Just the Nine of Us

Just the Nine of Us

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Anatomy of a Body Image

I felt beautiful tonight. Lovely. Even glowing. Which has been a rare feeling the last few months.

For some reason, whenever I see a pregnant woman, I think she is the most beautiful, radiant creature in the world. No matter her size, I think pregnancy makes a woman absolutely stunning. It is the loveliest time in a woman's life, for her blossoming body to be nourishing new life inside. At least, that's the way I feel when I see other pregnant women. It's not usually how I feel about pregnant me.

It all started. . . well, it probably all started at birth, because I'm a woman, and I think we all struggle at least a little with this. . . but I would say that for me, the awareness of my body and how it made me feel really started when I was in eighth grade. I was never super athletic before this point, other than riding bikes as a child and running around playing chase or catching fireflies. I saw myself as "average" and didn't think much more about it than that. I ate what I wanted and wasn't super concerned about exercise or any of that stuff. But I got an aerobics video that Christmas and decided it looked like fun. I've always been one to make New Year's Resolutions, so I made a resolution that year to do the aerobics video after school every day just to get a little exercise and have a little fun. I noticed pretty quickly that doing aerobics every day made me feel really good. I had more energy, I felt even more positive than my usual happy-go-lucky self, and my pants were loosening a bit. :) It wasn't long before friends at school started complimenting me on how good I looked. I had lost probably only 6-7 pounds, but on my 5'4" frame, just a few pounds is pretty noticeable. And they probably noticed that my skin was brightening and I was looking good because I was feeling good. Exercise has a way of making you eat healthier too, so I started thinking about what I was eating and avoiding sugary, high-calorie foods. Before I knew it, I had lost 10 pounds. Suddenly it seemed I was the attention of every boy in school and at church. Seriously, like overnight. Maybe it was the perm :), or the smilier self, but I attributed it solely to the body. Wow, I thought. Suddenly everyone is noticing me because I'm looking good. Skinnier must be better. Skinny equals good. So I ate less and less and exercised more and more. And the attention kept coming. The more attention I got, the more I felt that I must work to keep it. I was on a strict regimen of exercising, increasing it almost daily to before school and after school and sometimes some sit ups before bed at night. Before I knew it, I felt so guilty every time I ate anything- a cracker even- that I wept. I felt guilty, like I was a terrible out-of-control person for having eaten. My positivity had taken a serious nosedive. I was depressed. Anorexic. My parents were afraid it was going to kill me. They admitted me to Crestwood Hospital's psychiatric ward, where I stayed for the next 2 weeks. I spent hours reading my Bible and crying out to God for help with this disease. Positive that He had healed me, I came home and rejoined real life.

High school was pretty smooth sailing because I found that if I exercised every day, I could eat what I wanted. I joined the softball and volleyball teams at church, I ran track and cross country, and on the "off" days I worked out at a gym doing weights and aerobics. This is when I honestly fell in love with exercise. I felt strong and beautiful. I know there are endorphins released when you exercise, and they are addicting, so at this point I know I developed a strong addiction to that feeling. I actually still have the addiction this day. :) I think of all the addictions in the world, it's a harmless and helpful one, so I haven't worried too much about breaking it. :)

Enter the single years between divorce and remarriage. Having felt rejected and abandoned because I wasn't "good enough", it felt good to get attention for my body. I met a personal trainer at the gym on the Arsenal after work every day. We worked hard and I pushed my limits. Again with the strength and endorphins, and I felt on top of the world. I wore my sports bra and showed my 6 pack abs and belly button ring with a certain feeling of triumph. It was the only place I felt victorious in my life so the addiction strengthened.

This is when I met Brian- when I was at the top of my "game". I was tan and toned. Kept my hair styled and colored. Belly button ring still hanging with me. Here I am in the Dominican Republic, maybe a month before we married:

I remember the first time he saw me without makeup, he said, "Wow, you look beautiful!" He even asked me not to wear it, swearing I looked better au natural. I was shocked. Not long after we married and I was pregnant with Maggie, I began to pack on the pregnancy pounds. The varicose veins reared their ugly heads. I kept going to the tanning bed throughout my entire pregnancy because I had heard that "tan fat looks better than pale fat" :), so at least I was going to keep my tan. :)

I lost weight after Maggie was born by going to the gym twice a day and walking 6 miles with a friend at the Greenway pushing strollers a couple times a week. Before I knew it, I was even skinner than before. People would say, "Wow, I can't even tell you've had a baby!" and I would beam with pride. I loved hearing that.  I was doing a Beth Moore ladies' Bible study and I remember one particular session talking about seasonal fruits. She asked if we felt like we were spinning our wheels on something, and she said, "Maybe that's just not this season's fruit." I felt a tug in my heart that maybe I was entering a different season with different fruit than the perfectly toned body I had experienced in former seasons, but I was afraid to let go. Deep inside I wanted the admiration of others enough to keep pushing. Anyway, how could I expect Brian to keep loving me if I got fat? Isn't that what would happen if I let go- I would get fat? And wouldn't that be like false advertising? He had married a skinny, svelte me. I needed to stay that way so he wouldn't leave.

Pregnancy with Penelope was pretty much the same. I had decided by this time to ditch the tanning bed (Brian asked me to because, in his words, "I don't want you to look 60 when you're 30" :)), but I kept working out. The day before she was born, I walked my six miles on the Greenway.

She would have probably been a good nurser, but I remember laying on the bed when she was about a week old, nursing her, and my mind telling me I needed to stop sitting around and get back in the gym. I listened to that voice because I hadn't tanned during that pregnancy and had gained more weight than with Maggie because I had a placental abruption scare that had me on bed rest for awhile. It was time to get back to skinny, I thought, so I fixed a bottle, left her with Brian, and headed off to the gym. The weight came off quickly, which was good because four months later I was pregnant with Rosemary:

Having Rosemary was a bit of a turning point for me. One, I was now a homeschooling mother of four girls, three of them three and under. I at least recognized that I was definitely in a different season of life. :) Also, I believe that breastfeeding Rosemary was a huge point of healing for me and my whacked out psyche. I was more amazed at what my body could do than at how it looked. When you nurse, you have to eat enough to keep up a good supply of milk for the baby. You have to rest more often because, well, you can't nurse while running on the treadmill. At least I don't think you can. :) Those nearly 9 months of exclusively breastfeeding Rosemary were really good for me. I felt proud of my imperfect looking body because it was nourishing a little one and she was strong and healthy on my milk. I remember "finally" going to the gym when she was a couple months old. I left her in the childcare and hopped up on the treadmill. For the first time, the treadmill didn't fulfill. I realized that I would rather be cuddling and nursing my sweet baby girl than spinning around like a hamster on a wheel. I actually stopped my workout early because I missed my baby and the way she smelled. I was finally embracing motherhood. For me, breastfeeding had a lot to do with that. I finally began to see the beauty of putting aside my own desires for a perfect body, for the good of my child. And I felt beautiful and strong and capable because of that, not because my biceps were perfectly sculpted.

I had a little bit of bed rest at the end of my pregnancy with Samuel because I was contracting and dilating so early. During that bed rest time, instead of dwelling on how mushy my butt was getting and how lazy I felt (something I had done in previous pregnancies), I started a Bible study on the Song of Solomon and began to dwell on how beautiful I was in the eyes of the Bridegroom, Jesus. I had a natural birth with him, and again just felt so strong and capable that it didn't matter what my body looked like. I celebrated the miracle of birth instead of worrying about how many pounds I had gained. It was life-changing.

Samuel nursed for a few months, during which I rested and ate nourishing foods and focused on feeding my baby instead of getting back to a certain size. It was so fulfilling. But when we had to stop nursing at 4 months, suddenly I felt the irresistible urge to get back at it in the gym. I joined a Boot Camp class with the toughest personal trainer in the area. She whipped me into shape. I lost 12 pounds and got stronger than I had ever been. In Boot Camp, we did 100 pushups at every workout. When I started Boot Camp in September, I did about 10 of them on my toes and the rest on my knees- "girl pushups". By my last month of Boot Camp in March, I was doing all 100 on my toes. I went from using the 8 pound dumbbells for reps to using the 15 pound dumbbells. I still felt that if I wasn't pregnant or nursing, I needed to make sure I was in incredible shape. We let our gym membership run out at the end of March, and in April I started running around our neighborhood every day. April through July, I ran 5 miles most every day. I lost another 8 pounds. By the time I got pregnant this time, I weighed 116- something I hadn't seen since before Maggie. Here I am right when I found out I was pregnant with this baby:

I was overjoyed, because I remember that loooooooong period of almost 14 months between Samuel's birth and the start of this pregnancy (well, long for me :)), I was skinny mini but if I saw a pregnant woman, I was so envious. I told my friend Linda, who was pregnant and commenting on my skinny self, that I would rather be big and glorious and pregnant than be so skinny. Why is the grass always greener on the other side?? But I knew how fulfilling it was to be carrying a baby, and I missed that, no matter how skinny I got. I longed to nourish and nurse again.

So here I am, in that coveted state, carrying a beautiful baby girl inside who is growing and doing so well. Why do I have days when I feel so gross and fat and revolting? Those are the days I listen to that voice of the enemy which seeks to steal, kill, and destroy all my joy. (John 10:10). He wants me to feel defeated and worthless because of my imperfect body. And believe me, it is imperfect. The varicose veins are worse this time than ever. I wear long skirts and pants because I would die if any of you saw my blue, bulging veins that cover my legs from top to bottom. Maggie saw me getting dressed the other day and said, "Wow, that's gross." I told her she didn't have to stand there and stare, and she said, "It's like a train wreck, I can't look away." :) Yes, that is me right now. I have already gained EIGHTEEN POUNDS. Not sure why. That's a lot for me by this time of pregnancy. It may be because I haven't been able to work out. Also my girls always make me hungrier than having a boy did. Anyway, I'm having to come to grips again with an imperfect pregnant body. I have to remind myself daily that this is a blessed state, a beautiful season that too quickly will pass. That God says I am worthy of His love regardless of changes in my body shape, so I must believe that I am worthy of love regardless of that too. I believe that for me, the back to back pregnancies and the blue veins are all part of His shaping me into a woman who is much more than her body, whose beauty goes deeper than skin. And I must choose to embrace the burning and molding He is doing in me.


  1. I love you, Julie, in all the states you find your body transformed.

  2. One of my favorite verses is in Proverbs that says, "Favor is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who feareth the Lord she shall be praised!" It reminds me that I don't need others approval on how I look and that in fact I shouldn't even put too much stock in it myself, but just focus on my relationship with Him and how I show that to others.
    I know this is a challenge to many ladies/girls and am so thankful to have been raised in a way that I was sheltered from a lot of that mindset. (homeschooled, no tv until older teen, no dating/courting until older, strong emphasis on modesty and covering up regardless of what your body looks like, etc) I'm now trying to pass that heritage down to my own girls so that they will understand the importance of having a heart for God rather and trying to please Him, rather than worrying over outward looks and pleasing others ideas of what is "beautiful".
    Thanks so much for sharing your heart! I think we need more honest people to be willing to open up about their struggles in order to encourage others! :-)


  3. Thanks for sharing your heart, friend. You are beautiful inside and out.

  4. I have the best friends in the world!! You girls are sweet. I love you both dearly. Thanks for the encouragement. And Brian, you totally rock. :)