I am lucky to know the most beautiful women.  Women who have lived deep, rich lives of consequence and stand tall even through hardship and loss.  Every woman I know has scars and stripes that tell a story of how they fought cancer and won, given birth to babies, weathered depression, suffered through acne, gained weight, lost weight, and so much more.

In conversation with a dear friend who recently had a baby, she said how common it was to hear the phrase “get my body back.”  This is someone who has been up and down the brambly highway of eating disorders, dance- world- body- image- bullshit, and landed elegantly on the other side speaking wisely to herself  and others about acceptance.  She said emphatically, “I don’t want my body back, but I want to claim beauty as I age. I created an incredible child with this body, so why would I want my body back when I now carry so much more wisdom?”  She spoke about body forward and beauty forward instead of back. I listened as she talked and told her story.  Good gracious, I thought, we need more of this for all women. We laughed together as we recalled our 20 year bodies, so supple and young but so sad and broken inside.  I wouldn’t take that version of Buffy back for the moon in my lap or anything else.

I haven’t met a woman yet who doesn’t have a story of UgLy she has told herself for years.  For me,  I always hope for good lighting to hide the scars on my cheeks from teenage acne. I think about it waaaay more than I like to admit, and know it’s a huge teaching for me.  I often tell my students to love the skin they are born into, and I am always talking to myself in those moments, too.

My mother, who is the most beautiful woman I know, has a story of UgLy planted by my grandmother, bless her heart.  Picture this~ dressing room, girls department, shopping for new school clothes and mama is 14.  Out of Mamaw’s mouth flies the story that sticks for years, branding my mother.  “Vivian, you’d have a good figure if your legs weren’t so big.”   sigh.  Mamas moving forward, can we do better than this type of branding?  Let’s create new lines of daughters who feel like they shine, whole and confident.

My friend Ingrid saw me about a year after Ben (my brother) died.  She sorta gasped, and I knew instantly it was because I looked different.  The months of crying and despair had aged me, changed me, and taken away my glow.  But I couldn’t help it, and now I look back and know those sobbing jaunts were shaking loose something powerful and I was collecting real life wisdom.

I come with these questions for all women.  How can we begin to see ourselves, with all the scars and stripes and stories, as a collection of beauty as we move forward?  Can we begin to thank our body for it’s resiliency, intuition, and strength instead of wishing it were different?  Can we pass this way of thinking to our daughters so they can see us loving ourselves through every change?

Our bodies are a treasure map.  We have a personal art collection of our experiences mapped onto us, and it’s our choice to see this as powerful. I spent years working specifically with breast cancer survivors, who often have mastectomy scars and stories.  Some have chosen reconstruction and some haven’t.  But either way, these women have had to reconstruct their views of beauty, survival, feminine sexuality, and wellness.  They are now marked with power, and a choice to bring their beauty and body  forward instead of back.  My hope is we can all begin to choose this, as we age and collect life on our bodies.