That J-shaped line over your right eyebrow. The thick brows you’ve only waxed once, just to try it. Those deep grooves in your forehead that remind you of the ways toddlers sometimes draw waves, or maybe clouds on an otherwise clear day. The shape your mouth makes when you almost smile. Eyes exactly the same in photos as they did when you were a baby, a kindergartener, a teenager, a new mama yourself. The moles that you need to have checked. The vertical lines between your eyes, evidence of so much furrowing.
Remember how you always loved the skin on your mom’s forearms? How soft it was, you couldn’t believe it. Like satin.
How your nearly 12-year-old son likes to squeeze the skin on the top of your hand, to see how long it stays pinched. Is he testing your elasticity, subconsciously gauging how much time he might still have you near?
And your teenage daughter’s claiming of her own beauty, not letting the world define it for her.
The belly soft, skin puckery, a roll of fat you didn’t used to have and don’t much mind, though truth be told you are still learning. It is evidence, you decide, of your existence, your choices of sustenance over starvation and oxygen over nicotine.
Today, a high of 43 degrees, and you set out for a two-mile run, your first in close to six months. Will your lower back allow it? We’ll see. You go slowly — no phone, no iPod, no headphones, no tracking devices. Just you and your feet, like the first time you ran two miles more than a quarter century ago.
Now your friends who are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s don’t seem old. Old is maybe 80s, you decide. So at 44, you’re a spring chicken. But not exactly. You’re in the middle, if you’re lucky. You’re no longer a young woman, no longer chasing after small people, no longer chasing after a better life. No, you are a grown woman now. And for as grown as you felt after birthing each of your kids, you know now that this is different. Something has shifted. You’ve changed.
Your weight is 15 pounds more than it was for most of the last two decades. You no longer wear the smallest size on the rack or eat the smallest portion on the menu. You also no longer inhale a dozen clove cigarettes a day or find yourself winded from making the bed. You know the value of health from the deepest interiors of life, having witnessed your wife’s close encounter with death and subsequent recovery.
You will never again take this body for granted. Not for a day.
Does this mean you take the best possible care of it you could? No. You eat sugar, which know is probably the actual devil. You have never owned a juicer and fall way short on the cooking front, both for yourself and your children. You don’t go to a gym or have a regular workout routine. But you have also softened on those fronts, and perhaps it’s for the best — you don’t obsess, over any of it.
When you were 17, dinner in your very first dorm cafeteria was a tortilla with a piece of nonfat cheese melted on it in a microwave. You called this a quesadilla, and I am so sad to think that this was your idea of eating. Later, you’d borrow your father’s car to go down to the frozen yogurt shop, where you would sample as many flavors as they would allow before ordering. Some nights, you felt embarrassed when you walked in. Embarrassed by yourself. Seen and yet knowing you were inside of your own ritual, which would likely end later that night with purging in the girls’ bathroom when you thought no one else was there.
You have healed so much. You have discovered the joys of libido, something you always just assumed you didn’t have much of. You have discovered the freedom of not worrying about gaining weight, because you have gained weight and life is more content and purposeful than ever.
Not fighting your body has opened up space to fight for the things that really matter — truth, connection, justice, courage.
You still often don’t feel beautiful. You look in the mirror and whoa, you have aged so much. It’s a bit of a shock some days. Then you remember how young you still are, and smile. May you live to hold your great-great-grandchildren.
Loving yourself here is a practice. Just remember how you feel after that two-mile run and a hot shower midday — a little stronger, a little more glowing, a little more ready for whatever’s next.
You’re raising kids now. Kids with bodies and inner lives and thoughts and experiences you don’t know about. Kids with relationships to their bodies so very different than yours has ever been.
And you know what you want to teach and model for them: Self-love. That’s it. Unconditional, non-negotiable self-love. Not at the expense of anyone else — true love never demands that. And not at the expense of humility — that, too, is not what love is.
No, self-love that’s constant and spacious and gives them room to change, to grow, to relate to themselves as miraculous and capable.
Look at yourself with tenderness and amazement. You’re here. You made it to this moment. You are beautiful, exactly as you are. Promise me you’ll never abandon yourself again.
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Join me and poet/herbalist Adrie Rose for two weeks of writing prompts and gentle self-care suggestions. The Body Now meets online March 19-30 and is limited to 20 participants. Register today to hold your spot. All bodies welcome.