even when we treat ourselves well and try our hardest to be healthy and good, our bodies will not respond by becoming the cover of yoga magazines. But I find the moment of unconditional acceptance from people we love makes it so worthwhile — I hope you can love your belly more, with his words in mind.

  5. Corinne Says:
    May 12th, 2011 at 2:13 am

    What a great post this is, I love it and I love your attitude. I think it is importnant to truly believe the good things about yourself, but while that is a struggle it is important to not let your children pick up on your insecurities. We’ve always had an open door policy too and my son who is now 12 naturally chose when he stopped coming into the bathroom after me to chat!

  6. Marianne Says:
    May 12th, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Thank you for sharing this. I really needed it today (I’ve been shopping for bathing suits)! I try so hard to not pass my insecurities on to my daughter and I wonder if there will ever come a time when I feel attractive in my own skin again.

  7. Sarah Says:
    May 12th, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    I love this!

    I’ve answered my own daughter’s questions about bodies in much the same way. “There are lots of different shapes and sizes and colors in the world, isn’t that GREAT?”

    It is a greater gift than we can measure, giving our kids the freedom to love their uniqueness. There is an infinite number of kinds of beauty in this world; it is liberating to decide we’re allowed to love them all (including our own).

  8. Christi Says:
    May 16th, 2011 at 10:44 am

    I keep rereading this because it resonates so much. Thank you for writing it. :-)

  9. makeup your mind – you’re beautiful!! | thank pray love Says:
    August 1st, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    […] by a website i found through a friend (using words, i make it so) that encourages women everywhere to embrace their natural bodies and with the encouragement of a […]

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