Here’s the healthy path to good body image

It’s always fun when a friend goes viral. In the past few years, Allison Slater Tate’s The Mom Stays in the Picture, and Jessica Turner’s Moms, Put on that Swimsuit have both scored thousands upon thousands of shares with somewhat similar theses. The process of having and raising children does not always leave our bodies in cover model state. Yet one does not have to be a specimen of human perfection to live life. You can, and should, be in pictures. You can, and should, put on a swimsuit and have fun in the water. If anyone has a problem with it, that person has a problem.

I heartily agree, but I also think there’s a route beyond motivational essays to achieving body happiness — one that comes from seeing the body for function, not form.

I was thinking of this this past weekend as I donned a bikini and took my chunky baby in the pool, and then as I ran a half-marathon. I’m happy with how I look — a welcome development after giving birth to kid #4 five months ago. But I’m even more excited by what my body can do.

This morning, I woke at 5 a.m. and, after feeding the baby and enjoying his chubby little rolls, I got on my running clothes and drove to the starting line of the Oddyssey half-marathon. Conditions were not great for running. It was 80 degrees, sticky, and sunny and, even worse, they delayed the start of the race half an hour from the original 7 a.m. due to some traffic issue. When the temperatures are rising fast, that half hour winds up mattering.

My running partner and I didn’t get a fast time by any means. But we ran the whole race, and even got a negative split, despite the beastly hill at 12.3 miles. I finished with gas in the tank, which I know some people think isn’t the goal in a race, but I also knew I had several hours of dealing with all 4 kids solo waiting for me that afternoon.

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I’m sure that running one 10 mile race, and one 13.1 mile race within 5 months of giving birth has helped me get a “bikini body” as they say, but here’s what I really love about getting intensely into running, something I think is true for any sport: you look better and better, and you care less and less. My body is a machine that can carry me 13.1 miles. I don’t particularly think of it as something for people to look at and judge. My running partner noted that she was one of few (or the only?) moms in the pool in her swimsuit the other day. I noted that she was probably one of the few out running 13.1 miles this morning. These two things are probably connected. I know not everyone wants to (or can) take up distance running. But if the goal is curing the body image blues that might keep one out of pictures, or out of the water, it’s not a bad approach.

 


A version of this article originally appeared on Laura Vanderkam’s website