It was the summer of 1995. My mom and I were at a mother-daughter yoga retreat in Massachusetts, and we were sitting by a calm, clear blue lake. A woman stood near me in a bikini. She was in her late 30s. “I’ve never been happier,” I overheard her say to her mom. “I probably had a better body in my 20s, but I feel better now than I ever have, even after two kids. I finally love my body.”
Oh, how I envied her. I was in my early 20s, and ridiculously self-conscious about my body. It wasn’t that she was wearing a bikini. It wasn’t how she looked. I simply longed for that sense of peace, that confidence, that sense of self-acceptance. I was grappling with my negative body image. Since my late teens it had been my personal struggle.
My yoga mat was the only place where I felt a sense of peace. But more often than not, when I wasn’t practising yoga, I couldn’t reconcile the person I felt like inside with the person I saw in the mirror. Years of negative self-talk can take a long time to undo.
I thought of that woman often as life continued on. As I deepened my yoga practice, I felt glimpses of the confidence she had exuded. When I taught yoga, I could see inner strength and self-assurance blossom in my students. By my 30th birthday, I was teaching yoga and training for a marathon, and my mind and body were less at odds with each other. But still.
My boyfriend at the time—who is now my husband and the father of my children—gently encouraged me to be comfortable in my body. He was patient. And kind. When I covered myself up and hid behind baggy sweaters, he told me I was beautiful whatever I wore. I knew he thought I was beautiful, I knew he loved all of me. But I needed to feel it myself.
And I would still think of that woman by the lake.
I got married and felt the glow of being a bride. But I kept waiting for that moment to hit. That sense of recognition, that feeling of being 100 percent happy in my body.
We got pregnant. And although there was no work required to embrace the little being growing inside of me, I had to work extremely hard to embrace my growing belly. At some point in my pregnancy, I realized that if I was bringing a life into this world, I had a responsibility to this child to deal with my body issues. I did not want to pass along this emotional baggage to my child.
My yoga practice continued to be the place where I meditated on my changing body and let go of the self-judgments and criticisms. It was where I found compassion.
Our first-born was a girl. And after her birth, something inside of me changed. I appreciated that my body had grown, birthed and was providing food for my daughter. I discovered this strength inside of me that was probably always there but I had not recognized before. I committed to my husband, out loud, that I would never speak negatively about my body in front of our daughter, that the words “I feel fat” would never cross my lips, that I would be proud of every single part of me.
My first time on the yoga mat after my daughter was born, I wept—with joy. It was as if something inside had shifted, that finally who I was on the outside was exactly who I felt like on the inside.
Two-and-a-half years later, I gave birth to our second child, our son. And that summer, as I stood in a bikini, by a lake, I thought of that woman I had met 14 years before. And I said to myself, “I’m in my late 30s. I have never been happier. I finally love my body.”
Read more from Annabel on her blog meditatingmummy.com.