Being kind to your body-out loud.

Women who have struggled with their weight do this thing sometimes, and I do it too.  I make off-handed comments about the imperfection of my body .* It’s a pretty obvious defense mechanism. I think, deep inside, there’s a piece of me that feels as vulnerable as I did when I was in fifth/sixth/seventh grade, when my body didn’t exactly conform to the clothing my mom and I bought at Marshalls or TJ Maxx. I’d spend all day wondering if everyone thought I was a gross chub-monster who had no right to be wearing anything but a full-body tarp/poncho hybrid.

70s-dresses-caftan

Everything that ever happened in those years – success, good grades, friendships, hair catastrophes, depression, crushes – it all happened against a constant drumbeat of self-doubt. And it all came from feeling insecure about my rapidly changing body.

That was before I knew that people, in general, are too caught up in their own business to even care what you look like, unless they are being mean. And if they are being mean – they probably have a whole story you don’t know about. And it’s probably a tough one.

But today, even as a happy adult who feels personally fulfilled, I can fall back into the trap of body insecurity. I can sometimes say things out loud, or type things on the internet that poke fun at myself. I’m trying not to though, and I’ll tell you why. My kid.

I don’t have any control over what she’s going to experience during her school days, but I can try to give her the gift of a mom who only ever expresses joy and appreciation about her body. I want that to be the norm in my house.

Here are a few things I can think about to help that process along.

  • My arms are strong and I can hold that kid all day. I would if she’d let me, but she doesn’t let me. She’d prefer to run around.
  • The milk from my breasts fed and nourished her for the first year (and change) of her life. THAT’S A LOT OF MILK, THANKS BREASTS.
  • You won’t catch me in short shorts, but my legs let me run after her, or for myself.
  • My belly made room for a human being inside it. That’s flexibility.

Sure, motherhood has a big something to do with this line of thought. All I know is this – the best thing I can do for my kid’s perception of her body, is to love my own and show appreciation for what it can do. The worst thing I can do is verbally abuse myself.

I know that I can’t manage her experience, but I want her to build science fair projects, have crushes, decide if and when she ever wants to take dance class – with nothing playing in the background but the steady beat of confidence and optimism, and the quiet knowledge that she’s perfect just the way she is. Me too.

 

* Healthy eating, exercise, all that good stuff, is vitally important, this is definitely not designed to contradict that. Still on Weight Watchers, still counting those points, still want a cheeseburger…

Getting Personal: Laurel Snyder’s Keynote

For my friends and readers who aren’t in the kidlit world, NESCBWI is the New England chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It’s an incredible organization and they put on a fantastic conference this past weekend. Workshops, speakers, raviolis, and catching up with my writer-friends in person? Pretty amazing.

final-HThis year’s theme was “Create Bravely” 

My favorite part of the weekend was the keynote address by author Laurel Snyder. If you’re like, “That’s a familiar name…but I can’t pinpoint it…” it’s probably because she also contributes to NPR on occasion. Her name may occupy the same cerebral storage pod that keeps words like:  “Lakshmi Singh,” “Kai Ryssdal, ” and “Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

The big idea: A writer has to look bravely inside themselves and write from the fear, triumph, friendship, and the love that only they have felt.

But to unpack that, the part that really set bells ringing in my mind was when she put up a slide with three photos. The first was Laurel as a teenager, a little angry looking, with a mushroom haircut and black clothing. The next was Laurel as a grown woman on stage wearing a flowing dress and joyfully playing a ukeleli, the third was Laurel at home being tackled by a beautiful baby boy.

Light bulb.

The specificity of images like those, that is personal. No one in the world has lived her life, had that particular mushroom haircut and that particular angst. Even if she was  just a kid whose parents split – one of many- she’s the only one who lived her own situation, in her city, with her music collection, and with her mom and dad. Same for the moments of joy. That’s where she writes from, and in some ways writes about, and that’s why her voice and her stories are so authentic and important.

Every single author in that room – every author everywhere, has their “list of things”. The true, personal things that make you you. That’s the jackpot. That’s where the writing should live.

This took me back to middle school. I was trying to grow my bangs out and wearing a baggy hoodie every day – just looking forward to the 25 minutes we got for SSR. Reading Brian Jacques and the REDWALL series and having that be a sanctuary in a relentless storm of awkwardness.

Laurel asked us to identify who our reader is. For her, she writes for her younger self – and I think I do that too. I didn’t realize it, necessarily, but it’s a powerful thought. The only good stuff is going to come from a place that is unique to you, and each one of is made of a million authentic moments.

I returned home so ready to create and so inspired by everyone I met. Creating stories for kids – this is important stuff, you guys. I feel really honored to do it.