BATHING SUIT SEASON, BRING IT ON!
After having spent years of my life struggling with body issues (among others), it feels astonishing to finally be in a place where I embrace and celebrate my body. And I feel a deep kinship with so many other women who struggle to feel sexy, and confident, and free.
I KNOW I’M NOT ALONE
A male beloved reminded me that this is a universally human thing – to struggle with our self-image. So true. It’s part of how we become ourselves. For me, I finally put down the fight. What grows instead is a deep love and appreciation for all that I am. And that I am still here at all.
As a parent, this journey to self-love has been absolutely invaluable. The self-compassion and awareness I’ve gained, from decades of B.S.-stripping practice, are among my most precious allies. They are definitely the greatest gifts I have to offer my kids. No matter how cliché it sounds, “you can’t really love someone else until you love yourself.”
It is the biggest deal around. Self-love is the source of authentic self-expression, courage, and connection.
SO HERE WE GO…
I DON’T REMEMBER EXACTLY HOW IT STARTED.
Sometime shortly after my father’s cancer diagnosis, I began a dangerous and downward spiral of self-sabotage. I was 15, and my world was unraveling. In five months my father would be gone, and to me, anything resembling a family would go with him.
On the outside, I put up a brave and impressive illusion of resilience and excellence. I was earning A’s. Ski racing with the boys (since there was no girls team). Singing in a production of Godspell. Finding any way to excel. It was how I coped with the unraveling. Along with binge eating then sticking my finger down my throat so I wouldn’t gain weight – which kept it all under the radar.
When I got into my first choice of schools, Williams College, my bulimia came with me. I began to realize that the image of excellence I was chasing, and the security I thought it offered, was a trap. It led me right to a particularly “dark night of the soul” in my sophomore year, which was the gift I needed.
THE TURNING POINT
I think it’s like this for almost everyone. We have these frightening psycho-social-spiritual encounters that bring us up close to our shadows. In these excruciating moments, we take a good look at what we’ve kept hidden. What follows is a priceless opportunity. To create a new relationship with ourselves and make a leap forward in our development as human beings.
I joined an eating disorder support group (I think mostly out of exhaustion with trying to hide it.) Changed my major from Political Science to Studio Art. Began DJing on the college radio station. Traded the pressures of Division One ski racing for a volunteer ski patrol position at the local ski area. Loved hanging out with the old salty guys who were also doing it purely for the love of skiing.
I finally realized there was no one holding up all those hoops I’d been jumping through for so long. It was time to start living my life for me, and for joy. It would take decades more to really shed the habits of self-sabotage. I grew up in a family with a lot of critique and criticism, which became my own inner dialogue. De-programming remains a work in progress.
It all shifted when I started to become my true self. Instead of just trying to excel or do what I thought was expected of me, I started making decisions out of a sense of what felt true to me. I didn’t grow up thinking that my truth should naturally be what guided my decisions. What seemed more important was what others expected and valued. Or what generally seemed to mean “success.” Whether or not it was a true expression of me.
RE-ORIENTING TO SELF-LOVE
I recently shared a video with an old friend. It’s from last summer. I’m doing a backflip off a cliff into the lake at Flaming Gorge. There I am in my old tattered bikini. And there’s my belly (which never really recovered from having my babies when I was 41 and 42 years old). I don’t think I look anything close to hot. But it’s a fun moment. And whenever I push myself to see if I can still do those backflips I feel awesome and totally alive.
This friend, who was actually a boyfriend more than 30 years ago, immediately texted me back after watching my video. He wrote, “You’re the sexiest woman I ever dated.” What?!?! I’d actually had to put some energy into getting over the flabby-tummy bikini body to even be able to share the video. And I don’t think I was any smaller when we dated – maybe larger.
Maybe it wasn’t about the body.
Maybe it really was about joy, and living whole-heartedly, and unapologetically.
Maybe I’m starting to let this in.
For around fifteen years, about as long as I’ve been a parent, I’ve been experimenting with something called Appreciative Inquiry. It is an approach that focuses on possibility and positive potential. It inspires creativity and engages my full capacity at any moment. It’s for sure one of the reasons I’ve been able to survive, and often even thrive, as a single parent.
Here’s how I practice Appreciative Inquiry. No matter what happens – especially when hard things happen and I notice myself focusing on what’s wrong, what’s hard, what sucks – I make a shift.
I choose to look for what is working or what I love. I ask: “What is showing up out of this challenge as a gift for my highest evolutionary potential?”
For body image, whenever I get down on myself for however many pounds I think I should lose, or how I think I should look in a bikini, I make the shift. I remember that after all I have been through – the bulimia, the surgeries to fix me after a nearly fatal fall off a cliff, the 29 hours of hard labor birthing my son at home, and all the times I have slammed myself into the ground (and other things) really hard – my body is still here doing all the things that bring me joy.
PARENTING WITH MY WHOLE SELF
When I think of my early years of single parenting, what stands out is the deepening of my relationship with spirit. When I woke up in the middle of the night to nurse and couldn’t get back to sleep, I meditated. (Partly because there was no other time, and partly because I needed it more than sleep.)
There were times when after a long day I’d be standing up in my tiny kitchen. Standing between my two toddlers strapped into their high chairs, trying to feed all of us amidst the inevitable melt-down. I’d run into my home office/bedroom, shut the door, and scream desperate prayers for help. When I returned they would say, “Mama, who were you yelling at?” and I would say/yell, “I was praying!”
What I felt in response, even to those messy prayers, was a deep conviction. I was walking my path with grace. I was becoming more fully myself with each courageous decision to live my truth. And every decision to care for myself was about honoring that truth, and loving it – and me.
RECENTLY, I TAPED A QUOTE FROM COCO CHANEL TO OUR BATHROOM MIRROR:
“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”
~ COCO CHANEL
That’s the heart of my message to my now teenage kids. Their healthy sense of self will come from what I am modeling. How I speak. The choices I make. What I do every day is to nurture my mind, body, and spirit. There’s not a thing I can say that’s as powerful as being who I am.
So I choose clean, healthy food. I make time for regular play/exercise and for my spiritual practice. My work is aligning my life to what I most deeply value. This is how I express love to myself. They are the ways I show my kids how to be whole and resilient and strong. I think that’s the most important thing I can give them. A sense of knowing themselves. Loving themselves. Allowing themselves to be seen and loved for all of who they are.
When I am giving that to myself, I feel pretty darn sexy. Now if I could just get myself to shop for a new bikini…
GWEN GARCELON’s work with the Roaring Fork Food Alliance
Meet MP Author, Adam Carballiera whose Just Chill Dad essays bring us on his parenting journey.
Part ONE: Just Chill Dad
Part TWO: From Full Send to Full Daddy; How I found the Middle Way