{Perception, Reflection & The Definition of Beauty}

A few weeks ago I was packing Lyric and myself up to go out somewhere while our usual local news station talked at us from the background. We were nearly headed out the door when a story about toddlers heard to have been making comments about their own weight or appearance caught my attention. The numbers were startling:

  • 37 per cent of childcare workers have heard toddlers call themselves fat
  • 47 per cent have seen six to 10 year olds grapple with body image anxiety
  • 10 per cent of workers have heard kids call themselves ugly, while 16 per cent wish they were better looking
  • One in five childcare workers have had kids reject food because “it will make them fat”
  • 37 per cent of these professionals interacting with kids think their peers may be their biggest influence, while 32 per cent say it’s their parents
  • 25 per cent think it’s the media

The article clarifies that “…at three years old, kids may not fully understand what it means to call themselves fat or fear certain food. But the actions have long-term ramifications.” But just the fact that this headline shared the same print with such a young age showing visible and audible signs of forming an opinion on what our bodies “should” look like made me sick. My daughter is two. You’re telling me that in the next twelve months she will likely have heard or seen something that defines the “proper” body image, or even suggest to her that this is something of importance??

It is such a double-edged sword, this society we live in. Overflowing with double standards and expectations of what is “normal” in pretty well every area of life makes it hard to feel like we’re staying above water as adults, much less parents. There is only so much we can do to shield our children from the pressure to conform and potential to be bullied that are deemed inevitable once they reach school age; but it saddens me that the media could have an affect on my children years before then.

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After learning all the details I posted my angst on Instagram. It’s a sad day when statics come out informing us that our role as parents is becoming even harder. But it’s much more than just that. This tells us that we have to give more attention to how we treat ourselves and treat others in the presence of our children, not just to what we tell them about loving ourselves and others. We have to make our presence a hundred times more memorable than something the media or a stranger at the grocery store says.

A good friend shared her dismay about the article with me and while we discussed the constant battle we fight against society, we stood joined hand-in-hand on a trampled spot of common ground, as both women and mothers, where thousands of others stood before us. It can be so hard to strike back against the pretty picture our world paints with one that is real and raw and genuine. Who on earth gets to decide what is an appropriate waist measurement? How the weight I gain while growing a human should be distributed throughout my body? How I should wear my hair or what percentile my children should maintain?

Kelli is a wife, mother, daughter, friend and full-time high school teacher. She is also currently earning her Masters in Secondary Education with a specialization in English. Amazing, right? She is married to her hilarious husband, Curtis, and they have the sweetest little girl, Rylie (who was born just four days after Lyric)!

Obviously, Kelli and I have a lot in common (except her killing it being a working mom and student…here I am getting my continued education from the local blotter haha!) but it wasn’t until she shared the paper she submitted on this very topic with me that I realized how we really are one in the same.

We are a woman who has been scrutinized by someone we know or someone passing by who’s judgement goes against everything we were taught growing up causing us question ourselves but stand firm in our values and beliefs at the same time. We are a mother who fears for the well being of her children’s confidence and feeling of self-worth as they grow up.  We are a citizen angered by the fishbowl our society has become and the ease in which it will place a magnifying glass to the side putting all of us under pressure. But we are also hopeful for a foreseeable change in the future.

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Kelli is sharing her experience with us and this is the reason we are hopeful that one day our children will live in a world where they can be who they are without facing the judgement of our neighbor’s microscope. Regardless of your title in life, if you are someone who has lived a day in the sun you will relate to her story. It is beautiful and true and thought-provoking. She paints a genuinely pretty picture…the one that we should see when we think of beauty.

The Threads of Being a Woman: A Narrative Account

Planting the Seeds

Sometimes I wonder how much of whom we are and continue to become is reflective of nature vs. nurture.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have some very strong women raise and influence me-one in which was my Onia.  She was authentic, bold and full of lessons.  I was taught from a young age never to be ashamed of who I was and never back down or compromise my values and beliefs for the sake of someone or something else.  Her and I shared a unique bond.  We undoubtedly not only loved each other, but also enjoyed challenging one another. With that said, she told me early on in my teenage years that it would be my duty to one day write her eulogy.  I never really did take the mission seriously until of course I had no choice.  Three years ago she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.  She hated doctors as she had a strong tradition of being a reflexologist for over 25 years.  The only reason she went to the hospital was because we physically took her there.  It had progressed to the point where she could not take care of herself, and it was just too much for our elderly uncle to handle on his own.  Nonetheless, once she was diagnosed and placed in a full care seniors facility, she began to unveil the truth about her illness.  She kept it a secret (a masked story if you will) because when she found a lump in her breast twenty years earlier, she was simply scared to have it looked at.  Many women that she knew were dying and treatment didn’t seem to be helping them, so she made a decision for herself: she wanted to live life her own way, and so she did.

When she did die, I isolated myself into our bedroom for two days and just simply wrote.  I didn’t know how I was going to honour someone who was so influential and wonderful to me my entire life.  I needed to brainstorm ways of presenting her story in a meaningful and fitting way.  In her last few weeks, I was able to spend some real, raw quality time with her.  I would lay with her in bed and ask her absolutely anything that I could think of.  A woman of integrity, she would answer every one.  We discussed some very heavy topics such as her very real grappling with God throughout her of life, loss, betrayal and love. While we talked, there was always classic country music playing in background.  She loved music; she loved the stories that they told.  She loved the resemblance that she could find between another’s story and her own.  And so, while I sat isolated in my room with eyes swollen shut, I decided that the eulogy would be called “Onia’s Song”, and I would take quotes from parts of her favorite songs to correlate to different aspects or plotlines of her life.  To enhance the affect, after each section my eldest sister would acoustically perform each of the songs with her guitar.  And so we told one of the most beautiful songs we had ever heard.

[…“those who stand for nothing fall for anything”]

I knew her and I were always kindred spirits, but when I go back to read it now, I can see how much of her influence is instilled in my philosophy as a mother and teacher. I look at this piece as a rite of passage from where she left me to where I will continue to go in making my own choices. [Note: I have purposefully left this field text in its original form.  It was meant to be spoken instead of read.  I didn’t want to modify it as it is directly reflective of my state at the time.  It may appear fragmented; however, these pieces of her life directly represent me presently.]

It was also during this time that Flo began to recognize that “those who stand for nothing fall for anything”.  Whether it be at a dance, or on the playground, Flo would never stand by and let social injustice occur.  If she felt that someone was being picked on or bullied, she never stood by, she “took action”.  By action I mean that she laid a licken on anyone or anything that came her way…girl or boy.

Always a teacher, she helped those who couldn’t at times even help themselves.  Although I know these weren’t ‘peaceful methods’ so to speak, she did what she needed to do to help.  Especially in the era that she grew up in where women were submissive, she took charge of situations and independently handled them on her own.  This taught me never to compromise my calling to help others, even when the majority of the group is dissenting away from what is ‘right’.

            This was an exceptionally significant and noteworthy characteristic of Flo’s character, as she always remembered her roots and where she came from.  Never worried about herself, but always having a contagious benevolent nature not only towards her own family but for anyone she cared about whether that be a peer, classmate or neighbor.  One of the songs that her and I would listen to which resonates with these themes is “Coat of Many Colors”.  One line which is a testament of her character is “One is poor only if they choose to be”.  Flo ALWAYS had a humble nature to her and valued the simple things in life, such as family, love and justice, which is why her spirit was always so vibrant.

            Although they never had their own children, they treated many of us just as their own and possessed all of the attributes that effective parents do.  First of all, they really did love unconditionally.  It was my favorite treat to be babysat by Onia.  We would always do fun things, like bake peanut butter or oatmeal raisin cookies then go for a walk on the gravel roads of Ranfurly, chatting about nothing in particular and looking for pretty rocks.  Flo would always give us different lustres and shapes to look for on these hikes.  We also loved our time with Onia because she let us live on the edge when we were together.  It was ok to swear around her, which we thought was really cool; she’d walk us to the bar in Ranfurly (for pop, chips, and mojos….of course), and annually, she’d have me enter Ranfurly Fair’s coloring contest.  To be honest, I’ve never been an artist or have had the patience to finish a piece of art, so I’d spend the first 10 minutes of the project, and she’d always spend the remaining time finishing the picture.  Every year I would win, and she’d be proud like I really deserved my prize.  From a little girl she nick named me Poosta.  I never really asked what it meant and just assumed she wanted to me be different, like her title of Onia.  However, a few months ago, I did ask her what it meant.  She quickly replied “bad girl”.  When I asked her why, she said that I was always too busy and never liked to stay home. Realizing the truth, I laughed and took it as a compliment, which also brings me to my second point: her undeniable protection for her family.  She was so very proud of everyone’s accomplishments, however, she couldn’t bear the thought if something happened to any of us kids.  I found some cards she had written to me over the years and they all stated the same message: how proud she was of me, how much she loved me and how she wished I was still little.  I think Flo would have kept all of us little and in the palm of her hand if she could, not because she didn’t want us to reach our full potential, but she could not bear the thought of the unknown and potentially having her  family taken away.  Flo had an irrefutable love for her nieces and nephews and was a true mother and teacher in everything that she did for us.  In reflecting this, metaphorically, Flo saw love as a flower, and we can all attest to her being “its seed”.  To represent this portion, Lori will now present “The Rose”, which reflects her bright beautiful blooming love that she will have for us eternally.

            Inevitably when a flower reaches its full bloom, it eventually begins to lose its petals.  When I think of Flo, I think of these petals in the sense of the lessons and influence which she had left on us.  A few weeks ago, I took an afternoon off work, just decided to lie beside her in bed for a few hours and ask her questions about life.  It was an emotional few hours as her and I listened to all of the songs which you have or are going hear here today.  When I asked her if she had any regrets, she simply answered: “I would have sang more.”  By that she would went onto explain that by sing, it meant doing what you enjoy in life.  Don’t work too hard and don’t get wrapped up in the things that don’t really matter and instead, focus on what you do have.  No one else’s opinion really matters if you have a strong set of values and beliefs which define you.

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Photo by Jaymarie Studios

            Secondly, look for beauty in the simple things in life.  Flo was always an avid gardener and passionately loved animals.  She took great pride in her beautiful garden every spring and effortlessly won competitions for her produce.  I still remember how mad she was one year when she walked outside to find that someone had robbed her of her prized possessions.  She felt violated that someone had the audacity to take something that she worked hard to reap.  In addition, she loved her cattle like any other domestic animal and would name them to make things more personalized.  Archie was one she took an especial liking towards.  In addition, she had many other animals like dogs, Deeno and Dumb Dumb, chickens, horses, and numerous cats.  Actually, her cat family seemed to always be growing every time I’d talk to her.  Although they may have naturally been inclined to find her, I think the farmers who dropped them off around Flo’s farm parameters knew that she would never turn an animal away; she treated and welcomed them just like any other living creature. 

            Thirdly, there is no recipe to life.  Although Flo was a master of many things, she never followed a rigid set of directions.  Even in her baking and cooking, she may have had guidelines, but she always made things her own.  She moved to the beat of her own drum and lived the way she wanted.  It’s admirable to see someone who successfully strayed away from trying to be anyone else or fit a predisposed mould that society tries to dictate.  Be yourself and celebrate your authentic nature.

            Finally, always prioritize your family.  In our discussion, she firmly assured me that she upheld family over anything else.  Although we all knew that, it leaves us with something to resonate with.  With our busy lives and schedules, it’s easy to allow time and distances create barriers between us.  She would want us all to be supportive of one another, celebrate each other’s successes and be proud of our heritage. 

            It was early last week when I had seen Flo for the last time before she could no longer communicate, it was late at night after a Grad meeting, but I wanted to see her.  When I walked in, she opened her eyes and greeted me.  It didn’t take long before I was on my knees beside her crying that I didn’t want her to leave.  As she held my hand, she told me “that’s she’s always going to be here”.  That is the lasting impression that I want to leave you with.  Flo will always be with all of us.  She will be in the pansy’s growing along the gravel roads, in the clouds when we look up at the sky, and in the wings we have when we take the chance to try something new.  Why? Because that was Flo. And even though the song has now ended, we can all agree that “she’s the prettiest flower in God Garden of love.” 

Twenty years before she died, Onia and her husband willed all of their assets to my siblings and I.  Knowing that I would know absolutely nothing about farming at all, the quarter of land was something that she wanted to pass onto me.  It was something that is stable, valuable and historical. It was theirs.  This past spring my brother and I needed to go check some work that the renter was doing on our properties. Trading in my brand name street clothes, for my brother’s coveralls and rubber boots, I went along for the ride. As we floated up and down the hills, the sun shone warmly and the air was refreshing.  I remember closing my eyes and realizing that I was tangibly feeling what I had written about her staying with me in the past.  The embodied knowledge was living.  In this moment, everything was simultaneously occurring; it was beautiful.  I knew that both of them were with me in that moment. “I knew that retellings of her lived experience were alive in me.” This is the beauty of temporality.

The Rite of Passage

Pregnancy was a beautiful time for me as I was able to experience the world through a way in which I was completely and fully interwoven with someone physically and spiritually.  We began to know so much about one another internally before officially seeing our outer selves.  That is an unconditional love.  It is really is a profound experience to share your body and be in complete sync with someone who you have never met on the outside.  It was during this time that I recognized that another being was fully, helplessly, and beautifully reliant on me for her every need. Seven weeks before her arrival, I did some personal reflection.

There are two controversial stories which allowed me to reflect upon and think about my own values as a woman, daughter, wife, mother and teacher.  The first story features Tannis Jex-Blake, who was sun tanning at Alberta Beach when she was publically ridiculed by two younger males and a female.  The mother of five was publically shamed for her stretch marks and called “nasty, disgusting, and gross” (Ramsay, 2014, nd).  As a result, a week later many mothers, as a means of support, gathered-clad in their own bikinis- to show their support.  Although Blake admitted that she broke down and cried after  the attack, she soon found empowerment and validation through her story, proud that her body allowed her to birth five “intelligent and beautiful children” (nd).  She attests to the fact that her scars have meaning and relevance to her life; they are something that she is proud of. 

At the same time, I ponder over the movement initiated by The California “Fit Mom”, who complete with her washboard abs and three toddlers under the age of three, poses the question of: What’s Your Excuse?  She claims that she tackles all of the same daily stresses that any other mother which would with an eight hour plus workday and no outside assistance.  In addition, she also vocalizes the fact that during pregnancy she never succumbed to eating any of the sugary cravings that many woman find comfort in.  “She told readers that she has struggled with her genetics, battled an eating disorder, works full-time without a nanny and isn’t a personal trainer. She also pointed out that she didn’t give into pregnancy cravings or use motherhood as an excuse to be inactive.  Then after beings accused as a “fat shamer”, she proudly explained “What you interpret is not MY fault. It’s yours. The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to OWN the thoughts that come out of your own head. I didn’t create them. You created them. So if you want to continue ‘hating’ this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life,” Kang said in her apology (Chai, 2014, np). 

So I must say, both stories intrigue and conflict me at the same time:  Should I feel guilty that I went to an ice cream parlor last night and was excited when I was presented with a cone that held more like four scoops instead of two?  Will that guilt wash away when I go to the gym later today?  With pregnancy are you not granted some form of imaginary immunity from all of these conflicting factors?  I find a familiar reflection back to where the five year old is introduced to the binaries of pretty and ugly?  However, now my role has changed and the stakes have heightened.  Am I empowered as a woman if I eat the treats and embrace my femininity, but has my workout regime turned into fat shaming of others?  This is the purgatory that I am in.  At the same time, Time Magazine brings up the issue of breastfeeding attachment.  When is the right or wrong time to end the process?  At birth it was an issue of having personal conflicting emotions and now it is the larger world passing judgment and opinions regarding your parenting styles and choices.  Finally, I have the Dove models who are really everyday women who are promoting the beauty of loving yourself.  Although I feel like this is a projection of where I more realistically am in regards to body image and the message I want to relay to my daughter and students, I can’t help but shake my head at the campaigning patriarchy that lies below the surface of Dove’s ulterior motives.  This is my current state of clarification and confusion; with an ever-growing sense of self-awareness, I know that I will resonate between issues and positions.  Now however, this ambiguous nature doesn’t scare me.  Instead, I believe in the power of “The Uncarved Block” in which through silly [things] that [we will] turn out right” (Hoff, 1983, p. 21).  Furthermore, I find comfort in Heesoon Bai, as she reaffirms this statement as she speaks of “putting the discursive mind to rest and opening up the consciousness entirely to the immediacy of the encountered world.  This is about freeing oneself from the tyranny of the language consciousness (Bai, 2003, p. 49).  Long live the complication and beauty of being a woman.

[“…it also saddens me to think about how I know that I will not be able to preserve my baby into viewing the world in the same way as she gets older.  Although I will always provide my strongest efforts in protecting her from the evils of the world, I know that this is not possible.  The temporal ‘place’ she is in now is filled with naivety. As she gets older, the harsh truth will seep its way in.”]

Reflecting upon this piece now shows me how in the midst, I fully was at this particular point in my journey.  When I revisit this space, I think at how just a few weeks before, I had another woman (with two daughters of her own) feel the inclination to tell me that I “was quite big for being 29 weeks pregnant.”  That comment fueled me.  At a point in my life when I am completely and fully sacrificing a part of my own identity for the sake and well being of my child, scrutiny was placed upon me.  My landscape was shifting in front of me when I wanted it to stay the same in many ways. My body had become a form of public property and objectified by another.  Was there really a right size to be? The walls in this space seemed to be closing in on me. In that moment, as carrying a child could be seen as right vs. wrong, it seemed to me that he experience could be paralleled to that of winning and losing.  At that moment in time, I felt defeated.

Watching the Blooms

I will never forget the moment I had our daughter.  After pushing for two hours, the doctors couldn’t seem to flip her.  As a result, her head could not bypass the width of my pelvis.  It was then that the doctors told me that I would have to go for a C-Section.  I remember crying.  I cried because I felt like a failure.  It was my job to bring her into this world naturally, and I could not.  Then I thought about the fact that because of this operation and the practicalities involved, I would not be the one who would hold her first. I waited nine months for this and my plan would be rerouted.  While I did have an epidural, I still remember entering the operating room. It was cold and echoed.  I remember relentlessly shivering.  My nerves were uncontrollable and the temperature of the room did not help.  Even with the aid of my husband with me, I could not help but shiver.  I was excited yet nervous to meet this little soul that I already felt like I already known for a lifetime.  I remember hearing high pitched short cries.  They reminded me of a kitten.  They became short and more persistent; they were also getting louder.  I was sweating when they brought her to me.  In the midst of the moment, I whispered: “Hi, Baby.  I’m your mom.”  With that, the room went silent.  Her crying seized while I could only feel hot tears across my cold cheeks.  She already knew who I was. I was her mother. I was her protector.

There she is; my world.  There really is nothing more beautiful than to see the world through the eyes of a child.  Bursting with color and excitement, there is a vast array of potential.  There is a beauty, there is hope, and there is love.  This image fills me with gratitude where much beauty can be found in such simple things.  Often as adults, we tend to complicate things.  The colors begin to fade into shades as we start to recognize binaries and that judgement does exist.  There begins to be a sense of separation between individuals based on superficial perceptions and vanity prevails.  Although this image has my heart bursting at its seems, it also saddens me to think about how I know that I will not be able to preserve my baby into viewing the world in the same way as she gets older.  Although I will always provide my strongest efforts in protecting her from the evils of the world, I know that this is not possible.  The temporal ‘place’ she is in now is filled with naivety. As she gets older, the harsh truth will seep its way in.

It was nine months ago when I came home from a house warming party with Rylie. I opened the door, and I cried.  I cried for the both of us as I felt a range of emotions overwhelm me.  I cried as a result of experiencing injustice and judgement.  My child was body shamed by another parent, and it broke my heart.  The events of the night played in my heard over and over again.  Just on the brink of walking independently, she was crawling towards me…smiling the same smile (minus the teeth) in this picture.  She was so full of joy to recognizing a new environment and other children to play with.  Around me were other mothers.  As she crawled towards me, one mother interjected neighboring small talk to publically address some observations that she made about my daughter.

1) Oh my God! Look at the size of her thighs!
2) Look at her waist! What size of diapers does she wear?
3) I think you need to get her some bigger pants.

It was after the third comment that I assertively snapped back.  In my response I assured her that she was a happy, healthy little girl, and that we loved her exactly the way she is.  Startled by my intensity, she quickly assured me that “She thought my daughter was adorable.”  Staying at the party a short time longer, I then went home and cried for a number of reasons.  First of all, my child was bullied.  Another adult consciously chose to single out and embarrass my daughter, objectifying her body and tried to use it as a topic of conversation.  She placed judgement on someone who did not even have the capacity to understand what was going on around her.  As her protector, it was my responsibility to advocate for her since she could not for herself.  Would we not treat the situation any differently if it were another minority being exploited?  In my mind, I saw this as no different than a handicapped person being taken advantage of.  This woman knew she was leading a conversation that was wrong and still chose to do so.

Upon further reflection at home, I tried to rationalize the situation and deem the possibility that maybe I was just emotionally overreacting.  However, I then hypothetically reversed all of her observations/questions to see if she (or any woman for that manner) would feel uncomfortable or offended if any of these were directed at them.

1) Oh my God! Look at the size of your thighs!
2) What size is your waist? What size of panties do you wear?
3) I think you should get some bigger pants.

Any female would be lying if they said they would not be offended by at least one of those comments.  After two days of mourning this injustice, slowly I did find strength from this and used it as a teachable moment in the classroom.  I also used it to focus my research of my “big question” in EDSEC 510 last semester.  I wanted to take these negative emotions that I was feeling and channel them in productive and educational ways.  I also want to make people feel uncomfortable who intentionally choose to participate in acts of injustice.  Instead of engaging in objectifying individuals into binaries, it would be so much more beautiful to celebrate the diversity of one another and take the opportunities to see the world once again as a child does.

When Skyping with Jean, she struck a chord with me when I asked her to decipher the difference between storytelling and narrative inquiry.  Simply put, she explained that “If you are still thinking about a story, then you are not done with it.” This made me think about “how something bigger” was sorting its way out.  This “Counter Story” that I could not turn a blind eye to opened up an avenue for passion, curiosity and liveliness. How identity and feminism have a continued to implicitly weave their way into different facets of my life.  I was influenced by the values of family that had been deeply nested in intergenerational teachings while advocating for something that I just knew that was right. I had an obligation and knew that what I was doing mattered.  This “was a form of living, a way of life”.  This was who I was becoming.

A Kaleidoscope of Colors

From here, I transition into my classroom with a tangible example of identity crisis which a student entrusted me with.  Little did Emma know, she inadvertently fed into the circle and struggled with the same tensions which I seem to see as a common thread with femininity.  When promoted to come up with a symbol to describe herself, for a photo journal centered around self-actualization, she chose a cactus.  Interested to see the symbolism behind what a highly intellectual, beautiful, and creative student would find, her vantage point was starkly different from what I would have expected.  She began with “cacti are usually ignored, and put off as just another plant, not overly beautiful, not overly useful, dangerous, and generally hard to understand.”  She went on to explain how “she had been different from conventional flowers” and further illustrated how weight had been an issue for her entire life.  This bothered me.  I realized how her reality was co-constructed by so many others and layered with complexities. When reading this, I saw a three dimensional mirror.  Looking back at me and in my peripherals were myself, her and Rylie.  It broke my heart to read about how a young woman with the potential of the world in the palm of her hands felt as if she was reduced to being seen as singular.  Inevitably this left her to feel discounted, insignificant and ostracized, she recognized that she did not fit into society’s conventional standards of beauty.

[“Although my body has shifted after having my daughter, it has insurmountable capabilities.  As a mother and teacher it is my responsibility to recognize the strength and courage it takes to embrace these changes.  I owe it to Onia, Rylie, and Emma. I owe it to myself.”]

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Photo by Jaymarie Studios

In her entry on body image, Emma shared “around the age of puberty, I just kept getting bigger and taller.”  Elaborating how she “remembered watching Hilary Duff on her favorite show Lizzie Mcguire and envying how beautiful and skinny she was.”  In reflecting on Emma’s words, I realize the damage and repercussions for our youth as many distort truth and illusion.  Here they begin to see words such as “beautiful and skinny” as synonymous and also has binaries to ugly and fat.  A constant insecurity, she comments on how when transferring schools for high school “she was sure that her weight would be made fun of and no one would want to be her friend.”  Furthermore, being an exemplary soccer player earned Emma the honour of achieving co-captain.  She remembers a particular soccer tournament where she was addressed by a particular onlooker as “[the] big girl”.  This led to “paranoia” and “binge eating” which eventually led to a bulimic phase and a period where she admits that she “hated herself”.  Positive self worth is significant and must be developed over time.  It is not something that just happens or jumps out from a reservoir.  For our children and youth, this needs to be conditioned from a young age.  Personally, for myself and my daughter, I want to teach her that it is important to be healthy and strong.  If we teach our children this from young, they will not feel inadequate.  They will be resilient and realize the real weakness is in those who target them.  It is unrealistic to think that we can fix a larger issue such as the perception of society without working on a paradigm shift at the individual level first.

In her work, Bateson (1994) believes that “adaptation to [for the individual] comes out of encounters with novelty that may seem chaotic.”  This chaos is where the meaning is articulated and learning is necessary.  These times of chaos or disruptions allow us to really figure out who we are.  What values and beliefs define us at a personal level and may be compromised by society and the institutions that we encounter?  Furthermore, she observes that “continuity is possible because learning is a human endeavor.”  I can see the implicit and explicit connections and forces at play working on both Rylie and Emma.  However, how can I expect to understand their insecurities if I do not walk alongside them?  It became my responsibility to attend to both of their dwellings and recognize that it is in these multiple places the threads became clear to me. These moments of moving within the three dimensional space allowed me to see how my perspective and co-constructed reality indirectly affected each of these girls. By identifying with their struggles, and the “emerg[ence] of these narrative threads,” I can see the role that I play more clearly as my intervention to both of these islolated yet related circumstances to in fact matter in the scheme of the whole grand narrative.

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Embracing the Beauty

This brings me to my current state of being.  I know that I am not only a woman, but a mother, daughter, niece, granddaughter, teacher, mentor, and friend.   My identity is complex and there are many layers which contribute to who I am.  I also know that it is my responsibility to “live unbounded.”  However, even in living unconstrained, there are still tensions that I struggle with as I move backward, forward, inside and outside of my own three-dimensional space.  Last semester, in my research methods course, I chose to explore body shaming as a phenomenon. In doing so, I found an interesting qualitative study which examined “Shapes of Motherhood: Exploring Postnatal Body Image through Photographs”.  In doing so, Nash (2015) explores the “moral panics around maternal ‘obesity’”.  Living in a culture infiltrated with images of celebrities “where bodies need to be slim and disciplined, even during childbearing” (Nash, 2012) can be an exhausting feat.  It is in this warped sense of reality where ‘the pregnant belly has become a fashion accessory, to be donned for a certain time and then taken off’.  In addition, McRobbie (2006) discusses the pressure of many wanting to be defined as a ‘yummy mummy’ “who can squeeze into size 6 jeans a couple of weeks after giving birth”.  Even for me, this is an everyday reality.  I am not who I was physically or mentally before I had my daughter.  There are times where I move backward and forwards, inside and out between my past, present and future.  I think about the physical pressures that we have placed upon us as women and the skewed perception of what is considered beautiful.  Then I also take pride in my “Mom Bod” tank that I wear to workout.  Although society has attached a negative connotation to this layered language, I myself choose to embrace it and see it in a positive light.  Although my body has shifted after having my daughter, it has insurmountable capabilities.  As a mother and teacher it is my responsibility to recognize the strength and courage it takes to embrace these changes.  I owe it to Onia, Rylie, and Emma. I owe it to myself.  I have located where I need to be. This “rhythm [ignites my] living.”  I understand this relatedness and how my part contributes to the whole. The story is not done, but it is done for now.

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I have to thank Kelli again for allowing me to share her story. I was so touched by it and I’m honored to have been able to put it out there for everyone else.

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Note that some parts and references were omitted from the original paper and some names have been changed.

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