Big picture, biologically speaking, I have nothing but good things to say about my body. Its bones have never broken. It produced only two wisdom teeth. It’s gotten me through two pregnancies and made it past the finish line of several races.
But if we’re talking aesthetics, it’s not great — never has been. And I’m more thankful for that every day.
I’ve always had a mom bod. It was apparent as early as middle school. One day after gym, my classmates and I were changing out of our exercise clothes when somebody said, “Claire’s body looks Eve, in those old paintings of Adam and Eve.” Of course what I would have rather heard was “Claire has such long legs” or “Claire’s stomach is so flat there aren’t any rolls when she sits down,” but neither of these things were true. In fact, the Eve observation was pretty spot-on.
Unfortunately, Eve’s body was not hot in 1992. Back then, I’d much rather have a body like Tori Spelling’s or Tiffani-Amber Thiessen’s. I yearned to tie the ends of my button-down shirt in a knot above my waist in order to show off my taut stomach.
Instead, I had the Eve body — wide hips, small waist, soft stomach. My thighs were dimpled with cellulite and my butt was high and prominent. Again, this was the 1990s: Jennifer Lopez wasn’t a thing yet. I knotted the shirt (the one I would have tied above my navel) around my waist, as a cover.
Around this time was when stretch marks began to stripe the insides of my thighs and the outside of my breasts. They didn’t hurt, but they created a texture like the bottom of the ocean on my already not-great legs.
But I muddled through. Like most young women, I struggled with body image, eating, and weight issues, but I still managed to fly under the radar through young adulthood. No one ever noticed me for my body’s perfections, but its imperfections were mostly only noticeable to me. A few times I received comments on my shape — white friends spoke about my breasts, black friends about my butt — both complimentary, but both made me realize I’d probably prefer to have an anonymous body. Still, I went to the gym, I tanned, I dieted, I performed spot training in attempts to shape my body into something that I thought I was supposed to have.
In my early 20s, my esteem issues got the better of me and I lost myself for a bit in a bout with binge-eating disorder. At five-foot-four I weighed nearly 200 pounds, and it didn’t feel right. It wasn’t due to joyful eating or physical health issues — I had started to punish my mom bod with food.
Finally, after a few years of therapy, I lost about 50 pounds. As the weight slowly came off, I uncovered body parts I had only hoped for — slimmer shoulders, actual hip bones.
I also realized some parts were never going to change. My thick ankles, my cellulite, my stripes — they were all there to stay. But by that point, I was just so happy to not-hate my body that I gladly accepted what I could not change. It was almost like a free pass. “Well, can’t do anything about these dimples. If people hate them so much they don’t have to look at them.” Simply refusing to fixate on the unchangeable imperfections seemed like a fair deal in exchange for learning to appreciate my body.
Since I accepted my mom bod, I actually acquired a mom bod. I had two children and steadily gained and lost 50 pounds two more times. A lot of women complain about the ways motherhood ruined their bodies, but for me, not that much is different from what it was early on.
And that’s the good thing about having a mom bod your whole life. My stomach, even after housing two full-term babies, is about as good as it ever was, which is to say: not sexy for an early-’90s teen but not too shabby for a 37-year-old mom of little kids. I’ve added spider veins to the collection of issues going on with my legs, but again, no one has to look at them.
Meanwhile, my butt has somehow shrunk. I will never have a fashionable butt.
Perhaps if I had grown up with the media-designated hot body I wanted so badly as a kid, I might not be as happy and grateful for the body I have now. I’m sure it can be sad to live most of your life identifying as a beautiful person only to watch it slip away — it’s the most traumatizing part of Snow White, after all, when the witch watches her beautiful hands turn into branches before her very eyes.
The thing though is, the witch was so beautiful to start with. If she had just accepted that being second-fairest in the land was still pretty good, she wouldn’t have had to deal with all the drama.
What I’ve realized is that being healthy, having the time and means to take care of yourself, and having perspective about what is changeable are all greater gifts than hitting the beauty jackpot. An early-life mom bod is like receiving a reliable, safe car on your 16th birthday. It might not be as flashy as some of the sexier models, but it ages better, appreciates better, and gets you where you need to go — and if you take care of it, it’ll start to look pretty good once it becomes vintage.