Growing up, I was surrounded by people who were just like me. We were a homeschool family and part of a pretty conservative church. Like many women, my upbringing influenced how a felt about my body, but my pregnancies taught me to be comfortable in my own skin.
A lot of good things came from the way I was raised: as a homeschooler, many expected me to live an isolated life, but I was surrounded by a strong sense of community; my faith taught me to let compassion guide how I treat others; and I was raised to live unselfishly, a characteristic I feel prepared for the sacrifices motherhood requires of me on a daily basis.
It wasn’t all perfect, of course. In my own experiences, I have noticed how religions get twisted and changed by people who have their own agendas or misunderstand the fundamentals of the faith. For me, this meant there was a lot of legalism in my church, which was part of a conservative denomination of Christianity, meaning there were a lot of rules we were expected to follow to please God. I thought this was a part of being a Christian, but later learned my faith is supposed to be about forgiveness, not following a set of rules. One way this played out was how modesty was talked about, specifically when it came to girls. My conservative upbringing taught me to feel ashamed of my body, but my pregnancies taught me to feel comfortable in my body.
In an effort to "protect me from wandering eyes," the adults in my community instead communicated that it was my body that was the problem, not anyone else's.
As a pre-teen, I was taught the female body was a source of temptation for the boys and men in my church. Unfortunately, this is a really common part of a culture that places a lot of value modesty and blames girls and the clothes they wear on the way men think and behave. It’s nothing new, but I was a sensitive child and internalized everything I learned about how I was expected to dress. Most specifically, I was encouraged to wear a t-shirt and boys' gym shorts to the pool, prohibited from wearing form-fitting clothes of any kind, and my shorts always hit my knees. In an effort to "protect me from wandering eyes," the adults in my community instead communicated that it was my body that was the problem, not anyone else's.
Finally, it felt good to feel OK in my skin, to be comfortable when the changing shape of my body and to be empowered to dress myself for comfort since I was due during the hottest part of the summer.
As a result, I've always felt I owed the world some sort of apology for my body. From my teen years on, I felt shame — not for my imperfections, but for being a woman. I wore baggy clothes into adulthood, always tugging at things to be sure I was properly covered up and nothing was hugging my curves too tightly. It wasn’t until very recently, months into my third pregnancy at the age of 26, that I realized apologizing for and hiding my body had ceased somewhere along the way. I no longer felt an obligation to use baggy clothes, long shorts, and sleeved tees to hide my skin.
I looked in the mirror and saw that my clothes fit me well, maybe for the first time in my life. If my toddler yanks at my top, revealing my bra, there is no blushing or shame. By merely existing, my children have given me freedom from the shame I have felt for my body.
This was about more than my appearance; I had found freedom to dress based on what made me comfortable instead of building my outfits around a set of modesty rules I was taught as a child. Finally, it felt good to feel OK in my skin, to be comfortable when the changing shape of my body and to be empowered to dress myself for comfort since I was due during the hottest part of the summer.
I’m not entirely sure when this change took place. I believe it was gradual. My body changed during pregnancy in a way I couldn’t hide. I had curves that couldn’t be swallowed up by a too-large top. I felt beautiful and proud of what my body was capable of, and I wasn’t going to allow myself to be shamed into keeping my womanhood to myself any longer.
These days, I’m not pregnant and I’m still learning to be comfortable in my body. Of course, there seem to be endless changes to adjust to after you’ve had three kids over four years. I may feel shy about my stretch marks or having put on a few extra pounds, but I no longer feel embarrassed for simply looking like a woman and I have my pregnancies to thank for that.