My three-year-old son stands before me on the rocky mountain path. We’re in Jasper and we’re hiking.
He looks solemn beneath his sideways ball cap. “You’re beautiful.”
Then he turns and skips away, leaving me breathless.
I know my husband told him to tell me that.
I know, because I’ve been struggling with postpartum body image.
Later, my five-year-old son tells me the same thing.
“Mommy? You’re very beautiful,” he says. I’m sitting and nursing my three-month-old daughter, wondering if my stomach will ever return to “normal.”
There’s something about a child’s voice. There’s something innocent and powerful, something reaching past the varicose veins and the stretch marks and the bags. It ministers to a place so often neglected — the soul.
A child’s voice is louder than the world’s, the one telling me I need to lose weight, the one saying I should put on makeup or dye my hair or wear brand-name clothes. The one glancing enviously at other women instead of compassionately, the one that nearly killed me when I was an anorexic teenager.
A child’s voice is the voice of The Velveteen Rabbit. One of my favorite books, and now one of my kids’, it’s the story of a rabbit who’s all plush and new, who longs to be real. Who eventually gets to be real because of the love of a little boy. A boy who squeezes the rabbit tight each night and plays with him each day. As time passes the rabbit doesn’t notice his fur getting faded and ratty, his stuffing coming loose and his buttons falling off, because he finally feels loved. And this love declares him beautiful. This love declares him real.
I’m 34 and I’ve got three children, and they’ve loved the plush right off me. I’m not shiny and new. My eyes are lined and weary from late-night nursing and rising to hug away the nightmares. On days when I do get to shower, I often don’t have time to comb my hair because the baby starts to cry or the boys are covered in mud, and they’re tramping it across the floor. Makeup is reserved for Sundays on the way to church when I have a few minutes in the car to smear it on, and even when I put on nice clothes, they soon have spit-up on them.
I’ve got stuffing that bunches in weird places: I’m flat where I used to be curvy and curvy where I used to be flat. But when I look in my children’s eyes, I see love. I see a love that hugs me tight each morning and begs me to sing song after song at night, a love that never tires of me in spite of me tiring of them. A love that eats burnt toast and quietly swallows when I yell over spilled milk. A love that wipes up spilled milk and says, “I’m sorry, Mommy,” and then, “I forgive you, Mommy,” when I say I’m sorry.
This is real, friends.
All of it.
It is true and good and beautiful. Don’t let the mirror fool you. You’ve never looked more stunning.
Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including the memoir Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.