In a world of conflicting images, Mike Reynolds explores how to teach his children to find the amazing in their bodies even as he struggles to like his own.
I do not like my body.
It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself “my body is amazing,” I keep coming back to: ‘I do not like my body’. I know I’m not alone in this and that different people walk around hating some part of their bodies every day. Maybe it is their ears, or their waist. Maybe someone hates their feet or their calves. For too many people, this is the relationship with their bodies and the impact is significant.
What I’ve become is a ‘master of deceit’, somehow able to hold onto one favorable picture of myself in my mind for long periods of time. I can do this well, keeping that one picture among thousands I hate, in my mind until it starts to shimmer just a little, until the mirage slowly lifts to the reality I experience. At this point, 36 years into my life, my image of myself has become so distorted that I don’t know what differences there might be between my self-perception and the perception of others about my body. At 6 feet tall and 175 pounds, I should be happy. I should have a sense of being an ideal weight. I shouldn’t feel fat. I shouldn’t feel lumpy. My doctor tells me I’m a good weight, but that isn’t what I see.
What I see are shadows under parts that protrude in a way that shouldn’t draw shadows. I see a too-short torso and a too-low chest. I see slouched shoulders and an ambiguous transition from the upper-half to the lower-half of my core.
There are fads, it seems, that would celebrate this type of body like ‘The Dad Bod’ recently made popular – people who love a man who is a little doughy. Maybe there are those out there who would find a picture of my body attractive. The problem, increasingly, is that none of those people are me. It matters not one bit if every other person on earth were to say “you look great,” if one’s own mind refuses to believe it.
When a mind does that to a body, everything is difficult. It is hard to confidently walk around public fully clothed, let alone walk along the edge of a beach with shorts on. So I do what I can to force my mind to accept parts of my physical appearance as beautiful. I dress my body in tattoos I know are beautiful because my daughter has drawn them or in quotes that remind me of how wonderful they are. These tattoos give me an ‘out’ to talk positively about myself when I talk to my kids about my body.
I don’t want to take away from some of the great things my body has accomplished for me. It has completed two marathons and another couple of half-marathons. It takes me on regular morning runs. These accomplishments often do nothing more than make me feel worse about the contours of my body.
“I do EVERYTHING I am supposed to!” I scream at the mirror in which my body looks back at me, or at a picture posted to Facebook that shows a smile on my face and insecurity in my eyes. I prioritize being active and eating well, but I can’t commit the time to shaping my muscles in a certain way without giving up doing something that does make me happy. When you’re not happy with your body, the things that you are happy with become things you try and hold extra tight.
There are stories of amazing people taking to beaches in their bikinis because they’re confident enough to do so and not give a shit. They’re happy because they love their bodies as they are because they understand being happy isn’t about how others perceive them. I’m not there yet, but I hope to one day be.
As a parent I feel uncomfortable about being uncomfortable. In one conversation I’ll tell my girls that they are amazing no matter how they look, no matter how wild their hair is or what shirt they’re wearing. In the next conversation, I’ll tell myself I have the chest of an ugly man and the hips of a sea creature. What worries me is that I have great parents who did try to teach me my body is amazing and who did tell me that success isn’t contingent upon other people telling me I’m handsome. And yet still, I don’t like my body. My partner reminds me all the time that she loves me, that I am handsome and that my body is wonderful. I’m worried I don’t know how to share with my kids that I think our bodies are wonderful while also letting them know it’s not uncommon to feel discomfort with that amazing body.
I’m not writing this out of self-pity. I’m not hoping people will pile on and tell me how great my body is. I’ve realized that doesn’t work for me anyway. It doesn’t matter what others think. I’m writing this in hopes that it will be a start to accepting that I don’t have to love all the parts of my body to be a parent capable of raising kids who have a healthy relationship with their bodies.
I’m writing this because pretending to be comfortable with things I’m not comfortable with hasn’t worked for me. I’m writing this because I want it to be true that one can have a healthy relationship with their body without always loving all its parts. I’m writing this to remind myself you don’t have to love it all by any specific age in order to still be able to show your kids how amazing the human body can be.
I think my body is amazing, and I hope to teach my children to feel the same about their bodies. I hope in time to also figure out how to like it.
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