Phenomenal Me?

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Today a few things of note happened that lead to my writing tonight. Bear with the randomness—they will fit together by the end.

1. Surfing through online articles today as I rocked Quinn for his nap, I landed on the Babble article from 2012, “What Our Post-Baby Bellies Really Look Like”. I read it, then scrolled through the images. And I cried. Mostly from relief.

2. A group of dear mama friends started a discussion earlier today about how we feel about ourselves physically as we age—do we like ourselves as we are right now, or do we long for the “self” in our past? It was fascinating to read responses, and to ponder my own.

3. Heading home from an outing this evening, I landed on some Carpenters via iTunes. It’d been AGES since I’d listened to the Carpenters. And I turned it way way up, and sang my heart out, feeling this incredible rush of joy.


 If I am keeping any secret right now in my life, it would be that I have been stewing in a sad vat of low physical self-image for months and months now. I am the least happy with my physical self than I have been in my life—EVER. And I sit here in the knowledge that I DID IT TO MYSELF, so I then add a heaping helping of guilt and shame to the pile, and there I am. Because of these low feelings towards myself, I am not the Emily I’ve always been. And that hurts. I wish I could call forth the raging self-confidence I’ve always had, even when I knew I’d never be a size 8, even when I knew I wasn’t a bombshell by the world’s standards. Because even then, I knew I was feisty and funny and caring and clever and kind, and I knew all of those things, combined with just being softishly cute, were enough to recommend me to my fellow men.

But lately, I look at myself and I cringe--- how would ANYONE be able to look past….. THIS…. To see any of that awesomeness I carry inside? How can I accept THIS? Why did I let THIS happen? And the spiral of self-negativity spins and I fall deeper.

I am still ME. Beyond these massive physical hang-ups, I still feel feisty and funny and caring and clever and kind. I still LOVE my life and love the details and the moments. But there is this SECRET throughout my days right now--- this bitter disappointment in my physical self.This exhaustion at the thought of trying to change it. It is intensely personal, my experience with these feelings. I am honestly shocked I’m writing about it right now, about to share with the world that I feel this. I don’t really want your advice. I definitely don’t want your help. I want to deal with it alone, or maybe with my counselor’s help. But maybe that’s the shame talking. So I keep writing. I’ll probably hit “publish.”

But I’m not writing to cry out, or to confess. I’m telling all of this to you because I wanted to talk about that third thing that happened today: the Carpenters thing. After the Babble article, giving me a glimmer of reality--- offering me the truth that I’m not alone in this… And after pondering my friends’ discussion about what point of our lives we felt “in our prime”…. After these two things, I found myself singing songs I’ve known all my life--- feeling, for the first time in days, like that brighter, lighter version of myself. That girl “in her prime."

I know--- random. But here’s what happened this evening, as I belted out lyrics I’ve known for decades: I felt this incredible rush of self-love wash over me. I can SING, you guys, and singing old familiar songs with old familiar harmonies took me back to another Emily—the one I’d been missing. The one who just flat-out LIKED herself, inside and out. And as I sang, and smiled, I channeled her--- remembered her. Honored her. That was the Emily who decided she needed to learn the banjo and took it upon herself to donate plasma to earn money for a used one. That was the Emily who loved to take drives alone on country roads until she found a new small town to explore. That was the Emily who picked up a camera and decided to REALLY learn the thing—and who would shoot ROLLS of film just practicing. The Emily who cut things carefully out of magazines and assembled them in her journal in collages that conveyed wishes and dreams for the future. The Emily who read novels and collected quotes and thought about maybe writing her memoirs someday when she was old. The Emily in old overalls trying her hand at urban gardening. The Emily who learned how to be alone in movie theaters and restaurants and love it. This Emily was alive with possibility and hope, and though even then she thought about how she should probably be trying harder to be “fit” or more “in”, she relished the individuality she was discovering, and really—she liked herself a LOT, inside and out.

Looking back, you know--- the only things she didn’t have and ached like crazy for are the things I now have: a beloved husband, little children of her own, a home with a little bit of yard, a little more financial security…. And that Emily would’ve maybe traded her still-firm body and endless freedom and time in a heartbeat for what I now have.

And would I now trade my beloved Joe and Noah and Lucy and Quinn to get that Emily back?

No way.

I look the way I do now because of Joe and Noah and Lucy and Quinn. My unspeakably unlovely tummy, my pants size, my gray hairs…. And even if not all of it is a direct result of post-pregnancy, there is the stress-eating, the not getting out enough to MOVE my body because it is all I can do to just keep the household running smoothly, along with my two businesses, in a day…. And just AGING. Heaping years upon myself. And yes—prioritizing in a way that physical care is at the bottom of the list. I will likely ALWAYS choose a nap or something creative above exercise. And I will likely always turn toward the cookie if it is there. I look the way I do because I was probably always going to end up this way. I have always wanted babies. And I have always loved sweets. And I have never been very athletic. This current SELF was always in the cards.

So now what? My counselor would lovingly advise me to practice “radical self-acceptance”. Maya Angelou would remind me,

"Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me."

And I know in my logical mind that every inch of me has worth, and is beloved—not just to my loved ones, but especially to my God. I have more work to do INSIDE with regards to my self-image than actual work on my physical self, I think. I need to figure out how to love the ME I am right now. And thanks to belting songs by the Carpenters, I have an idea on where to begin: 

I need to get back to some of those pieces of me that I had so clearly fixed in my mind back in those days. I need to tap into those pieces of me I loved then--- perhaps dust off the banjo and get back to picking and trying to improve. Perhaps dabble in planting a container garden again. Maybe make a magazine cutout collage or two. Lucy and Noah would probably enjoy helping me with all three of those things. Maybe a little road trip adventure is in order.

I’ve lost a bit of myself, I think, in this last year of being humbled and refined by my mama-life. I’m not the Single Emily I once was. Nor am I the Newlywed Emily. Or the Mama-of-One Emily or the Mama-of-Two Emily. In more than one way, I miss each of those versions of me. And this past year as newly appointed Mama-of-Three-Emily, I’ve been so overwhelmed just getting my footing, I’ve lost some identity. 

Perhaps spending some time revisiting one of my favorite versions of myself will help me as I move forward. Perhaps tapping into that girl who fiercely loved herself will help me to forgive myself and begin to love me again. From the inside out. Tummy and all. 

 Can’t hurt to try it out. I think maybe I’m ready to start loving my phenomenal me again.


(Excerpt from Maya Angelou's poem, Phenomenal Woman.)


  1. Oh, Em, your words. They always speak to me, but tonight they say oh so very much to my heart. I always think of you as a phenomenal woman and it hurts me to my core to know that you have struggled to see that in yourself lately. The life journeys of refine and adapt and change make it tough to remember who we are and want to be. But if there is any mirror I can hold to help you see your amazing self, I want to be there to hold it.

  2. You know how much I feel and understand every single word of this, but let me just say again, that I think you're on the right track here. And also that THIS is the hardest part of being a mom, no matter HOW you're a mom. Remembering who you are and loving who you are now have to be the biggest challenges of life.

    I hope you know how lovely I think you are, even when you don't feel that way about yourself. You are marvelous and wonderful, just as you are. Don't forget that there are plenty of us that feel that way.

    I love you.

  3. So very well said. Love you more than ever!

  4. My dear sis...
    I love that it was the Carpenters that brought you back. That heritage of music and harmony that we share, that our wonderful parents gave us.

    It's so hard to love ourselves. Why is that?! But never forget that that you aren't alone in this effort. Let's help each other :)

  5. Oh Em, not only can you sing, you can PREACH!

    I am proud that you were able to put it into words, when I am still just a bunch of nerve endings and unspoken musings about it all.

    I'm sure you remember Shel Silverstein's Giving Tree. I have been thinking that we are at the "giving tree" stage of life right now. Like the tree to his boy, we are so blessed and grateful to be able to give and give and give of ourselves to these babes in our arms...and at our knees...and on our minds while they are in school. We love them so fiercely that we would give until there was nothing left (and some days it feels that way!)

    In the giving, there is purpose and love and all the good, honest, important things in life. But it comes at a cost. You and I wear that cost in the increased girth of our waistlines. Others wear it in marital stress, or financial frivolity, or ill health, or ill temper.

    I haven't found the key to working through that yet, but I think you're onto something with your 'revisiting yourself' idea. I may give it a try myself, but in the meantime, it's nice to know that there are others out there working through the same thing. Good company for the journey!


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