I've had a love/hate relationship with my body, which is as heartbreaking as it is undeniable. I loved my body in high school, and valued its abilities above all else. Then I endured a horrific accident and seven knee surgeries and, suddenly, my body couldn't do what I wanted it to do, so I started focusing on how it looked. That mindset continued all through my life and until I gave birth to my son. Not long after his arrival, I started to see my body for what it really was, and breastfeeding helped me love my body even more than I ever did before.
When you do something as exhausting and incredible and difficult and wonderful as carrying a pregnancy and giving birth and sustaining another human life with your body, you tend to view the vessel that carries your brain around, well, differently. I no longer cared about how my body looked; at least, not when I was juxtaposing my outward appearance with the functionality and capabilities of my actual self. Sure, I wanted to feel good and look good, but for me. I had fallen in love with my body again, and was essentially that care-free girl in high school, valuing my amazing form because of the wonderful things it can do, and not how it was viewed by others or whether or not it was living up to some unrealistic beauty standard set by an unforgiving and shallow culture.
Body positivity and self-love are constant works in progress, mostly because our society preaches the exact opposite with reckless abandon. However, I feel like I am a few steps ahead, now that I have successfully breastfed my son. Our breastfeeding journey is over, but my relationship with my body is really just beginning, and breastfeeding reminded me that I need and should love my body, always.
You Appreciate Your Body's Functionality
Women's bodies have been sexualized ad nauseam, especially the parts (like breasts) that our society has decided are overtly and purely sexual. It's difficult not to internalize those messages (especially when men can walk around without their shirts, but women can't #FreeTheNipple), but breastfeeding seems to cut through those cultural messages in a way very few actions can. When you're breastfeeding, your breasts cease to be seen as just sexual; now they're amazing food dispensers that can sustain another human life that, yes, can also be used for sexual pleasure when and if the owner of said breasts wants to use them that way. I mean, to simply appreciate our bodies for what they can do, not how they're viewed by society or used to please the sexual fantasies and desires of men, is pretty damn awesome.
You Appreciate Your Body's Ability To Do And Be More Than One Thing
After living for 29 years in a predominantly patriarchal society, I have come to realize that women are rarely viewed as multifaceted. If you become a mother, for example, the rest of your humanity seems to get subsequently erased. You can't be sexual and you shouldn't work but if you stay at home you're a drone of a human being and, you know, you just can't win. Breastfeeding offers women the opportunity to take back their complex, multifaceted selves. They can use their breasts to sustain another human life, and then they can use their breasts for sexual pleasure. They can be two (and many more) things at once, which shouldn't be considered some monumental act but until our society decides to stop pigeonholing women into one specific group or description, this will (I guess) have to do.
You Realize How Resilient Your Body Is
If you had a difficult time breastfeeding or experienced one of the many complications, you'll be hard-pressed to overlook just how tough and resilient you and your body are. You can ask so much of your body in a relatively a small amount of time (from pregnancy to labor and delivery to postpartum life to breastfeeding) and it still comes through for you, even if it had a difficult time. It's incredible that we can ask so much and, you know, actually get it.
You've Researched What Your Body Did While Breastfeeding...
I don't know about you, but I spent a good chunk of my breastfeeding time (at least at first) researching exactly what it was my body was doing. I mean, sure, I got the general idea: my body was creating essential nutrients that was keeping my kid alive. However, I didn't realize just what all went into that process. For example, I didn't realize how many calories I was burning while breastfeeding; how breastfeeding was depleting my body of calcium; why breastfeeding was causing me to bleed (even more) postpartum. I mean, the sky is the limit when it comes to the amount of cool information you can learn about your body while you're breastfeeding. It's hard not to love something that does so much, simultaneously.
...And How It Benefited Both You And Your Baby
Most people know the numerous benefits breastfeeding provides a baby, but I didn't realize just how much my body was helping me, too. While my son was getting important anti-bodies and nutrition, I was reducing my risk for breast cancer and reducing my anxiety and turning on pleasure circuits in the brain. I mean, my body was helping two people at the same time. How freakin' amazing is that?!
You Realize That Your Body Can Do Remarkable Things...
From carrying a pregnancy to birthing a human being to sustaining that human being, your body can do some pretty freakin' amazing things. It's hard to hate something that is just incredible; especially when it's incredible for what it does, and not for how it looks.
...And That's Way More Important Than How It Looks
I had a hard time loving my body, especially in my 20s when I allowed inundated messages of society's unrealistic beauty standards shape my self-worth. In fact, it wasn't until I attempted to "lost the baby weight" that I realized how ridiculous it was to take away from the abilities of my body, by only caring about how it looked. My body did something absolutely incredible, and that should always be my focus.