It was 1993. I just finished fifth grade and moved to a new neighborhood. My legs dangled on the side of the neighborhood pool. I gazed down at my swimsuit. It was a lime green bikini with a killer 90’s design. It had two small zipper pockets on the sides of its bottoms (because you know bathing suit pockets simply make good sense.)
It was my absolute favorite bathing suit, until that day. As I sat at the pool’s edge, I did not see my favorite swimsuit with killer pocket space. I saw belly rolls – big, gross, nasty rolls. My body went from being a vessel to carry me through life to becoming an object I despised, an object that would define my self-worth.
It would not be until years later when my body hatred evolved into a full-blown eating disorder. For the next fifteen years, I lived in the darkness and secrecy of my eating disorder. My illness masked by fad diets and excused by our disordered eating culture.
My eating disorder stole some of the best moments of my life – even my wedding day.
Fueled by the desire to find recovery and become a mom, I quit my job and entered treatment at 29-years old. But I did not want to be any mom, I wanted to be a mom who led by example. I wanted to be a mom who put on her bathing suit and literally ran on the beach with her children.
One day in treatment my therapist, Christy, asked me, “McCall, what does recovery look like to you?” I immediately replied, “Walking on the beach in a bathing suit.” Every beach and pool memory I had was tainted by my eating disorder – whether it be with a crash diet or covering my body or not even going and missing out on life’s best moments.
My simple reply to Christy’s question was not motivated by having a perfect beach body or looking like a Victoria’s Secret model, but to finally be free from numbers and living my life free from my eating disorder (and society’s perfect beach body image.)
A few months later, I took that walk. Sure, it was scary, but I knew it was necessary. I tied on my bikini and took my not-so-perfect sized body on a beach walk.
It. Was. Glorious.
I finally felt FREE. Sure, I was scared, but did it anyway – and guess what? No one pointed or gawked at my body. Because NO. ONE. CARES.
Eight years and two children later, I still have that talk with myself from time to time. I might be a positive body image speaker and advocate, but I still have my moments with my body. But every time I am doubting my beach bod, that day in treatment crosses my mind.
I have a choice to make: put on the damn bathing suit or be the mom who sits covered up watching her kids’ best years pass her by. And I’ll be damned if I am the latter.
My kids don’t care what size I am or when my soft stomach rolls up when sit to make sand castles. They just want me there.
I have so many moms who tell me, “McCall, I never say anything negative about my body in front of my kids!”
And to that I reply, “Great! But do you say anything positive?”
Our children will hear everything we say – AND everything we do NOT say. Don’t we want to fill their tiny ears with body positive thoughts?
A few months ago, my daughter walked into my bathroom while I was changing. She playfully chanted, “I see your belly and belly button!”
I smiled back, “Isn’t my belly beautiful?” She grinned back at me.
It might feel silly or you might be lying through your teeth but setting that example for our kids is worth it – and necessary. I will also let you in on a little secret: positive affirmations work. So even if you don’t believe it, the more you say it out loud the more you WILL believe it.
We have a baby and instead of celebrating our miraculous bodies, we become obsessed with getting that ‘pre-baby’ body back. Guess what? You’re not going to get that body back. YOU. HAD. A. BABY. A tiny human. Your body is forever changed. And that is beautiful.
But I get it. The Mom Bod is REAL. And damn it is beautiful! My sides have stretch marks and my lower belly proudly parades the scar that gave my daughter, Marjorie, life. She was born at 27-weeks. My body went through the ringer – literally. As did hers.
My daughter was born at 1-pound, 15 ounces. Marjorie is a constant reminder of just how incredible and miraculous our bodies are. But somewhere in childhood we forget the extraordinary things our bodies can do and succumb to societal pressures and standards.
It has been nearly thirty years since I sat on the edge of my neighborhood pool hating my body. I don’t know what happened that day, but suddenly my world went from cool 90s flare bikinis to covering my precious belly. And I’ll be damned if I let that happen to my daughter.
I never want my daughter to sit on the edge of a pool feeling unworthy in her swimsuit. I don’t want my children to look around and compare their bodies to their peers. And while, I can’t protect my children from all of life’s hardships, I can certainly build them up. But I can’t simply tell them they are worthy and beautiful – I have to SHOW them.
My children’s self-esteem starts with my own, which starts with loving my mom bod. So whether your belly has rolls or your sides have funky scars or your boobs hit your knees like mine, toss on that swimsuit and live your LIFE. Remember that no one is looking, but your children are watching. By loving yourself you are giving your children the greatest love of all.