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The Best Reason to Love Our Bodies

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DINA L RELLES
Dina L. Relles

I was never one to obsess over a "bikini body" or getting in shape in time for summer. Now I realize it's because I had a bikini body... and never cared much for bikinis.

But last week, I set out to shop for a couple summer staples and caught myself frowning at the image in the dressing room mirror, again and again. You know that cute little trend out there -- the lightweight dresses with an elasticized waistband? Don't they look comfortable and perfect for these 90+ degree days we're already having? Well... it's not so cute when that elastic seam falls right in the middle of your post-baby belly. Every time.

I guess this is the first summer of settling into this new body, realizing it's here to stay. Last year, my baby -- my third, the one whose pregnancy, I know now, irrevocably transformed my shape -- was merely six months old. I was still recovering, not yet sure I had arrived at my new normal.

Now I have, and I confess I'm always looking to conceal the leftover belly. I guess I'm a little vain that way. But it can be hard work to love the no-longer-shiny-and-new version of ourselves.

I exited store #? empty-handed and conducted an informal experiment on my walk home. I (subtly) glanced at every midsection I passed -- what were other women wearing? How did they pull it off? You know what? They didn't. Or rather, they did -- they were wearing those dresses, they were wearing whatever they wanted... and nearly every single one of them confidently showcased that little paunch I try to conceal. The only people without it? 16-year-olds.

I'm no teenager. Nor do I want to be one. If this protruding belly is what I've got to show for where I've been, for what I've done, for the three beautiful baby boys I bore in a three-and-a-half year span?

Well, then. I'm in pretty good shape after all.

***

From my unsuccessful shopping spree, I went directly to my doctor's office for a routine visit. A few chairs down in the waiting room sat an older woman, wheelchair-bound, her skin wrinkled and weathered... nearly transparent, exposing a web of blue veins. A brittle mane of gray hair framed her shell of a face. Sunken eyes, a cloudy shade of blue-gray, struggled to stay open. She looked not unlike old Rose in the opening scenes of Titanic. We made eye contact. I smiled, then looked away.

When I glanced back, her head was down. She had fallen asleep. A moment later, she jolted awake again and looked around, a bit startled, a bit confused. As if she was not quite sure where she was. As if it took every ounce of her nonexistent energy to stay alert. And more often than not, she couldn't. She gave in. She let her exhausted body rest.

I turned back to the receptionist who was asking me to confirm my phone number a second time and exhaled. I hadn't realized I'd been holding my breath.

I paused to savor the energy I felt, even after cramming a hot, hectic round of errands into a stolen hour. The way I can still chase after my active boys, climb every playground structure, wrangle the toddler's sizable, defiant limbs during a diaper change, collapse onto the floor next to my oldest to collaborate on a Lego creation.

Make no mistake; I'm showing my age. Wrinkles are forming at the corners of my eyes, gray hairs steadily multiplying.. .they may be somewhat obscured by my dirty blonde locks, but I can see them. I know they're there.

Mine are the coarse, calloused heels of a girl who spent her youth walking barefoot along shorelines and boardwalks, my skin scarred from several C-sections, a foot race down a college dorm hallway gone wrong, a road trip accident... stories for another time.

The lines on my face suggest years of laughter and squinting in sunlight, my poor vision recalls books read under bedspreads late into the night, the darkening of my once-towhead a nod to time's passage, a stubbornly crooked row of bottom teeth -- a link to my father -- belies nearly five years of braces, a genetic peculiarity that refuses to be tamed. A single cartilage piercing, the only visible remnant of a bad college breakup; a faint smudge on my right forearm, what's left of a beauty mark I scratched off with my bare hands as a child -- because I didn't think it was beautiful at all.

These are the imprints of life. Our bodies don't stay the same; of course they don't. They evolve, they show signs of a life lived, a life loved. As they should. They bear witness to where we've been, that we've been. They are like maps that tell the tale of our time, our travels.

No, I'm no teenager.

Now I marvel at the smooth softness of my sons' creamy skin, the silky tufts of baby-fine blonde hair. Theirs is a blank canvas.

And yet I can hear the brave pride in my 5-year-old's voice as he recalls when he gashed his right knee. A fall as he lost his footing climbing onto the curb after a walk last summer, the beach at our backs. A missed naming for a friend's newborn, as he bled into baby wipes in the back seat of our car, cared for and comforted by his father while I trailed his younger brothers on a nearby stretch of grass.

That story is forever woven into the fabric of his life. A memory etched on his body and mind. Some nights, after bath, he tenderly runs his fingers over the pale pink scar. It's smooth now, he notes.

And so, we settle in to this new season. Be comfortable in your skin, in your clothes, in your life while you live it. Be kind to your body.

After all, it tells the story of you.

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A version of this post originally appeared on Dina's blog, Commonplace. You can connect with Dina on Twitter @DinaLRelles.