As a young girl I remember being self conscious about my body. Somewhere in my parents’ house is an old photo of me in front of a waterfall in Hawaii, eight years old and sitting hunched over on a rock, clutching a plastic inner tube in front of my body. I was ashamed of my belly. At eight years old. I was an averagely skinny kid but had it in my head that a body was something to be scrutinized and judged against perfection. Not once growing up did anyone ever make fun of my weight or tell me I was fat. I was loved and supported, but still took it upon myself to find something to hate about my physical self. No doubt I subtly inherited part of this from my mother. “Oh, you’re in such good shape, you’re so skinny!” people would tell her. But she would scoff with a somewhat sad smile and pat her middle, “No, it’s not good. I have a belly.” The dialogue continues to this day.

Growing up, I was also surrounded by the type of media that perpetuates self hatred and body shaming in girls and women. Even magazines for preteens and teens had articles on dieting and how to slim down. I would look at models, then run to the bathroom, shut the door, and obsess about what needed to improve. I’d frown at my pot belly, lack of booty, and that annoying gap between my thighs. Who knew years later I would find out a thigh gap was actually something to covet? As a female, the path to self awareness and self acceptance was a steep one.

Fast forward a few decades. Sitting at lunch with a friend and my infant daughter, I’m still sporting a lot of residual pudge from my pregnancy. I’m wearing maternity pants, a maternity top, and an unsexy nursing bra. My normally modest breasts are weirdly huge and I’m not afraid to nurse in public. My body is full but my heart is fuller. “So,” my friend suddenly pipes up, “When are you going to lose the extra weight?” I ask why. “It’s just not you,” she replies. It’s just not me. I am dumbstruck.

But it is me. It is me and I embrace it. After years of self scrutiny I am finally free. My children have shown me the most perfect body is the one that can give the most cuddles, the one whose arms are always open for a hug and carrying a heavy, drooping baby up the stairs to bed, and the one with an ample lap for sitting in and a belly full of laughter.

Now that my daughter is almost five and I have a new baby to care for, my body has again waxed and waned like the cycles of the moon. People are constantly telling me “You look great!” They mean it as a compliment, so I smile and thank them, saying the second pregnancy has been kind. Secretly though, I don’t give a f*ck. If I do get around to exercising these days it’s because it makes me feel good to have a strong body. My daughter loves it when my skin is exposed and loves to roll around on my “ooshy squishy” belly. I am free, and I am home, and I thank my children every day for giving me this perfect vessel for my love.