Learning to Love My Actual Body

Alexandra Kuykendall}>
Alexandra Kuykendall

My skin, my waistline, my grey wiry hairs poking out of my dark locks remind me that I am getting older every time I look in the mirror. This shouldn’t surprise me – the whole changing body thing – but for some reason it feels unexpected. And I’m coming to terms with my actual body. Not the one I had 20 years ago or even two years ago, this one, right here.

It’s not that I’m bitter, I’m grateful for a body that works. It’s just I’m watching the aging process unfold. On me. I never thought I needed to do things like “take care of my skin” and now I find myself wondering what moisturizers other women use. I am more aware than I’ve been in a long time about how my body looks. I’m not proud of this preoccupation, but it’s real.

Because I am grateful for this healthy, working mass of cells that carries my soul around this earth, I’ve worked on loving it as it is. This has been a perspective adjustment, looking at my form through the lens of its purpose rather than its size. I am asking, What is my body to be used for today? What is it made for in the first place? So I’ve started an inventory of what my body is used for. Because that cultivates my gratitude and reminds me I have a body that allows me to do great things in this world.

Here is what I’m finding … I use my body to:

Grow people.

I have to start with the growing, bearing and then feeding of babies. Though I’ve graduated from the role of baby-maker (the diapers left our house a year ago) the children in front of me are reminders of the miracle my flesh participated in, along with a divine hand, four times over. Not every woman experiences this, not every mother enters motherhood this way and I’m so grateful for it.

Connect with people.

I have arms for hugging, hands for wiping tears, my own tear ducts of sympathy. Body language and listening ears. Handshakes and high-fives. These are all ways I connect with other people through my physical self. My body has a special role in my marriage, a way to tangibly show love and care for my husband in a way nobody else can.

Do my work in the world.

Whether they’re feet and legs to carry me across the room or hands and fingers for typing, from my brain to my organs, my body is meant for purposes of good. From the mundane to the thrilling, all of the tasks I complete, or just attempt, are done with the body I see in the mirror.

It is the container of my soul.

This shell of pumping blood and skin and bones is temporary, but it carries around the part of me that is eternal. As it wrinkles and droops a little more than it did a year ago, the miracle of it does not escape me. I want to take care of it because it is a gift to walk this planet.

My actual body, the four-time post-partum, just-past-40-year-old body catches me off guard in the mirror. I’m sure it will 20 years from now too. But focusing on the things my body is made for helps me appreciate the body I have today, even if I can’t fit into the pants I bought last year.