Brienne Riker Maloney (29) and Ruby George (23 months)
Brienne shares -
"About a month ago, I had just dried my daughter off from her bath and was trying to put on her diaper when she did a ninja roll and escaped my grasp. She stood up and giggled, waving around her clean diaper over her head. Then she caught a glimpse of herself in the wall mirror and stopped. She looked at her reflection and smiled as she pushed her belly as far out as it could go. Her chubby little finger poked inside her belly button while her eyes examined the rest of her body - she smiled proudly and exclaimed “mine!!”
In that moment, I was overcome with emotion and began to cry. At what point in our lives, do we lose this excitement and pride over our bodies? When does it turn into anxiety and self-consciousness? How does it happen and how can we prevent it? For myself, it began very early and has tormented me throughout the course of my life. Somewhere around eight years old I started noticing that when I sat cross-legged I had a line of fat on the inside of my thighs down to my ankles. I remember squeezing it and wanting it gone. I started comparing my body to that of my brothers, wondering why I didn’t have thin legs and what people meant when they said I had my father’s build. It wasn’t that I was ever really overweight as a child; it was that I wasn’t ever thin. I was always somewhere in between strong and a little “thick.” I felt embarrassed.
Around twelve years old, I spent the majority of my time swimming and running. I was good at both, better at swimming, but enjoyed running more. They helped keep me fit and focused on function rather than appearance. Then my body began to change; I quickly developed and felt more self-conscious in my swimsuit and shorts. I loved to eat but wanted to be thin. I started associating food as both my comfort and the villain. And so, the cycle began.
Around fourteen, my grandmother saw me changing clothes and realized that I had been binding my chest to avoid letting how developed I was show. My mom and I went to Victoria’s Secrets. I cried, a lot and the woman that worked there said “Don’t worry honey, some women pay for those.” I burst into tears and was inconsolable. Why couldn’t I be like my brothers? Oh wait, I was a girl! We got the new bras and all of a sudden, I was noticed at school. They grew every year.
Over the course of high school, I usually looked older than I was and was acutely aware of intense gazes from grown men. There were several instances of sexual aggression that resulted in me further associating my body with shame. So, I didn’t date, I didn’t wear swimsuits, and I stopped wearing shorts. I quit my sports teams and retreated further into myself. I naturally gained weight to which my family teased me about as families often do.
My experimentation with food quickly escalated into an obsession. Overall, I felt ashamed and embarrassed of my body. So I abused it. I didn’t want to be seen and I found that controlling my food enabled me to take back a little of myself. Sometimes my family was a little ruthless because they couldn’t understand how why I shifted so drastically from athletic to chubby. I was tired, lethargic, and fell asleep in the library at school. I tried to get help but it was seen as teenage dramatics. After all, I wasn't thin so I clearly didn't have a problem. I don't blame them; I am an excellent secret keeper and terrible at articulating my emotions.
Moving forward into college, I believed I would break this cycle. College would be different, I would be more confident and have more friends. But I was so hung up on my body that I always felt awkward and out of place. Four years later I commissioned into the Army, and assured myself that things would be better. But by that point, my destructive pattern was thoroughly engrained into me. It was how I calmed myself and ensured success. It was how I coped with horrible sexual aggression both in and out of the military and the bad memories and feelings of shame associated with those circumstances; it was something that I could readily control and rely upon. It was my greatest secret. But at every point I prayed for it to be the last year. I wanted to be free and reclaim that confidence that disappeared along the way.
At 26 I met my husband Patrick. A goofy guy that moved next-door and had nothing but a 15 foot hammock (that he used as his bed and couch), base guitar, and hockey equipment in his apartment. He came out of nowhere and I thank God he did! He was respectful of my cautious nature. Those legs I had despised my entire life - he thought were the sexiest things he had ever seen. The way he looked at me and accepted me for everything that I was, made me feel more understood and worthy of love than anyone in my life. His friendship and love helped me heal the hurt and break the cycle.
We got married in 2015 and were blessed with our daughter in 2016. She is a beautiful, boisterous, and goofy little girl and the star of our world. Nothing in my life has brought me greater joy than being a mother to our little girl. Although I will always struggle to have a healthy body image, carrying and birthing my daughter has given me a newfound respect for my body. I carried a human being as she grew inside of me! I pushed her out! I have nursed her through a severe lip tie and four rounds of mastitis! And I have loved this little girl more than anything in my life. Motherhood has reminded me that this body is God-given and absolutely amazing. With or without those extra pounds."
As a kid, I often heard “pretty is as pretty does.” But those words were meaningless as I watched all the amazing, beautiful women in my family tear down their bodies, ashamed of the physiques that had graced them with many children and good health. Now that I am a mother struggling to accept my postpartum body, I do understand and empathize that they were struggling with the same insecurity that I now feel. It is so difficult to accept these changes when society in general idolizes bouncing back and thinness.
I wanted to participate in this movement in order to show my daughter a different way. I never want her to lose herself in an obsession of weight. When I think about all the life that I missed out on – all over an extra ten to fifteen pounds, it is crushing. How we speak about ourselves can have a lasting effect on the children that idolize us. Now that I have a daughter, I am going to make a conscious effort to speak positively about my own body and treat it with more respect. I don’t want my daughter to ever view her body like I once viewed mine. I am so grateful to this movement and all the brave women that have shared their stories - thank you for being the light!"