The Victoria’s Secret bag lay unopened on my bed. It was full of bathing suit options for our two upcoming summer trips, both of which involved beaches and water. I didn’t dare try on suits in the store, under the watch of a perky twenty-something-year-old that will lie and say, “Oh, that looks great on you” when I know damn well my stretch marks, knobby knees and spider veins are highly visible.
At least in the privacy of my own bedroom, I can cry without public embarrassment.
This time last year I was preparing for my cousin’s wedding. A combination of things detracted from my joy of standing up as a bridesmaid: sleep deprivation, mood swings, panic attacks and depression for starters. I also weighed 125 lbs, which on my just under 5ft frame is a lot, and about as much as I had weighed pregnant with my second child. Purchasing a bridesmaid dress, or a bathing suit, was not high on my list of fun things to do. There was a little bit of grieving after the initial shock of accepting a more round body.
Thus began my healthy and more active journey over this past year.
Although it has been a year of progress, I still had apprehension about seeing myself in a bathing suit. Each suit I slipped on felt binding and uncomfortable, the sizes now unfamiliar again. And when I stood in front of the mirror, all I could see were pasty thighs touching, hips that still seemed too soft and a belly begging for more sit-ups. I couldn’t see all the hard work or the missing 15 pounds. So I stuffed all the suits back in the bag and buried them in my closet.
This past Saturday I ran 8 miles with a friend through a very wooded and hilly park. We chatted the whole time about our kids, husbands and desires. Sweat was pouring down my body, my muscles working hard.
“It’s hard to believe that this time last year you could hardly run a mile,” my friend stated emphatically, “and now look at you!”
I tried those suits on again that afternoon, and took a look.
A good look.
For years I defined my beauty by my fashion sense, a new hairstyle or color, perfectly manicured nails and make-up. I hid behind my youth, small frame and high metabolism. My perceived personal strengths were superficial and, to be honest, vain. So when age and hormones disruptive my beauty, I felt lost and worthless. I felt ugly and out of control. But when I took a good look at myself, in those brightly colored bathing suits, I saw a different beauty.
I saw legs that have worked hard to carry me not just in miles but in years. I saw arms that have toiled over weights and carrying children. I also recognized that those stretch marks weren’t just from frivolous bowls of ice-cream or pizza, but from growing a life inside my belly.
I saw physical and emotional strength.
I saw courage and self-motivation.
I saw more success than failure.