belly buttons, baby girls, and body confidence

My belly wasn't the same after this. I'm learning to love it anyway.
My belly wasn’t the same after this. I’m learning to love it anyway.

In response to some internet body-shaming, some other folks have declared this to be #BodyConfidenceWeek. And since Owning Your Awesome is kind of my wheelhouse, I figured I’d share a little body confidence here.

To talk about the confidence, though, I have to first say: carrying twins to 35 weeks and 6 lbs each, through some 55 lbs of weight gain and loss has changed my body. I still remember feeling the fiery sensation of my abs literally ripping apart, and they stayed that way. My belly button never went back in. My skin was stretched past its capacity to snap back all the way. These are not complaints, really, just realities. I made two people inside this body, and even though it almost killed me, I survived, and those little people are more than worth it.

In fact, they are what give me confidence, both because of the obvious love and delight they take in their bodies and mine, but because I want to protect them from messages that would have them do anything but love and marvel at the miracles of their bodies, and to do that, I have to show them how to love themselves by modeling self-love.

Right now, they’re obsessed with pointing out and naming body parts, but particularly bellies and belly buttons. I kiss their bellies when I change their diapers. “Belly belly belly,” I say as I tickle them and blow raspberries. They’re preoccupied with the part of me that was most changed by their entry into the world. When I’m sitting near them, they lift my shirt playfully. “Belly!” I say. Giggling, their little fingers point out my still-outie belly button. Softly, they tickle my stretched-out skin with their pudgy, sweet, dimpled hands. And in those moments, I don’t feel insecure. I don’t feel ashamed. I laugh. I smile. “You found my belly button!” I say. “Where’s your belly button?” They lift their shirts and stick out their little toddler tummies. They grin as they show me their belly buttons. All I see when I look at them are the perfect, wonderful ones I love. I know that’s what they see when they look at me too. In those moments, we love our bodies together. And that love is a gift that they give me, bigger than anything their gestation and birth did to my flesh.

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just smile and say thanks

*tap tap* Is this thing on?

Long time, no blog! My friends would say I caught the blog flu, but the truth is, I caught the regular flu too.  Somewhere between getting busy with the end of a semester of grad school, catching the flu, and my husband having a brief cardiac episode that landed him in the hospital overnight, I haven’t done much blogging lately.  The truth is, I was kind of burned out on blogging.  I’ve been doing a lot more tweeting and Facebooking of things about which I’d normally churn out a nice blog rant.  But, I’m finally feeling healthy and starting to feel the urge to blog again, so I’m back.  Luckily, I’m not like, Dooce or anything, so I haven’t deluded myself into thinking that anyone missed me.

But, here’s what’s gotten me fired up enough to take pen to paper fingers to keys and get back to blogging: awkward interactions with old high school classmates.

Now, Little Rock is a big small town. It’s small enough and close enough to where I grew up that I still feel wary about going to Kroger unshowered and un-makeup-ed, because I know I’ll run into someone I know.  Now that everyone is coming home for the holidays, the odds of me running into old friends in public is amplified by a factor of ten.

Just yesterday, my husband and I were out doing holiday shopping when I ran into a high school classmate.  We hugged and caught up and exchanged the basic details of where we live now and what we’re up to.  She told me I looked just the same as in high school.  I told her, “Thanks, you too!” And then she said, “No, I don’t, I’m fat!” What was I supposed to say to that?  On the one hand, she has gained some weight since high school.  And, I read enough Fat Acceptance blogs to believe that the word “fat” should no more be an insult than “tall” or “short.”  On the other hand, I know that to most people, calling oneself fat is self-deprecation at best, and an insult at worst.  Was I supposed to argue with her? Say, “No, you look great”?  Was I supposed to just agree and say, “You’re right, you have put on some pounds”?  I felt really awkward.

Instead, I felt like I should insult myself too. Other women can correct me if I’m wrong here, but it felt like we’d entered some sort of ritual, where we’d both self-deprecate in order to be “nice.” I muttered something about having to buy new pants lately because my ass has gotten bigger (this is true, but not something I’m super concerned about), and then saw my husband approaching and changed the subject by introducing him to my friend.

Still, even as we’d left the store, I was thinking about the awkward exchange.  As I munched french fries with my husband, I asked him, “Why couldn’t she just smile and say thanks? Why do women so often do that? Why can’t we just take a compliment, be it about our looks or our abilities?”

The truth is, this happens a lot.  You compliment someone on their outfit, or their hair, or their figure, or the great job they did at something, and then they start trying to convince you that you’re wrong, they don’t really look great, or they really don’t deserve all the credit for that awesome thing they did. And then you, the complimenter, feel like a jerkface. Like, why did I even bother trying to say something complimentary?

It’s enough to make me want to become a motivational speaker (plus or minus a van down by the river), to have seminars where I make women practice receiving compliments with a broad smile and a sincere “Thank you!”  Where I holler at a crowd about OWNING YOUR OWN AWESOME, and the way that this makes people who give you compliments feel good, and more likely to give you compliments, and also about the way that owning your own awesome gives others permission to own their own awesome too.  Because I guarantee you, there is something awesome about you.  And I also guarantee you that the person telling you about that awesome thing really does think it’s awesome.  My friend may have gained some weight since high school, but she’s still a gorgeous woman, and it seems she has a fulfilling job and a husband that she loves, and by most metrics is having a great life.  She should own that awesome.

So, my motivational speech to anyone reading this is: if you bump into an old friend this holiday season, and if they give you a compliment, JUST SMILE AND SAY THANK YOU.  Trust that the other person means it.  Know that when you deflect their praise, you make them feel awkward and kill the conversation, which is the opposite of gracious behavior.  OWN YOUR AWESOME.