By Alison Kouba, MSN-CHP candidate at Bastyr University
“What on Earth is happening right now? Is this a new form of torture? Ok, I’m in serious pain. You can do this, Ali: just get a good grip and pull harrrrd! Oh gosh, oh gosh, just NO, absolutely not!” I was left short of breath, on the floor, and feeling defeated in the dressing room with Spanx around my ankles. Before I explain, let’s rewind 2 months …
I had done the impossible: I found a wedding dress after months and months of looking! Just looking at it brought tears to my eyes as I envisioned my future ‘happiest day of my life’ with the man of my dreams. There was only one problem: My perfect dress was form fitting and I’ve always had a poochy belly. I can’t even count on 2 hands how many times I’ve been asked if I was pregnant (I never have been). “But this is THE dress,” I thought to myself.
Back to the dressing room during my first fitting … after I untangled the Spanx from their death grip around my ankles, I got myself up, put on my dress, and stared at my little pooch. I thought to myself, “Ok, Ali, we’ve got some serious work to do over the next 8 months.” But the work I was thinking wasn’t the typical type of Bride workout + diet regimen you’d suspect. I was talking about the meaningful, personal, important work I needed to do, and this experience was a helpful reminder that no matter how many years I’ve worked to make peace with my body and love it unconditionally, a woman’s work to love her body is never “done.”
I’m so grateful for that day in the dressing room, as it has brought about so much growth and needed reflection that had been pushed to the back burner during busy, graduate student life. To get reacquainted with my self-acceptance, I first spent some time literally loving and embracing my insecurity. I looked at myself in the mirror. I poked at my little pooch and laughed as it poked me back. I hugged it and told it that I loved it. And then I began reflecting on all the things it signifies. My belly is my Mom, my Grandmother, and all the wonderful women who have given me this body. My belly is the place my one-day-future child will get to safely live for 9 months before I meet them. My belly is part of my unique and perfectly, imperfect body that has allowed me to exist in this world for 33 years. And my belly is my constant reminder that I have a job to do, and that job is to always work to love myself more and more each day, and to one-day help others do the same.
While these reflections inspired and comforted me for the day, I knew I needed more constant reminders to combat the onslaught of media messages received daily about how to ‘get that bride body’ and ‘work my way to 6-pack abs.’ So I actively started to change my environment. I vowed to carve out 5 minutes each day to write down what I loved about my body and how choosing to love and care for it, instead of trying to change it, has opened up internal happiness I’d never known existed. I also spent some time talking with my fiancé. I asked him point-blank, “why do you want to marry me?” Tears poured down my face as he effortlessly listed dozens of reasons and not ONE of them had anything to do with my body. On my wedding day, I will walk down that aisle and the only thing that my fiancé will see is the smile on my face, the tears in my eyes, and most importantly, the love in my heart.
While some days are better than others, I’m committed to continually work at radical acceptance, and I share my vulnerability to show others that it’s a continual process and there is no way to do it perfectly. There will be days that Spanx sound appealing; and on those days, I will choose to love myself even more. And as my body continually changes as I mature through childbirth, menopause, and my elder years, I will continually work to love it and be grateful for all it’s given me.