I was lucky enough to avoid a great deal of body negativity growing up. Some of it had to do with my family and friends being positive role models, though I’d be lying if I said a large part of it didn’t have to do with the fact that I had a naturally athletic build that was relatively easy for me to maintain. However, the fact that I didn’t hate my body didn’t necessarily equate to me being content with my body.
I was always pushing myself to the absolute limit, as far back as I can remember. As a gymnast, I would push my body to do impossible things, and I reveled in the feeling of accomplishing the next big stunt. As soon as I mastered one thing, I was already setting my sights on something new that my body couldn’t yet do. I focused more on my deficits than I ever did my successes. There was always something more that I wanted to achieve. That’s a “winner’s” mindset, right?
Because I was so obsessed with pushing myself, I lived in a constant state of pain from twisted ankles or sore muscles. Even when I eventually quit gymnastics, I always seemed to find some way to challenge my body. I fell into the mindset that my body needed to be pushed, and my mind could be trained to push it further. I would train through the hurt, and ask my body to do it all over again the next day. To do it better.
When I was in college, and my life shifted away from organized sports, I began pushing my body in a different way - fighting off constant exhaustion and mistreatment. I would eat terrible food instead of making an attempt to nourish my body. Frozen pizzas that only cost a dollar would leave more cash for booze, and what college student doesn’t prioritize their budget that way? I would drink heavily, not learning my lesson even after severe hangovers. My body kept proving to me that it could do it, so I kept on upping the ante. I would procrastinate on term papers, staying up until 4 or 5 a.m. writing, even if I had a 7 a.m. class to attend mere hours later. I took on ridiculously rigorous class schedules while working full-time to pay for school. It didn’t matter how I was feeling as long as I was achieving the goals I wanted to accomplish.
However, when I became pregnant my senior year of college, I was forced to take a long hard look at the abuse I had been putting my body through for years. My first trimester was a physical nightmare, full of morning sickness and exhaustion. I couldn’t keep up with my schedule. I was not physically able. I had to reduce my course load, spreading classes out over the summer in order to keep me on track to graduate before giving birth. I had to scale back my duties at work, and be more mindful of the physical and emotional energy I was pouring into my job - into all areas of my life. I had to learn to slow down, because there was no other way.
Growing a tiny human was not an easy feat, but I was finding it so much more fulfilling than putting my body through the ringer just because I could.
As my pregnancy progressed, I found myself for the first time being kind to my body. I would try to eat food that would make me feel good (doughnuts were often on that list, but so was whatever fruit I could stomach on any given day). I went to bed when I was tired, even if that meant sleeping a whole twelve hours and passing out before watching my favorite shows. I did yoga because it seemed to help me with my morning sickness and made me feel connected to my body and the baby. Growing a tiny human was not an easy feat, but I was finding it so much more fulfilling than putting my body through the ringer just because I could. Although I had dreaded slowing down when I first became pregnant, it was an eye-opening experience that made me truly appreciate my body for the first time in my life.
I always thought I had a good relationship with my body because I enjoyed pushing myself and making my body “better.” But expecting it to perform at such high levels without giving it proper care wasn’t an act of self-love at all. It wasn’t until I was able to marvel at the inherent strength of my body through pregnancy and childbirth that I really understood how capable and amazing my body was.
I was able to create and sustain a life in addition to my own. I was able to bring another human into the world in a seemingly impossible way. I didn’t need to manipulate my body by mastering my mind. My body knew how to take care of this baby, and once I began listening to my body, I finally understood what it needed.
I’d like to say I don’t push my body to its limits anymore, but it inevitably happens from time to time. Motherhood is physically consuming. I am constantly fighting to find more hours in the day. However, now when I recognize my body is struggling, I remind myself how much it does. Instead of pushing through the pain, I try to appreciate my body, and do my best to make peace with my limitations.