How I learned that my body is beautiful just the way it is.

It started out innocently enough. I was born. They counted 10 fingers and 10 toes. Everything appeared to be in working order.

My arms were where they were supposed to be, as were my legs. Family and friends admired the adorable chubbiness of it all. Every inch of me was perfect from their perspective. Everything about my existence on this Earth represented possibility — the chance to make good, to right wrongs, and to make a fresh start. This is not unique to my experience; it’s what we do with children They are our window into what might be.

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I moved predictably from infancy through toddlerhood and my legs carried me along on that journey. They toddled about, carrying my new little self to all the adventures awaiting me. No one had judgments about the shape of my face or the heft of my behind.

There was only wonder at the magnificence of my existence. There was still the possibility that I would be built like a goddess and fulfill the desire of many women to be beautiful, perfect, and without dimples on my thighs. There was still hope for me.

Yet, at some point, I began hearing things in my adolescence that changed my understanding of my body and its value.

Puberty hit me early — very early — and I had a woman’s body while I was still a child. Statements like “pinch an inch” or “I’m so sorry you got my legs” or “you need minimizer bras” began to shape how I thought about this suit that my consciousness had been born into.

I started to become increasingly self-conscious and developed my own judgments about what was bad about my surface self. I had glasses and braces, big boobs, and a terribly neurotic brain. I was now being betrayed by my own body, as it seemed to not live up to the standards or expectations of beauty set forth in society.

Let me be perfectly clear: No one every said, "You are ugly. You are fat. You are not OK just as you are." I was loved. I was deeply, deeply loved. But I did receive a message many of us do — that the way we look is not sufficient.

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There is a vicious cycle in which generations of women hear their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts talk about their own bodily imperfections. They lament upon the disappointments at how their feet are shaped or the fact that they gain weight through the middle. Never once as I was growing up did I hear any women reflect upon the astounding capacity of their own bodies.

I have always hated my legs. They are ugly by traditional beauty standards. Throughout my 38+ years on this planet, I have never said one nice thing about them.

It recently occurred to me, probably much too late in life, that this body of mine has been with me since the beginning. Of course it has — what a ridiculous thing to say — but we often take our bodies for granted. We abuse them, talk badly about them, judge them negatively, and put unrealistic expectations on them.

How does my body withstand my unrelenting disappointment? Because my body is incredible. I have decided I have an incredible body.

It doesn’t look like the ones at the gym in their Lululemon, or on the covers of the magazines, or lounging at the beach. And, yet, I have an incredible body.

It has been with me from the beginning. My heart and my brain have withstood sadness, anxiety, and deep emotional distress. My whole self has been crushed under a car, broken then healed, and with beautiful scars to show for this accomplishment. This body has grown three lives; it has stretched to fit their growth, disseminating nutrients, building little brains and blood vessels, hands and toes. These legs have carried me through races, walked cities, climbed mountains, and bounced my crying babies through many sleepless nights. My stomach has experienced the butterflies of love. These arms have hugged and held and carried and cheered through all the moments of my life. My eyes have witnessed life and death, grief and joy, the miracles of nature, art, love, and family. My ears have heard the giggles of my children and my ears have listened to instructions on how to peel potatoes or make a hospital corner. What kind of weird, magical miracle makes all those things possible in one place for one single individual existence?

Through every pain and joy, and fluctuation of the scale, my body has been with me. The way it looks or the way it moves or even the way that all the parts don’t work the way they used to — those changes are only a part of me. We are the sum of our parts, the culmination of our life’s work, a massive piling on of beauty and pain, of successes and failures.

I want “I have an incredible body” to become our mantra and I don’t want it to have anything to do with what the outside looks like — but rather, what our bodies are capable of enduring and creating.

Let’s reflect this wonder and reverence to the young people in our lives. The next time you feel like saying something negative about your thighs or your jiggly arms, instead just look in the mirror and say, “I have an incredible body.” Because you do, you really, really do.

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