It was our last family holiday. We spent it in the Bushveld, in January when it is nice and HOT. It was supposed to be a holiday filled with swimming and tanning and drinks next to the pool… It was anything but.
Most days I was either shamed, guilted or threatened into exercising. Either going for a run or doing an hour of intense yoga or pilates. On the days that I just refused, I got the silent treatment. On the days that I participated, I got a “good girl” pat on the back. Now don’t get me wrong, I love exercising. I run 2 to 3 times a week, pilates another 2 or 3 times, and I walk almost every day. Kilometres far. So exercising for me is nothing new or funny, and usually not a punishment. This holiday, it was.
In between the forced movement, I also had to endure glares as I drank a cocktail, had sweets, or indulged a bit more than what I would usually. We were on holiday after all, right? Yeah right.
Let me backtrack a bit to paint this picture more vividly. I have always been bigger boned. I am not bulky, but I will never be described as petite. Even at my skinniest, when I weighed a mere 58kg, I still had thunder thighs, calves that looked like I could kickstart a Boeing, and arms that looked like I could win an arm-wrestling match. I am athletically built and I build muscle very fast – like in just by looking at weights. I am not complaining, simply explaining.
Growing up, I was often pitted against my smaller counterparts. And of course, I then dreamt of having their waists, their thigh gap, their skinny arms. Often I was teased about looking like I could play rugby. In the fragile mind of a 13-year-old, this sticks.
My first serious boyfriend was a kickboxing world champion, complete with an 8-pack most guys would dream of. I set off sharply against him, even then (when I was a lot lighter) taking up some solid space. He made it fun to go to the gym with him, and we had a very playful relationship when it came to exercising. Back then I thought I didn’t mind, but now looking back I can see the pattern.
Going from a very insecure teenager to a curvy adolescent, then a fit (still curvy) young woman has cemented the idea in my head that I should try harder. Eat less. Move more. Wear different clothes. Be better. This was enforced by most of the male figures in my life, some jokingly and others more serious, including uncles, boyfriends, classmates, and more. Whether true or not, it taught me to never be comfortable in my own skin, and to always feel guilty when I didn’t make the “best decisions”.
After having 2 kids, my body has more than simply changed. It has transformed. And not into an elegant butterfly, although I can now say – still beautiful. I have sagged and plumped where I should not really be saggy or plump. I have stretch marks and dimples and areas that have not seen the sun since I was 3 and paraded around in a g-string swim bottom (yes, it was the early 90s and that was the look. It even had frills).
That holiday, when I spent the entire week sitting in the shade, with a t-shirt on, so that I did not have to afront anyone with my wobbly thighs or saggy boobs, I realised something. For too long have I equated an opinion about my body and how I look with genuine concern for my health and well being. I have confused strict control with loving advice and guidance. I was mixing up terms in my head, including “partner”, “equal”, “enough”, “strong” and “beautiful”. I was being criticised and critiqued, numbered and being kept an eye on. For what? Acceptance? Love?
Love. Love is unconditional or should be. Desire is not. If you love me enough, you will be able to look past all my “flaws” and see me. You might even get to love my flaws! If your love is conditional, based on my external appearance, then I now have enough respect for myself to walk away. To encourage you to rather point your desire in another direction, away from me.
I am a long way away from self-acceptance. There are many wounds that still need to heal, things I need to convince myself of and others I still want to change because it is really to my own advantage health and wellness-wise. In this whole process of walking away and finding myself, I have found grace. With the same grace that God covers me with, I now cover myself with. I give myself grace to enjoy life, to indulge in cravings (for chocolate and wine and bread!) from time to time, and to exercise when it feels good. Without any guilt.
Now, when I am on holiday, I lounge next to the pool, in my pre-baby bikini, so that my stretch marks can get a tan. I run after the kids, wobbly bits and all. I do not feel guilty when I have that cocktail or eat the chips, and if I am awake before it is piping hot, I even do some pilates. For the rest, I enjoy myself and this beautiful body that God has entrusted me with. I hope you can say the same.