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More Beautiful Than Ever

I wake up in the morning and opposite of everything I want to do, I reach over to my nightstand and check my phone camera that’s piped into Ollie’s room to see if he’s up yet.

Then, the very next thing I do is check my emails and social media. Honestly, I feel like the bigger offender is checking emails and social media before bed, which I admit, I also do if the book I’m reading is not as riveting as the readers’ reviews claimed. More recently, every time I open up Facebook, it’s like pulling the handle on a slot machine. Is today the day “they’re” going to share a memory from five or seven years ago on my homepage? And then it happens! That picture from my friend’s wedding popped up last week. It was a moment when Matt and I went out onto the dock and did a whole impromptu cell phone photo shoot because the dress I wore was that tie-dye fabulous and the wind coming off of the water was doing all kinds of magic for my long hair and flowing gown/fancy muumuu. My arms were spread wide open which now feels like the obligatory millennial woo-woo move and embarrasses me to think I did that.

My heart is so open, here let me show you. I am so vulnerable and free.

To be honest, I never thought I would age in the last five to seven years—meaning, I never thought about aging. When I saw this particular Facebook memory pop up, I was taken by how much younger I looked. And even how much younger my energy felt in the picture. It’s not that I would never open my arms like that for a picture ever again, like if I were going in to hug someone IRL or catch a big beach ball flying towards my face, but that’s probably it.

As I penned in Trouble Being Brave, I am truly a different woman now. Weeks later, another Facebook memory popped up from one of our anniversary trips. Matt and I flew to California to do a big anniversary shebang in San Francisco where I held a Topless Yoga event, and then we drove to Napa to do another Topless Yoga event, which was cancelled because the insane earthquake the night before—so wild, because it shook our hotel room bed in San Francisco. We ended up driving to Solage Resort in Calistoga, CA for a couple nights of R&R--as if we really needed it—and wine. We even signed up for Solage spa’s signature sleep treatment. Eye roll. I was so well rested that I used the three-stage two-and-a-half-hour treatment as an awake mindfulness practice. An AWAKE MINDFULNESS PRACTICE! I could cry with laughter. Who the heck was I?

Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, the Facebook memory! It was a picture of me coolly lounging on the outdoor banquette of Solage’s premier farm-to-table restaurant. It was a whole thing, that trip, but down-played, you know? As in, I didn't want people to know everything had been curated for social media.I had prepped my cozy cute resort outfit with a light scarf I had packed for the day marked “Solage—Saturday” and it hung from the top of the outfit hanger. Actually, not all too different from my current self. The flashy jewelry—hey big watches were a thing. The wine. And there it was again. The youth. Zap.

All of these Facebook memories kept reminding me of how I aged. The confluence of all of the mixed feelings that I got from these semi-sweet Facebook memories of how cool and young I was and looked hit me around six months postpartum. I know motherhood takes a toll on our culture’s idea of beauty, but I still don’t think it was the fact that I have unseeable gray hairs despite the expensive highlights and visible forehead lines, even when I don’t lift my brows.

What I’m trying to say is, I don’t think it was the actual aging that stopped me in my tracks, but rather, recognizing that I am a different woman now.These Facebook memories are like electric zaps that remind me that everything changes, especially when a baby enters the scene. And it’s not better or worse—it is just different and cannot be compared. I’m gonna break my own rule here and say it’s so much better with a baby. How did I ever risk to say that I had a full life before Ollie?

Also, I recognize this is not how all of us feel, especially after having a baby. Keeping a baby and yourself alive and happy is hard AF, and you’re doing a great job (if this applies). One thing that my friend, Cara Dumaplin, from @TakingCaraBabies says that I love is, “There’s no better mama for your baby than you.” Right around the time that I was smacked with the reality that everything has changed, and I am a different woman, and I do look older, this really important event happened in my life. My girlfriend Christina Craddock came to photograph my family for Oliver’s six-month milestone. What happened with this photo shoot really impacted me for two reasons.

During the shoot, where Ollie was the star, my Mother-in-law whisked him away for an outfit and diaper change, and Christina said, “let’s get some pictures of you!” My first response (in my head) was, “Why would you want pictures of me? It’s not about me anymore? I’m not a model right now.” Instead, I agreed to Christina’s offer, because I had no reason not to. Maybe I won’t need or use these photos, but since she’s here taking pictures, I guess we can get a few and pass the time together.Christina started snapping and I had this out-of-body experience where I was looking down at myself, moving around, modeling, and watching me be myself on camera.

I stopped and she looked over her camera lens,“I have to be honest." I told her. " This feels weird!”

“What do you mean?” She asked.

“It feels weird, that for six months, I haven’t done anything without Ollie. I feel strange, standing here on my own, not needing a baby in my arms to validate that I am worthy of a picture on my own. Does that make sense?”

“Sure.” She said, understanding as a mother of two kiddos herself. “Of course you’re worthy of a picture on your own! You’re an incredible woman!”

“It sounds silly to say since I was a model for so long, but it's very empowering to get my picture taken now. I’m older and a little rusty but damnnn I’ve still got it.”

I gestured with my shoulders and lifted my leg high into the air to show off the fun blue jumper I was wearing. (Btw the jumper is Ulla Johnson and I’ve never received so many complements on an outfit). As if I’ve had wobbly mama sea legs for the past six months, I articulated to Christina, “I feel strong enough to stand on my own again. And as a mother and a woman, that makes me feel really proud and beautiful. Thank you for being a catalyst for this moment. I didn’t know I needed this.”

"Aren’t the greatest gifts the least expected ones?" I gushed. The second part of this whole mind-shifting moment, was several weeks later when the finished pictures appeared in my inbox. I clicked on the title, “Oliver’s 6thand was sent into a photo shoot vortex of my beautiful family…and wow, so many photos of me. Lol. Guess I do still have it. A part of me “lowered the bar” of what I expected my photos to look like. Not that Christina wouldn’t do a great job, but more like, I did my own hair, makeup and styling, and Christina doesn’t do all the Photoshop touch ups that magically make thinning hair look like an eighteen-year-old hair model on a box of hair dye. I love Christina’s photography style for this reason. She really sees me. Also, I lowered my expectations because honestly, I’m not super focused on my body image right now. I’m at peace with being healthy at my size and focused on my small handful of priorities, the top of the list being nursing my son because he eats six times a day. Flat tummy and ripped arms are so far off the list right now, so truthfully, I expected to see…a blob of Emily.And the pictures turned out to be beautiful!

When I scrolled through the photos, I got to see myself through Christina’s lens, and I saw that she really thinks that I am strong and beautiful enough—not necessarily in our culture’s sense--to have my photo taken by myself. She wasn't just saying it! Having another woman and working mama believe in me--and boy have there been so many of you who have written me and been the wind in my sails during all the postpartum stages--was really empowering.

In just her showing me the way she sees me, my confidence as a woman who's worn frumpy full-coverage nursing bras for the past six months soared. In a way, this silly little photoshoot that was meant for my son, was an unexpected rite of passage for me to feel like Emily again, and still be Oliver’s mama. I can be both, and while it felt a tad selfish at the time, it feels really good now to celebrate me feeling strong enough to stand on my own.

While I am zapped with these Facebook memories every now and then that everything has completely changed over the last five to seven years, I now look at these photos and remember this small but powerful moment of feeling strong enough to stand on my own as a woman and mother and I remember this: Despite my “aging,” I am more beautiful than ever.

And this is true for you, too. When you get zapped with your Facebook memories from years ago, enjoy the memory, try not compare yourself, and try to see yourself the way your friends and loved ones see you.

*Thank you to my friends (many whom are readers), family, and clients who see the strong, beautiful me as an individual and a mama. You have all given me so much courage and strength to persevere what calls my heart.

Photo Christina Craddock Photography