Black spandex leggings—“Spanx”—hug her tightly. The wide waistband at the top stretches across her abdomen, smoothing and holding her core. On top she wears a long-sleeved black top, silhouetting her curves nicely. The rust and burgundy crushed velvet flowers covering her duster make a bold statement as she walks.
The wide waistband of her black leggings covers the places that have born the cost of becoming a mother. Hidden beneath them are the signs of what it has meant to carry life and death inside of her. The scar from an emergency caesarean section, stretch marks from a belly that has expanded to it full capacity five times, separated abdominal muscles, and softened skin that is no longer able to contract as tightly as it did in her youth mark the space of her core.
Her legs are strong. They have walked across foreign lands, climbed mountains, carried children up and down stairs, and stood for hours in airports and also retail stores when her work required them to.
Her arms—slender, long, and deceptively strong—have held much over the years. Juggling infant carriers, Pack ’n Plays, and picking up toddlers well into her forties kept them strengthened. Walking across a college campus, they toted a twelve-month-old in one arm and boxes she carried to her freshman daughter’s dorm room in the other. When they open wide, the duster drapes from them elegantly, invitingly. These same arms have held and hugged women across the globe; they are part of her signature–she is known for her hugs.
Her once blond hair no longer has highlights; instead, her grey hair is coming in white in some spots, and she wears it boldly and naturally. It too is becoming a signature–women stop to notice and comment on the color.
She has always had freckles, and today they are accented with age spots. Her skin has become just a bit “crepey” in spots on her forearms and thighs. Her eyes look much as they always have; no wrinkles or crow’s feet yet. And her neck has started to take on a family trait passed from her great-grandmother to her mother and now to her–what was once firm under her chin has visibly lost some of its collagen.
She has been faithful. She has grown and matured and weathered the battles she has had to fight. She has served tirelessly and without any serious illnesses or disease.
In the past fifteen years I have often chosen black for her, although she deserves to be more brightly celebrated. It seems easier to look at her in the mirror and notice what has changed—how she’s grown, where she’s aged, how time and gravity have not been generous to her. I examine her with critical eyes that see her through a lens of contempt. I am seduced by the lie that black hides her flaws, soothing the shame that can speak loudly when I am in the company of other women.
The statistics around body image for women in my age category are sobering. One study cited 83% of women dislike their bodies.
As I consider my own experiences with other women, that statistic feels true. Rarely do I gather with women around a table when the conversation isn’t laced with subtle or overt body disdain. It manifests in comments about dieting, exercising, or self-deprecating words about how they look. Why do we generally feel dissatisfied and contemptuous towards our bodies, and why do we seek connection over it?
Hillary McBride, a wise voice, wonders, “What if each of us were already enough, and gaining weight, losing weight, stretch marks, grey hair, wrinkles, cellulite, weren’t things we were afraid of or had power over us? But were things, kind of like hair color, that maybe we noticed, but learned to work with, accept, and even enjoy because they were unique about us?” (Mothers, Daughters, and Body Image).
I believe we can change the trend, shift the dialogue, and invite something kinder that promotes blessing our bodies, and it begins with me.
I am committed to staying in my body and learning to be kind to her. Her curves, her scars, her stretch marks, her skin that sags, the age spots that are becoming more plentiful, and her greying hair are all things I want to welcome and bless, not resist and cover and torture with deprivation. I confess—it is a work in progress. Some days it comes effortlessly, and I bless the image in the mirror. Other days, I succumb to the seduction.
Today I am choosing my recently purchased coral dress from Target. I will welcome myself in the mirror and work to choose kindness throughout the day. Join me?
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories, a reluctant dreamer, and the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for over 33 years, she is mother to five kids and a pastor’s wife. She loves quiet mornings with hot coffee, rich conversations, and slowly savored meals at her favorite restaurants. She is awed that God chose her to mother four girls having grown up with no sisters. She writes about her life and her work here.