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My Body is Perfect Thanks (Part 1)

You want me to do what?

I remember feeling a bit uncertain, as the lovely Dominican woman, camera in hand, encouraged me to lay on the beach, right where the water meets the sand. Surrounded by crystal blue waters and lots of palm trees, on Saona Island in the gorgeous Caribbean. And this girl wanted me, a chubby white girl in a bikini, to lay on the beach and bring the sex appeal for a memorable photo. I am pretty sure at one point I laughed and made some reference to a beached whale, a stranded sea lion, or at best- a stuck sea turtle. She didn't give a shit about my excuses, and instead, insisted that I channel my inner goddess and get my butt down on the sand. Brandon smiled and shrugged his shoulders, in the way that said "just do it- why not?"

I laid down on the beach, I tried not to laugh and I let her take my picture. It felt a little scandalous, but I figured what the hell? YOLO, right? A little while later, under an open air structure in the woods, my determined photographer and the other excursion guides had a set up with a power strip and some laptops. There, they processed the guest photos and put them on a disc to view and purchase. I remember being quite intrigued by their little set up there, underneath the palm trees, with beautiful native birds pecking the ground in the open clearing nearby. As I waited for her to load our photos, I thought "eh, I probably won't buy them, but may as well see how they came out". I am not normally one to buy the "keepsake" stuff on vacation, primarily because I am cheap (real talk) but also because I normally don't love pictures of me taken by other people, who aren't familiar with my good side, my bad sides, the proper angles, adjusting their lens to the rotation of the earth on its' axis...you know, the usual techniques before taking that perfect Instagram-worthy shot.

Probably the cutest pictures we have had taken of us in 11 years...

Of course, the quintessential kissing on the beach picture...

She started swiping through the gallery of about 30-40 pictures. Some of them were meh- but some of the shots of Brandon and I together made me giddy. Almost every picture taken in the last 6 years has been taken of or by a child. So a few half-way decent pictures of us to take home with us? Okay, maybe worth the $30 for the CD of images...she kept swiping, and I held my breath. "There is nobody around right?" I thought to myself. I looked around- no guests nearby, and the other photographers were busy editing their own images, clearly not interested whatsoever in my "American mom turned Sports Illustrated model" photo shoot. Phew, okay. She keeps swiping and then... HOLY SH*T, is that me?!??

                     
                    

Speechless (ask anyone who knows me- that is a rare occurrence). I looked at these images and I was overwhelmed with emotion. Rather than the insecurity and embarrassment that I was expecting to feel, I looked at these images in more of a state of disbelief. I saw beauty, sex appeal, and voluptuous curves. I saw flawless sunkissed skin, soft and feminine...THAT was ME? Of course, I now HAD to pay for that little CD full of images; it was imperative. Pictures of me that I actually liked looking at? SOLD! Pictures that made me feel not just okay, but SEXY in a two piece bathing suit after having two children in two years? Priceless.

We walked back towards the beach to enjoy the rest of our time in the sun before a speed boat, (driven by a local that must have had a death wish, I think) came to collect us...I told Brandon that I was shocked as to how much I liked the pictures. He smiled and said what he always says "I tell you every day how beautiful you are, and you never believe me. I am glad that you can see yourself the way I see you"...Swoon, but for real, what the hell is UP with that? Body dysmorphia is a very real thing, y'all. The girl on the beach was NOT the girl I saw everyday in the mirror. Not even close.

That day, something changed in me. For maybe the first time since having my two babies, I felt sexy. Not just "oh check out these lacy new granny panties I ordered on Amazon" kind of sexy; ACTUALLY sexy. Desirable. Hot, like the "other girls" I would always stare at, green with envy at the beach. 

Of course, most of the magic of that vacation ended when we flew back to cold New England. An early snowstorm had pummeled Massachusetts the day after we departed on our trip. By the time we arrived back home, it had all mostly melted, but a cold November wind was a far cry from unlimited drinks on the beach, in the sun. I had already uploaded all of our vacation pictures on the airplane ride home. But I couldn't share the Saona Island pictures until I had a chance to upload the images to my laptop. I thought twice about whether or not I actually wanted to share them with the rest of the world. Would people scoff? Judge me? I had posted plenty of bikini pictures in the past on social media, but mostly ones of me surrounded by the kids, playing at the beach or in the pool. But this felt different; what if someone left a hurtful comment? How would I feel about members of my family seeing these pictures? My friends' husbands? Was this an appropriate thing for a mom of two, and a business owner, to post on social media? 

Brandon, of course, thought I should share them with pride- his constant motto of "who gives a fuck what other people think" was true in this case. I didn't really care, deep down. I know my worth. I felt proud. I felt beautiful. And I had every right to share that with the whole world. So I did it...hit the "publish" button and put them out there. I had several people message me and tell me how much they appreciated seeing me so proud of my body. That I inspired them. That they wish they had the same confidence. It got me to thinking...what if THIS body was enough? What if I could let go of my need to change this body, what if I could just love her as she stands right now? My husband does, my mom does, my kids do, my close friends do. They see beauty, while I typically see a "before photo". They see a woman that is proud, confident, strong and unafraid. They could look at these pictures and see a feminine glow that shines from the inside out. Their kind words didn't come with conditions as my words for myself usually did; "you look gorgeous butttt you really could stand to lose 20-30 pounds". No. Just kindness. Just love-no conditions. I would never tell my best friend "wow, you look HOT but dang your belly is sure looking flabby lately"...why could I dole out genuine compliments like Tic Tacs to everyone but the girl in the mirror? 

As I sat down to start writing this blog post, I pondered the point at which I began to shift from loving my body conditionally (and always with the mindset of trying to shrink, change and "improve" her) to loving her without abandon. To EMBRACING her dimples, her curves and her stretch marks, instead of "loving them for now, but I'll look way better when..." And I truly believe that for me, that day in the beautiful Dominican Republic is when the tide started to shift (no pun intended). 

I wish I could go back to that island, find our photographer and say "thank you", for being a catalyst in my journey towards finding a way to finally make peace with my body. I wish I could hug her, for being so insistent that I just step outside of my comfort zone, and take a chance on myself. I'm sure she was probably mostly just hell-bent on taking some amazing images that we would want to purchase, thus paying her bills. But part of me wants to think that she saw me that day; she saw a woman who needed a shot of self confidence, she saw a momma that had lost part of herself in the time span it took to grow and birth two other humans. I know some of you are thinking "So what- you took some pictures on vacation at the beach...how did that change your life?" 

These pictures aren't a memory of vacation. They are a memory of seeing my body, mostly exposed in a bathing suit, on full display in all of its glory, and feeling truly BEAUTIFUL, for the first time in my adult life. Rather than immediately gravitating towards my flaws, I look at these pictures and I see a whole, perfect body. A body that carried four babies and gave birth to two. A body that nearly died during the delivery of her second and final baby. A body that is healthy, strong and yet still soft. A body that stands tall against injustice, a body that pushes hard against the grain. A body that stands worthy, of every ounce of love, respect and kindness that I am able to muster. My body, my only body. The only shell I will ever have to carry my soul through her time on earth. That November, I looked at her, with tears in my eyes...

"Okay, I surrender. Let's be friends. Let's chat. Let's figure out what is next for us now that we are on the same team. Let's figure out how to carve out a new path, a place where we both exist in harmony, where we can move mountains, where we can do amazing fucking things now that we aren't at odds. Let's do this!"

{This article is part one of a mini-series. Stay tuned for part two, next week}



Melaney Houle
President, owner of Lotus & Compass Inc





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