My daughters clearly have inborn body types. My older daughter was always around the 99th percentile in growth for her age. At 11, already she has grown to my height, with my wide shoulders and (relatively) powerful legs.
She is strong and healthy, and I am grateful. But I already know that she will not have the slim body type do some of her relatives. And in our culture, that will likely bother her on some level, since the slender type is so prized.
My younger daughter is a different body type altogether, one I don’t recognize quite so well. She was usually around the 55th percentile for growth for her age. She is average height and weight, also a very active kid whose friends ask how she can eat so much and still stay skinny. She’s only 9 and who knows how her body will change, but I don’t think it will mimic mine so closely.
Perhaps my children will be more able to accept their bodies, especially in this era of women’s fitness. I can dream, can’t I?
I have long had struggles with my body, especially after having two kids. When carrying my second daughter, I was put on bedrest. I lost muscle tone and put on flabby weight (more than I’d hoped), and I had to take medication that made me feel awful. Recovery was a long process, and with a two-year-old and infant it seemed to take forever.
Then when I returned to work part-time I found I was very sedentary, very busy, stressed, and had almost no time for exercise. I was surrounded (I almost said assaulted!) by free food at my office, which did not help my waistline. And I developed some seriously painful physical issues from the repetitive stress of carrying heavy babies around and (when I had a few moments to myself) hovering over a laptop and doing crafts to unwind.
It was a perfect storm for motherly physical un-fitness.
After some months (years, I guess?) of complaining about it, I finally decided to make a change and got proactive. I went to a good physical therapist, luckily covered by my medical insurance. Joyce's energetic persona made me feel old and bulky, but she helped immensely.
Putting aside a bit of budget for health matters, I found a female physical trainer, Mary, who did her best to whip me into shape over a few months. And a mom friend who liked running got me into weekend runs while the dads minded the kids.
I lost some weight and I got stronger physically. I built muscle tone and improved my posture, which helped my pain. I did what I could, given time and budget constraints.
Today, the journey continues with stops at the gym, speed walks, fitness biking, uphill hikes, dance “jam” classes, and all-encompassing eating plans. It feels like a constant battle and I expect it will get worse as I age.
Over the years, I have had a lot of trouble accepting my basic body type. It's not slender, not an hourglass, not an image of Hollywood perfection. It’s a type that’s hard to fit nicely into off-the-rack clothes, for example. But it's not all bad: I know I can look darn good in the right outfit, and I get compliments (especially from biased people like my husband).
The point is: As much as I work out and lose weight or gain it, this will always be my body.
Stoic thinking is helpful here, if I can just remember to bring it to mind. Stoics in ancient times were known for their willingness to pass up fine food and drink, and even nice, warm clothing. They could deprive themselves of an awful lot, and they did not indulge when given the opportunity.
That’s a mindset I am trying to develop—especially when it comes to the abundant free food in my office (a "first world problem," I know!).
And the ancient Stoics were, above all, accepting of things outside their control. Surely body type and body chemistry/metabolism are things we are born with, as my daughter’s form shows.
Ancient Stoics were remarkably accepting of the body’s aging and its pain. For Stoic thinkers, possessing good health was not a given and was one of the “indifferent things” that did not determine a person’s worth, virtue, or joy in life. That's because we can’t help getting sick or growing old, and eventually we all lose our precious bodies and pass away.
But long before that (I hope), we should be clear: we must accept our bodies and ourselves. We should try to be the best person we can be, to be the fittest for our own well-being, but the rest is outside our control.
Perhaps I could come up with some new Stoic mantras for women struggling with this. I’ll think about that in the coming days, as I try to find ways to work exercise and healthy eating and stress reduction into my hectic life. Any comments on coping with this often-tough path would be more than welcome!
About The Stoic Mom
I'm Meredith Kunz, a writer, editor, and mom to two daughters in Northern California on a journey to discover how Stoic philosophy and mindful approaches can change a parent's - or any person's - life.