My youngest son’s favorite thing is my belly. It’s his safe place, his comfort zone.
When he gets hurt, I scoop him up and he snuggles down into my chest and belly. He slides his chubby little hand onto my soft skin and says, “I rub you belly” with the sweetest look of contentment in his eyes.
When he just needs some mama time, usually his hand makes its way under my shirt and onto my stomach. He likes to look at it. He likes to play with it. He likes to dive into it. He likes to jump on it. He likes to lay his head on it. Pretty much, as long as he can access it in some way, he’s good.
The other day he happily sat in my lap and as he found my stomach he said, “Your belly my home.” (And my heart fell on the floor.)
It’s true. My belly was his home. It housed all three of my boys, and in many ways, it still is their home.
Funny thing about how much my sons love my belly is that there are aspects of it that if I allow myself to, I kinda hate. The things my sons love about it are the things I’m not all that thrilled with.
How soft it is.
The rolls that happen when I sit.
The stretch marks.
The way it mushes together so easily to look like a prune.
Those are the things that society would say I should change, the things that make my stomach less than perfect. And quite frankly, there are days that I agree with society.
I work-out most every day. I take care of my body. But there is no amount of planking that will change the fact that I have loose skin from when my belly was home to three babies (two of which were in there at the same time). There are some things about my body that just are what they are. These are things I don’t love and that make me feel subconscious at times if I think about them for too long.
Yet, every day my boys tell me I am beautiful.
To them, I am perfect.
My saggy belly was their home. My imperfect body is their peace.
They don’t care about my cellulite or my belly rolls when I sit. They don’t care about any of what I care about. They don’t see any of the imperfections society might see. All they see is me, their mama.
It can be hard to hold on to the beauty our children see within us when we have become so accustomed to the world’s standards of beauty and perfection, our body image suffering in the process. It’s challenging to hold on to the truth that our worth and our value is not defined by our bodies, but by our hearts, when we are bombarded with messages of the opposite.
No matter how hard it is, though, I am determined to believe my sons rather than anyone else, including my own mind.
We have to start believing the truth. The same truth that we speak to our beloved babies, but neglect to speak to ourselves.
Would we ever dare say to our children the harsh things we say to ourselves? How many pieces would our hearts break into if we heard our children speak to themselves the way we speak to ourselves?
We couldn’t fathom it.
Yet, that’s exactly what happens if we aren’t careful.
Our children are listening to us. They are watching us. They are learning truth from us. They are gathering information about the world and what they should believe based on what they see within us.
So when our babies, who think we are as perfect as it gets no matter what we look like, hear us berating ourselves; when they see us touching our bellies they love so much with an expression of disgust; when they listen to our actions which overpower our words; we are teaching them not only unhealthy messages of beauty, but we are also teaching them that they are wrong.
We are unintentionally telling them that what they see is inaccurate, and therefore, in some way, something is wrong with them too.
They see this beautiful woman whom they love calling herself ugly, labeling herself fat, criticizing parts of her body for how they look rather than praising them for how they function. And our children begin to think, “If my mom thinks she’s all those things, what might she think of me? If she doesn’t measure up, how ever will I?”
A conflict then arises within our children where they hold one belief about the flawlessness of their mother, but are being told something entirely different by that same woman. Our daughters might begin to imitate our behaviors, forming their own negative body image. Our sons might begin to change how they view women.
Like almost everything else, standards of beauty are taught first at home.
If we heard one of our children criticizing their bodies the way we do, it would feel like someone just ripped our soul out. We would immediately jump to their defense. We would negate anything negative they said with all the positive, beautiful, wonderful truths we see in them.
We would go above and beyond to ensure they never had another thought like that about themselves, not because we’re ridiculous but because we see them for who they really are, perfect in all their imperfections, gorgeous in every way—the same things they believe about us.
So let’s stop arguing with our children about the beauty they see within us. Let’s stop telling them they are wrong for thinking we are perfect just the way we are. Let’s stop inadvertently telling them they too are flawed and need to change themselves.
Let’s start believing for ourselves the same truths we speak to our babies.
Let’s see our imperfect bellies, with their soft spots and extra rolls, as home to our most precious people. Let’s appreciate our bodies for the life-giving miracles they are and release the outside world’s unrealistic idea of what perfect looks like.
In the eyes of our children, we are perfect.
And children don’t know anything but honesty and truth until they learn different. They don’t place value on body parts until we teach them to.
So let’s stop.
Let’s love ourselves the way we love our children, and the way they love us in return.