When we work with a client, one of the things we talk about a lot is learning to love yourself. We want someone else to fall in love with us, yet there is a part of us that believes that we’re not worthy of love, that is critical of ourselves in so many hurtful ways. How can we expect someone else to love what we don’t?
In coaching we often address this with a great tool called the “Falling in Love with Everything” tool, which, as the name suggests, means us working with a client to address the parts that they’re critical of and learning to fall in love with those. We talk to those parts, often out loud. We address them, we acknowledge them, and we tell them that we love them. It feels great to say it, to hear yourself give voice to those parts that we’re not in love with so much, be that a physical or mental attribute, and to hold them close, to nurture them.
However, sometimes words maybe aren’t enough. We actually have to REALLY learn to love those parts, which is an incredibly hard thing to do. There really is no bigger critic of you than you! We see things other people don’t see, we focus on the minutiae, we look for the negative when other people are staring at the positive, and it can be hard to break the chain.
Before I got pregnant I was a very trim size 8/10. And it was effortless. I didn’t exercise very much, and I ate pretty much anything I wanted. Of course, at the time I didn’t see it and spent hours worrying about the size of my (non-existent) stomach before putting on a bikini, criticising every aspect of my body in the most unhealthy, unhelpful way. Then I got pregnant. It wasn’t an easy journey, and in the end it took IVF to get us there. A stressful journey, emotionally, mentally, physically. Six weeks after I discovered I was pregnant, we received the unbelievable news that I was carrying twins.
During this time, I adored my body. It was an amazing vessel carrying my two babies, and as they grew, so did I. The bigger the better. I watched my flat stomach grow, and grow, and grow, until I looked like I was going to burst. Stretch marks grew and spread across my stomach like lines on a map. All bump, all stomach. From the back, other than the waddle and the pressure of two people sitting on my pelvis, you wouldn’t have known I was pregnant. I bloomed and I felt fantastic (other than the heartburn and the morning sickness which was so bad I was hospitalised – let’s keep it real!)
Thankfully, before I burst, my consultant made the decision to deliver them via c-section. I had carried them to term, and delivered two healthy, perfect babies. A few days in hospital and home we went. I still looked like I was pregnant, and then after a few days, my stomach started to resemble a balloon at the end of a party. Sad. Deflated. Empty. It hung, like an apron, over the vivid scar of my section. But I had more important things to worry about. Three weeks later, without thought, I tried on my skinny jeans and I got into them. I couldn’t sit down (or breathe!), but it was a start.
By the time they were six weeks old, I was back in all my pre-maternity clothes. But I was different. Everything about my body was different. My stomach was destroyed. I had stretched to such an extent that the skin on my stomach was beyond help. Wrinkled, saggy, rippled like the top of a chocolate digestive biscuit. Everything else was fine, as it was, back to normal. But not my middle. The flat stomach that I used to criticise and bemoan in my twenties was gone. Forever. RIP.
The first few years after they were born and we went on holiday, I opted for a one piece or a tankini. But I didn’t feel like me in them. I felt old before my time. Frumpy. Yet still I couldn’t love my stomach. Despite what it had done for me. Despite the sacrifices it had made for me, for my babies, I hated it.
Then something switched. My little nephew, he was only six at the time, his best friend’s mum died. She was only a few years older than me. It was awful. We were about to go away on holiday and I decided that enough was enough. I wasn’t even 37, and I was hiding away. My driving thought was “that woman would give anything to be on the beach with her children and all I’m worried about is the state of my stomach”. So I bought a bikini. I will never forget the nerves, the feeling of trepidation before I stepped out in it. I waited for the collective poolside to draw their breath in horror … and no one batted an eyelid.
Well of course they didn’t. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my body. So I had saggy skin from pregnancy. Big deal. No one cared. And if they didn’t care, why did I? Why was I wasting so much time and energy hating a part of me that had enabled me to carry my babies to full term? I should be loving it. Embracing it. Worshipping it!
I changed that year, and decided to try and love my body as it was, or at least to fall in love with how it had become. I took up running. Not a natural athlete, I found that I was good at it, and I began running half marathons. This is what my body was capable of. It could run 13.1 miles! And I didn’t collapse! I’ve been running now for a decade, and I love the way it makes me feel.
Three and a half years ago, I decided my arms could do with toning up. Rather than sitting around moaning about it and wearing sleeves all year round, I took up boxing. Fell in love with that as well, and still do it on a weekly basis. I feel strong now, fit, healthy. I may not be as thin as I was 20 years ago, but 100% I am in far better physical condition than I ever was then.
I’ve learned what my body is capable of. It isn’t just there to look good. Treated well, it’s a machine. It functions well if I look after it. My body allowed me to carry two human beings until they were ready to come out and survive on their own. It allows me to run 13 miles, to climb hills, to walk for hours. It allows me to hit and punch and duck and weave. It’s amazing. And I love it. Stomach wrinkles and all.
So as well as telling yourself that you love the part of you that you maybe don’t, try and turn it around in a positive way as well. Hate your freckles? Make a huge deal out of them in your dating profile, and attract a man who loves them, revels in them, who wants to kiss every single one of them. Feel out of shape or sluggish? Start moving. You don’t need to run a marathon, take a walk at lunchtime, revel in the outdoors, watch the seasons change and unfold in front of you. Take that negative part of you and pour love on it, tell it you love it, recognise the positives in it, see what it is doing for you and what you can do for it.
My babies are now teenagers. My stomach still looks pretty much the same as it did a year after they were born, and I have an eternal teeny overhang where my section scar is. I also have a daughter who is exposed to so much more pressure than I ever was, constantly bombarded with social media images, all filtered, all doctored, showing so called perfection that we adults know is unattainable. I need to love my body now for her. So she knows what body positivity really looks like. So she doesn’t succumb to the pressures surrounding her today. I NEED to love my body, warts and all, so she can love hers.
Love Yvonne @ Team Michelle