Mel: My body image developed with a lot of distortion beginning from my earliest memories. I was born with a sweating condition called Palmer Hyper Hydrosis which means that my hands sweat excessively–to the extent that the video camera broke when I was holding it due to moisture collecting in it, and water droplets spraying people in church when I clapped. My family and doctors didn’t know what caused it and therefore I grew up feeling like a freak–people would always wipe their hands off when the touched me, and it felt as though my hands weren’t just wet, they were dirty. We know now that it’s a hereditary condition and that there is treatment for it. At sixteen I had surgery done on my sympathetic chain, waking up for the first time in my life with dry hands. It felt miraculous however by that point much of my negative thinking was entrenched and I still suffer some negative compensatory sweating now. Another contributing factor to my body image development was an accident that occurred when I was 9mo old. I had just learned to crawl and my mom turned her back–I crawled over to an extension chord, chewed on it and electrocuted myself, burning my mouth and cheek. There was nothing a surgeon could do until I was an adolescent, so I grew up with scarring with my smile. My parents were very affirming and I didn’t have any memory of the accident, however my peers were honest and direct and I vividly remember being asked on the playground “what was wrong with my face.” Again, I felt like a freak, betrayed by my own appearance. When I was 3 1/2 my younger sister was born, and she culturally has gone through life meeting the beauty standards and ideals–it wasn’t always a blessing for her, however I grew up acutely aware when strangers would stop to comment on her who was the “pretty” one in our family.
A Sweating Condition, Motherhood, Bottle Feeding & Freedom: Mel’s Story.3
This might have not have impacted me significantly except for that my family was stuck in their own distortion with over-valuing appearance. They knew of my insecurities as an adolescent and tried to help me by going on diets with me or offering to help with plastic surgery (I was painfully insecure about my muscles and curves at the time). I was angry with them throughout my adolescence for their “help” although now I can clearly see that they were indeed offering the only solution that they knew at the time. I have compassion for them, especially my mom, who grew up much like my sister, over-valued for her appearance, and with a mother who was obsessed with weight loss. I have freedom in this space with them now, and they are in a completely different place today than when I was growing up. It’s taken years of me working through separating what beliefs belonged to them and which ones are actually mine. Growing up with a sweating condition, a scared mouth, a “pretty” sister, and a family that over valued appearance led me to develop specific lies that I was ugly and unwanted. Since I didn’t think I could be pretty, I determined to be successful at everything else, all the while believing my lies. I had surgery for my sweating condition and some work on my scar while in high school, neither relieving my insecurities or shame since body image has NOTHING to do with our actual appearance, and everything to do with what we believe about ourselves.
It wasn’t until college that I found some truth speakers, fell in love with a good man and started this process of unravelling. I started valuing myself differently and eventually did an abuse survivors group called Mending the Soul. Leaving that group I determined to have daily reminders of my truth, and had the words “chosen” and “beautiful one” tattooed on my wrists. They are my pillars and often what I’ve returned to. I began to feel confident and secure, and this was deepened during my time as a therapist at the ED treatment center. I became a truth speaker myself and began speaking and blogging and have felt so, SO honored to practice what I preach. That in it of itself has freed me more than any wisdom that’s been shared with me.
Fast forward to my pregnancies and motherhood.
My first pregnancy happened within two weeks of going off the pill. I cried and cried out of excitement and uncertainty, but remember celebrating the changes that happened with my body. In fact, to this day I don’t know that I’ve felt more beautiful than when I’ve been pregnant, and the new curves and lady bumps made me feel powerful. I had a wonderful hospital birth delivered by a midwife. I went to my friend’s wedding the night before, had a glass of wine, went home and had a bath. Shortly after my water broke and seventeen hours later my baby girl arrived. My labor involved my incredible doula, slow dancing with my husband, and a drug free experience that made me feel in control of my body in a good, grounding, powerfully sane way. I walked away from that so in awe of what my body could do, so grateful.
However this was quickly stifled by difficulty breast feeding.
I had such difficulty with her, and remember immediately being triggered with the old feelings of shame about my breasts–despite a healthy pregnancy and delivery, I felt like a failure that I struggled to feed my baby. This, along with 10-15lbs that I struggled to lose postpartum triggered a different layer of body image work for me to work through, despite a decade of what had been freedom. Four months after my daughter’s birth I found out I was 6 weeks pregnant. My husband and I were both unemployed at the time, and that coupled with having an infant already led me to feel afraid and angry about the pregnancy. I remember specifically thinking that I didn’t want that baby…and two weeks later I lost it. I have worked hard to release the guilt that I feel about those thoughts, and to this day, still struggle with deep sadness that those thoughts were present and that that baby ended up not having life Earth side…I’m crying now writing this. I remember feeling so betrayed by my body that first I was pregnant when I wasn’t “supposed to be” and that it didn’t protect that baby from that negativity. I know that’s not truth, but I unfortunately blamed my body nonetheless. My husband moved more quickly through his grief but I knew I’d never actually be the same. It has of course lessened in sadness, but I still think about that baby and have had to ask both my body and that’s baby’s spirit to forgive me. Because I want both. I wanted that baby, and now, I really want my body.
I became pregnant with my son after trying for four months. I was fortunate to have another positive experience with pregnancy and delivered him at home in a birthing tub. I labored for 6hrs with him and only had to push once before he was in my arms–again, the peace and joy I felt in having him, in accepting my body and practicing gratitude for how hard it worked and how beautifully it performed is beyond anything else I’ve ever experienced!! My births truly have been magic, hard, painful, beautiful magic. This was followed by another very difficult experience with breastfeeding, and I stopped with him after six weeks despite my best efforts, multiple lactation consultant appointments, every supplement and position and shield and idea suggested to me, I just couldn’t make it work. Embracing bottle feeding was something that honestly felt similar to grief…I had imagined breast feeding to be this wonderful bonding experience with my children, and yet despite my best effort it was only ever painful. I’ve had to practice acceptance that my children know me and know my love, not because of how I fed them, but because of how I show up in my own journey and love on them as they learn theirs. Bottle feeding is our normal, and my children are well developed, healthy and secure in their home. That is the TRUTH that I have had to preach to MYSELF again and again.
Throughout the spring I did a lot of yard work and gardening and felt like there were several metaphors that came up for me, yet it wasn’t time to apply them. After we left our session with Jade, I told my husband that I felt like I buried something in that experience that needed to be buried–that it was gone, and in that moment I didn’t even feel the “need” to see the images. I felt free, alive, and deeply whole. If I had to name what was buried, I suppose I’d call it my remaining body shame. It literally felt gone–since coming back, it’s wanted to sneak in, bills, child rearing, pants, LIFE all happening in my daily world, and the temptation to compare and critique emerged and I was reminded not just of what I buried, but of one particular gardening experience I had this spring when I was doing yard work–My daughter asked me why I was getting rid of all the dead leaves/twigs/debris in the yard and without even thinking it through I replied “because we don’t hold onto dead things”. I immediately got goosebumps and knew that was from God’s spirit to my spirit–I just didn’t know what it meant for me. Until I came back from my photo shoot–my shame is the dead thing that I’ve inadvertently held onto. And I buried it in Tucson, and now, my gaze, my determination and the truth must keep it buried, where it belongs, because, I refuse to hold onto dead things. My body brought life, so now the life is obvious for me to recognize–the shame is dead and my heart and spirit and very being, continue, to offer life. God is faithful to restore us and I am so thankful for Jade’s presence in it. This feels and is so right.
*Photographed by Jade Beall in her Tucson, AZ studio. To book a private shoot with her, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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