“I make a point of letting my daughters see me naked.
This has been a work in progress. No. You don’t have to read that sentence twice. I do this on purpose. My grandma had muscular thighs and stretch marks, saggy breasts, varicose veins, and a long back side. So do I. And if my children are lucky, they will have one or more of these gifts too.
Let me explain.
In the pre-internet era, my early adolescent ideals were formed by magazines selling me perfectly airbrushed women with flawless gazelle-like figures. Fashion magazines were my poison. My friends and I knew the names and stats of all the super models, which modeling agency they worked for, and which magazines they appeared in most often. Sadly, in an almost sick bow to the please-distort-my-body-image industry, we had even constructed individual color-coded folders for each model, labeling and filing them with the images we had cut from those pages. It seemed like an innocent game at the time, like paper dolls, but instead of dressing them we collected and traded the images in much the same way the boys we knew did baseball cards. But the game was destructive. With adult eyes, I now see the harm inflicted, the damage to my growing self-esteem and skewing of body image. Fortunately, this pastime didn’t last more than a semester, and because I was lucky enough to be surrounded by woman who were healthy examples for me, I made it through adolescence “mostly” unscathed.
Up until a year ago, I was probably about as comfortable as anyone my age is in their body. Winter time is good (lots of clothes.) Summer is bad (not enough clothes.) Good body days; bad body days. Trying on (and wearing) a swim suit blows, and you can never pay too much for a good bra. Aside from these girlfriend-affirmed irritations, I lived my life like many do. I didn’t walk around hiding behind trees, but I wasn’t going to say no to a large beach towel either.
Of course there is a flip side. I’m a mom. And like most moms, I try hard not to verbalize these types of negative thoughts in front of my kids, especially my girls. More times than I can count, we have discussed the trickery used by the media: air brushing, computer generated images and the like, used to modify, enhance, and distort images.
I am constantly working to encourage and build their self-esteem by pointing out their good qualities—which is easy—they are beautiful inside and out. I have taught them that they loved individually and unconditionally, and that their bodies are beautiful and have purpose. But was this enough for them? For me?
I brought up this subject of body image with my oldest daughter, a young adult now. I was surprised to hear her say that as a teenager she had been disgusted by my naked body.
Now don’t take me wrong. This was not a cruel response. Just an honest response. The kind I appreciate and have always encouraged in my girls. The kind that make me think.
And I did.
In her lifetime, she had only seen me naked on rare occasions, usually accidentally. Was her interpretation based on how disgusting I was to look at, or could it be that I had modeled a disgusted, ashamed image of myself? I am a nurse. I have seen bodies without breasts, without arms, with 3rd degree burns, and marveled at their beauty. Why hadn’t I marveled at my own?
It was time to examine my behavior.
Confession time: There was a time when my girls were young (before puberty) that I felt free in my naked body; it didn’t occur to me to worry about how I looked in front of them. Yet as they got older I could feel them watch me closer, and I began to recall those images I had collected as a teenager. Images of thin women with flawless bodies. I thought they had disappeared when the folders hit the trash. Sadly, they hadn’t, and I found myself hurrying to put on my clothes when my girls walked into the room while I was dressing, keeping the bath towel on longer than necessary, or peeking out from behind the closet door to ensure the room was clear. Even sucking in my stomach.
Unknowingly, I was perpetuating the ignorance the media sold me in my youth and unintentionally working to cuff those same chains on my daughters.
But I’ve been working to change that. And I have my grandma to thank.
Grandma had stretch marks, saggy breasts, a long backside, and varicose veins that rippled down through her doughy white calves like snakes. She gave birth to six children and raised them to love and care for one another. She ran a daycare in her home for many years, teaching and guiding others’ children to be God fearing and respecting of human life and dignity. Grandma also fought her own battles with diabetes and heart disease, and when Grandpa received his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, she cared for him until it was no longer in her power to do so, pushing past exhaustion and caregiver burnout—all within that less than perfect body.
One night, my mom, sister, and I met at Grandma’s house to do some reminiscing. We thumbed through old pictures, recalling memories that brought our family together: laughter, holidays, births, awkward adolescence, marriages, grandchildren. At a late hour, my alert and oriented, conservative grandma left the room to change into her pajamas and get into bed. We were surprised when she returned to the living room minutes later, stark naked!
‘See, not so bad for an old woman,’ she said, turning in a slow, graceful circle, moving with confidence.
Our jaws hit the floor and stayed there, as if glued to the carpet. Then Grandma’s contagious laughter broke through our shock—unfortunately, not before I wet my pants, flabbergasted. Not my finest hour. But definitely hers! After the initial shock wore off and we could see past her nakedness, she told us that she felt comfortable letting her girls see her body. She was proud of the body God gave her. We should be too. She projected raw, honest beauty.
That experience stuck with me for years. Even after Grandma passed on I would think of that night and chuckle (usually when I was stepping out of the shower.) But as time passed, I stopped chuckling so much and my thoughts focused more on her words and action. Grandma had taught us a lesson about truth that night. Add that to my daughter’s revelation of disgust for my body, and something clicked inside.
I needed to be more honest with my girls.
I had always taught them to be truthful, yet by hiding myself from them, I had been perpetuating one of the biggest lies in society today—the idea that beauty and contentedness, and loving oneself is tied to an unattainable and unrealistic body image.
So my journey of truth began—and I dropped my clothes.
I did not make an effort to be naked more often than usual. I did not walk around my house for everyone to see. I simply didn’t hide myself anymore. I forced myself not to act embarrassed or ashamed when my girls saw my body during normal actives such as showering, bathing, or dressing—until I no longer was.
For the record, my naked body did not receive cheers of enthusiasm. In fact, at first I noted them cringing and shying away; I’m sure they wished I would cover up. This was new ground for my girls. It was hard for me too. I am Miss Modesty, so the idea of trying to put on the ‘comfortable in my nudity’ face was work. Fortunately, after a few months it became easier, and after almost a year, it’s become an afterthought for all of us.
I am still as modest in public and at home with my boys as I was before, and as my youngest daughter will attest, I still reign as queen of ‘I don’t think so’ if something she wears is too short or too revealing. Please note, this is my personal agenda. Not to insinuate it is better or worse than anyone else’s. We each have brains and hearts to make private choices that affect ourselves and our families. My purpose is simply to teach my girls, and myself, that bodies, no matter how God created them, are a form of beauty.
It is still too early to know how or if this choice will make a difference in my girls’ body images as they continue to grow, walking the narrow bridge of authenticity across the media’s sea of lies. But at least now the lies will have to contend with my truth…and Grandma’s truth.
My hope is that my daughters will always stand tall, supported by their strong, developed thigh muscles, confident in the knowledge that their body is a gift from God…and love it.
In time, I hope they will be blessed to run their fingers into deep, silvery marks carved into their bellies and remember stories of skin stretched to its snapping point to give life to a child; sagging, uneven breasts will recall bitter-sweet days and nights spent nourishing a growing infant, supplying him with nutrition and unconditional love; calves scribbled with purple tangles and long snake-like vines will ache with the satisfaction of service accomplished on tired feet to support and care for others in this world.
And someday, perhaps when time has allowed gravity its inevitable hand, I hope they will turn and catch a glimpse of their long backsides in the mirror, puckered by life. In that moment, I hope they will smile, and maybe even chuckle a little—recalling the story of their naked great-grandmother, modeling her ‘not so bad’ figure with pride, with gratitude for the body she was given, and thank her for teaching truth. Then teach it to their girls.”
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