by Jill Vettel
My daughter doesn’t love her body.
She doesn’t hate it, either. To her, at five, her body just is. Good for running, for sliding, for jumping on the couch even though she isn’t supposed to, but can’t quite resist.
Her body is for displaying stickers and pretty dresses and sparkling shoes. Her body is just a part of her, but it is not her.
She asks about the shining purpled lines on my skin tracking the curve of my hips, the softness of my belly. That’s where you grew, I say. Those are my stripes. She wonders if she’ll have stripes, too. Maybe, I tell her. If you’re very lucky.
But really I am neither proud nor ashamed of the marks left on my stretched out skin. My babies grew under them, they are are a part of me as much as the scar on my elbow or the ink etched into my skin. Part of me. They are not me.
Are my only options to love my body despite it’s flaws or to hate it because of them? Sometimes my body is wonderful, a miracle. Beautiful. Sometimes it is ill and weak and traitorous. But sometimes, most of the time, it just is.
She wants to know why I exercise, why I push my body to go a little longer, just a few more lunges, a few more steps. To be healthy, I tell her. To be strong.
I’ve watched a new body emerge, altered by pregnancy and birth, but now I run my fingers across the notches of ribs, the jut of hipbones, the strength of my thighs. I am different, stronger. But wasn’t I strong before?
Her body is not like my body. She is climbing the growth charts; someday I’ll look up to talk to her, stand on my toes to kiss the top of her head. Will she still feel the same about her body then? Tall and curved and full? Will I tell her to love her body? Will she hate it anyway? Should I give her the space to do both?
Her body is not mine.
My body is not me.
For now she is spindly foal legs and convex belly and silky soft hair. She is smart and kind, loud and quiet and clumsy and gentle. Her body is for drawing pictures, for hugs, for swimming, for dancing and singing. For curling up on the couch, for resting. She doesn’t think about it much, not yet, but soon. I wonder what I will tell her, when I am not so sure myself.
She would change one thing about her body, though, if she could. She wishes she had gills, so she could swim beneath the sea.
I don’t love my body, but maybe I don’t have to.
Jill Vettel is a writer and stay at home mom of three in Durham, NC who used to wish she had three arms, but seems to be managing okay with two.