Usually when I attend a conference, I write synopsis blog posts for my readers so that they can have an “on-the-scene” recap. As I was reading over my notes to share the wonderful presentation by Jennifer McLellan of Plus Size Birth, I had the distinct impression that it would be very unfair to her to share my notes. She is an accomplished writer and speaker…publishing my notes would be plagiarizing her work.
So instead, I am going to share how seeing her presentation changed my life. It was one of those lightbulb moments that will forever stand out in my memory. Today I can see a delineation in my motherhood journey between “before Jen” and “after Jen”.
Here is a little backstory, so you can get a picture of why seeing Jennifer speak has changed my life…
I have struggled with body image since I was about five. I have a beautiful mother and I never felt like I lived up to her. When I was little, I had foot problems so I had to wear ugly corrective shoes. After I outgrew those, I had to wear glasses – and not just glasses – “coke bottles”. I have terrible eyesight. Elementary school was no fun as far as looking like a “normal” kid.
On top of that, I was a late bloomer – very much an “ugly duckling”, in the story in my head, anyway. Once I finally felt like I fit in, I gravitated towards jobs that were heavy on body image. I worked in the retail clothing industry when I was in college, and I was a professional dancer once upon a time; so there was a whole slew of “not thin enough” messages from those industries.
I see pictures of me when I was dancing professionally and I cannot believe that I ever thought I was “too fat” – there is one in particular that haunts me: I was skin and bones. (Those pictures are hard to look at, too.) Then, my thyroid went out of control with my first pregnancy and my doctor didn’t catch it until I had gained 80 pounds – gar!! I went on to gain another 20 pounds for a total of 100 pounds of weight gain that first pregnancy. So I went from thinking I was too fat, to now actually having a fuller figure, and real weight to lose.
What has been constant throughout most of my life: Feeling betrayed by my body. I hated myself and I could barely stand to look in the mirror. Makeup is the mask I hid behind, because you know, if my face is fabulous, then the rest of me is too, right??
On the flip side, I am a huge believer in the power of positive thinking, and the idea that our thoughts are things…so lots of internal conflict. While I hated my shell, I knew I had to be positive to teach my children a healthy relationship with their body and with food. How could I teach them to love life and believe in themselves when I could not live sincerely?
I was lucky enough to catch Jennifer speak at the 2nd Birth Without Fear Conference in Austin, TX in the fall of 2014. I had seen some of the videos she shared in her presentation as they made their rounds on the internet (the ones I remember were from the Dove® body image campaign; see videos HERE), and I have seen blog posts written by people encouraging people/women to stop feeling ashamed of their bodies and start embracing life…but none of them inspired me to take action. I still lived with hate in my heart towards this body that betrayed me on a daily basis.
Did you hear the news? I’ll be taking the stage at the Birth Without Fear Meet up in Denver this summer to spread my messages of body love! I can’t wait to do another #BWF event. #BWFDenver #BWFMeetup #bodypositive #bodylove #capturemotherhood @birthwithoutfear @january_harshe photo by @sweetpeabirths Dress by @eshakti
There is something magical about Jennifer. She started with humor, and then caught my heartstrings with her sincere message that we are enough, and that it is important to capture our motherhood. Not just in words or pictures of our children.
She challenged all of us to start being in images with our children. One part of her presentation invited the audience to write a love note to themselves…that was a hard line for me to cross. I hated my body. I knew that in the eyes of my children this body represents love, and they sincerely mean it when they say, “You are beautiful, Mommy”.
I used to scream inside when they said that! Learning to stop feeling betrayed by this flesh has been a slow process – one that started with biting my tongue the first time my daughter told me I was beautiful around eight years ago. I knew that if I told her I was fat or pointed out the flaws I saw, that would be the message she would learn, too…a cycle I could not bear for her to learn.
Thanks to Jennifer’s challenge, I can put words to why I need to stop hating myself, and I have one very good reason to love myself. I keep that note I wrote in Austin at the front of my journal to inspire me to embrace my body as a partner instead of the enemy. It is a reminder that my body is not something to hate or to be ashamed of, and instead, I am learning to treasure it as the vessel that grew and birthed four strong, relatively healthy children.
A photo posted by Sweet Pea Births (@sweetpeabirths) on
I used to enjoy scrapbooking. Ideally, I want our children to have pictures of all of us embracing life together. Then again, I kept seeing my body as a mismatch with what I felt like I should look like and I stopped stepping in front of the camera. Our pictures for the last ten years have been a lot of the Sweet Pea Kids out and about as we explore the world around us, and a once-a-year family shot for holiday cards where I hide behind them.
Thanks to Jennifer’s inspiring message, I have stopped waiting to reach my ideal body image before I can be in pictures again. I am in front of the camera *now* because I do not want them to wonder where I was in their lives. I have started living it with them, front and center in front of the camera, just as I do when there is no lens there.
I have been pleasantly surprised to see those pictures – I no longer cringe when I see myself next to our children. With a new gaze, I see the fun we are capturing and the memories we have made, and I am so grateful that Jennifer’s message was the catalyst to make me stop wishing and start doing. I truly cannot thank her enough for her presentation, and for the love note she made us write. It’s the first positive thing I have said about my body in almost 20 years. I can finally start to find some congruence and acceptance so that my message to our children is genuine instead of forced.
As to the more humorous side of her presentation, her 10 tips for taking better pictures really work, too!! HERE is part of that presentation in her own words, published as a blog post on her own blog (see, it’s a good thing I listened to my instincts!!). So whether you take in the fun part, the inspirational part, or embrace the whole message of her “Capture Motherhood” challenge, you will be blessed.
Find Jen’s speaking calendar HERE Since I make every effort not to compromise our children’s privacy, I will share this picture I took with my DH. This smile is so different than a picture I would have taken a year ago.
Why do I see such a difference? People who knew me in high school or college, or when I was dancing professionally, wouldn’t recognize the shape I carry around these days. That used to mortify me. Since seeing Jennifer and writing that love note, I have come to accept that my heart that loves God and seeks to love others is the same, and that heart loves my children and pumped blood into them, and this body that grew to a tremendous size to grow them, are the reason why they are here today.
I will not apologize or be ashamed anymore. This vessel is the reason why four pieces of my heart walk around outside of my body, and I couldn’t be prouder of the work it has done.
We went on our first date 16 years ago this month. I had no idea then what our life was going to be like. All I knew after that first night of dancing with him was that I didn’t need to look any further. I was willing to go on a journey with him and see where it would take us. We are so blessed – I pray all our children have a life partnership where they know they are loved, even when the season isn’t all hearts and flowers.
A photo posted by Sweet Pea Births (@sweetpeabirths) on