Monday, January 7, 2013

Reader's Digest and Linkups

Ready for a little soul-bearing, quintessential, stereotypical confession about womanhood? Good. Here it comes! Essentially, I have struggled with accepting my body since my first menstruation in the eighth grade. I was the second to last girl in my tiny class to start, and I was in a giant hurry to be grown up. I am sorry if that is too much information for my male readers, but think of it as important knowledge to stow away for the day you have a little girl or are trying to understand teens in youth groups if you are a priest! Many a woman can share a similar confession about adolescence.  I know, I know… if I knew then what I know now… but growing up is hard.
This subject has been on my mind as of late in part because of Reader’s Digest. (Give me a minute to get there: my train of thought jumps a bit!) I found myself entirely wound up a few weeks ago as I read the latest issue. There was a short, pot-stirring piece titled “Facebook’s Missing Moms.” The author rants for a few paragraphs about how it seems all mothers on Facebook have profile photos of their children instead of themselves, how awful it is that women consider children to be their accomplishments, and ends the piece by saying “The subliminal equation is clear: I am my children.” I was infuriated, but could not find a link to the stupid thing online, so I stewed over it for a few weeks. (Note: when I read it, it happened to be during a rare period of time that I indeed had our Christmas photo of the kids as my profile photo, and I did find it humorous that my husband’s photo was one of my daughter at the time.) Yet another way a woman should not be: proud of her children. Just as she is not allowed to be chubby, pregnant, post-pregnant, or staying home to raise her children. The list is becoming too long to recite.
The other reason why I have been thinking about women: the What I Wore Sunday link up. Participating when I can is a very empowering experience, because it reminds me to take the time to prepare myself for Mass. I thoughtfully pick out my clothing each week, and take time to think about what my children are wearing. I end up in Mass more focused because I am not tugging at something that doesn’t fit correctly, or is not entirely modest. Taking the time to think about what I wear has been positive for me, and I enjoy seeing what others love to wear and proud finds, places to buy, etc. I also find it refreshing to have photos of myself, to be honest. Moms often are hidden from photos, and it is nice to be the focal point for a moment! I see many beautiful women preparing themselves for Mass (and totally adding to my “Must Have List!”) and some women writing in such a way that is way too hard on themselves. This week, one post addressed this is a beautiful way. Great minds think alike!
I have only had appearance related meltdowns a few times in my life. I am stubborn and really hate to show weakness, so I have always worked to avoid revealing many of my insecurities, with few exceptions. As far as anyone should be concerned, I am just fine with how I look, feel, talk and think, thank you very much! My advocacy years aided me in my determination to shut out self-hating speak. I often came across articles that took note of the differences between men and women in the work place. One of these differences centered on women capturing their thoughts with negative explanations. For example, instead of saying, “What if we did this?” women are more likely to say something to the effect of “This may sound stupid, but what if we did it this way?”  You know what they say: Once you hear it, you cannot un-hear it! As soon as I became aware of this tendency, I heard it all the time and it is heart breaking.  It was another tool to throw in the Feminist Toolbox: “Never say something wrapped in negative explanations.”
I take care to dress my body appropriately as well (most days). If I am familiar with the areas I am insecure about, I put in extra effort to understand why and what I can do to improve how I am feeling. While the answer is usually “Lose weight!”, I ask myself other questions to pinpoint what I can do to help me to feel better about myself. Why does it bother me? Am I eating right? Am I being active enough? Is my health affected, or am I just comparing myself to others?
I am tall. This fact, while making shopping for clothes that fit properly a challenge, is quite forgiving. Most people do not accurately guess my weight. According to BMI charts, my pre-pregnancy weight factored in with my height gives me a BMI of 31… obese. In order to tip the scale and fall into the normal BMI range of at most 24.9, I would need to lose 42 pounds. The last time I weighed in the normal range (again, according to these charts) I was in high school, and looked like I was 12. I am confident that is not a valid weight goal for me.
Truth be told, it took becoming a mother to pull me out of most of my insecurities. I do not want my children to ever be told they are not pretty/skinny/strong/attractive enough, but I know how our world currently works. They will be told this from every angle, day in and day out. It is my job from day one to blanket their world in positive words in small, seemingly insignificant ways, and the very last way to do this, is to begin by criticizing my own looks/feelings/thoughts as though I am somehow less of a person because of my flaws or my uniqueness.
I am a woman. I am a woman that is approaching 30, and is currently pregnant for the fourth time. I am married and have really fantastic children, and my life is good. I do not need to meet the BMI guidelines to be happy with myself. My body is how it is for a reason, as long as I take care of it. I am taller, and need the extra weight to be strong. Yes, I could still stand to drop a few, but I choose to focus on eating right and staying active versus dieting. I want my children to eat healthily, and to be active so that their bodies are nourished properly and are strong and healthy. I want the same for me.
In the same way I tell my oldest to “use his words,” I use mine. When I am getting ready for the day and styling my hair and my child asks why, instead of saying “Mommy feels yucky today so I am trying to cover it up,” (Even though that may very well be how I feel!) I tell them that it is good to brush your hair and get ready for the day, and that I like the way my hair looks.  If a game of “Point to Your Body Parts” gets out of hand and one of my children starts lifting their shirt and then mine, I do not say “Stop it! My tummy is yucky!” I calmly tell them that if you are wearing a shirt, you should wear it right. (I know. This logic works on a three year old. We shall see how it works in the future!)
Long story somewhat shorter, I do not have to walk around all day talking about how awesome/beautiful/smart I am to instill positive self-awareness in my children. That is nearly as damning as telling them how I am awful/ugly/stupid. I try to be a voice that tells my children they can be in awe of how they were wonderfully made, and that they can be confident in themselves, in spite of the messages they are sent. It is funny how all this focus on what I want for them has dramatically changed my views of myself!


  1. Jess, I love this post, especially "Never say something wrapped in negative explanations.” I've been working on this really hard lately. Good for you for putting this in your "toolkit" while still in your 20s!

    Regarding your points on mommyhood and body image check out:

    1. I will definitely check that out! I think I am just overly sensitive to words, and that has really helped me in the negative arena. If I would not want it said to me, why would I say it about me? I am glad you got something out of it also!


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