A story of love, and mothers, and the bodies that bear us through this thing called life... 

One afternoon in early March, I found myself sitting on the couch in my mother's room, working quietly while she dozed. She was on hospice care in the final stages of her cancer journey, and I had put my work almost completely on hold so I could help care for her. Retreats and programs were postponed, portrait shoots pushed back, the calendar cleared. I had simplified things down to a single program: The Body Love Bootcamp. The rest of my time would be spent with Mom. 

She had been on hospice for a couple of months, but things were intensifying, and we knew we didn't have much time left together. I spent nearly every day at my sister's house, where we cared for her together. Whenever she was awake, we wanted to focus on her; I saved my work for her downtime, quietly opening my laptop only when she was sleeping peacefully. 

There is an intensity to this kind of life experience that makes a person acutely aware of what really matters in life. It separates the wheat from the chaff, as they say. When even the things you love have to come to a halt because something else is even bigger, then that means there's zero energy or room for things that don't matter. I often found myself feeling drained at the very thought of doing anything that wasn't absolutely essential, meaningful, and full of love.

So on this one afternoon as I dove into the conversation in the Body Love Bootcamp Facebook group, I did so with a palpable gratitude for the meaningfulness of this work, and the caring community it was generating in the group. (I don't think I could have done any other kind of "job" during this period.) As I read the powerful comments from all the women sharing stories and insights with one another, I felt the full impact of this work coursing through my body. It is truly humbling to facilitate the kind of gathering that was happening in this group. But what completely took my breath away was a particular post by a woman in the class, who said:  

"I am f*cking amazing just as I am, just as I always was. My body made 4 ridiculously charismatic and exceptional human beings. My body has carried me through 40 years. My body, that I have been criticizing and bullying, should be cherished."

As I sat there in my mom's room, I felt those words reverberate through me.

This was certainly not the first time I had heard an insight like this from a woman who was working her way through The Body Love Workbook. But at that moment, I felt the full power of the awareness that was dawning for this woman. She was grasping the truth that our bodies are not just measuring sticks by which we can measure our worth... and that criticizing and guilting ourselves is ineffective and toxic. Our bodies are sacred, miraculous benefactors of all our love and work, loss and redemption, failure and success, and everything in between. Every single life experience unfolds because our bodies make it happen. Period. Without them, we quite literally would not be here today. 

From the rest of her post, I could see how this woman's new awareness was starting to overrule a lifetime's supply of broken old beliefs that told her she wasn't good enough. She was starting to see how divine and precious her body was... how divine and precious SHE was. And as I sat there in my mother's room, at this enormous turning point in our lives, I was acutely present to the power of this realization, and to the meaning it would have in this woman's life.

Recently I created a t-shirt that says "love your body like your life depends on it". I think that if I had to reduce the essence of Body Love Bootcamp down to a single sentence, that would be it. You learn to love your body like it's the miraculous source of your life, because it is, and because you deserve to KNOW that and live like you know it.

We all know that it's easiest to appreciate our bodies after the fact--for example, when admiring old photographs of our younger, smoother selves and wishing we'd known how lucky we were back then. But I want as many people as possible to get how lucky and beautiful and miraculous they are NOW. I don't want you to wait any longer to appreciate what you've got; I want to support you in seeing and loving your body's gifts NOW.

On May 1, I will launch the Body Love Bootcamp all over again with a new batch of fresh faces and big hearts, ready to dive in and unravel the tangle of old beliefs that prevent self-love, reveling in a whole new kind of love and awe for our bodies. 

I invite you to join us, and to spread the word to your friends. There are only 6 days left until we begin, and I want to reach as many women as possible with this course, honoring this pivotal moment with exponentially more self-love and discovery.

The details are here. 

With love and gratitude for my mom,

Jen


Because it's ladies' night. I mean, International Women's Day...

As I reflect on the first week of Body Love Bootcamp, what stands out to me most is the power of women in community. Because over the past 7 days, this incredible group of women has already connected in a way that few friends ever really do, sharing their real raw hearts with one another.

Amidst all the brave stories, virtual hugs, and recognition, these women have already begun to have insights that will change the way they live in their bodies forever.

But this isn't just about the Body Love Workbook; it's about the power of women coming together in community. It. Is. Powerful. 

Women who came into the group with a few friends are making new connections; women who entered alone, feeling unsure about this whole online community thing, are relishing in the authenticity and approachability of this group. And this has quickly become a beautiful and easy place to stumble headlong into personal revelations. Big aha-moments are already emerging spontaneously, and we have only just begun!

This is what can happen when women come together to do this kind of work; our wisdom and insight grow exponentially. We learn faster. We connect. We develop friendships that feed us for years to come. We GROW. 

I want to offer more women the incredible experience of coming together with likeminded souls to discover a real and lasting love for the skin they’re in, and to nourish themselves with the power of community.
 
So today I’m celebrating International Women’s Day by announcing that I will offer this course again in May 2016. And just for 3 days, I’m offering an early bird flash sale to you and your friends!
 
If you know you're ready to learn to love your body and yourself--no matter where you are in your life journey-- join us by Friday at midnight (Pacific) to get in on this special offer. 

Register here, and invite your friends to join us, too!

This course will change the way you see your body and the world, and I am deeply honored to do this work. Thank you for being here and helping spread the #BodyLoveForLife movement!

XO,

Jen Hecht
Founder, This Body of Work
www.thisbodyofwork.com
Facebook community page
Instagram: @ThisBodyofWork

 

I thought skinny girls had it made. Boy, was I wrong.

I used to be so confused about how it really was for skinny girls. 
 
You see, logically, I knew that women of all shapes and sizes could and did hate their bodies, but emotionally it just didn’t make sense to me. When my skinny friends complained about feeling ugly, I often assumed they were just fishing for compliments. How could they possibly hate their bodies, when they were perfect? 
 
It took me years to wake up and realize that the harsh inner voice of self-criticism doesn’t discriminate; it can invade the internal dialogue of any woman, regardless of her shape or size. The twinges of self-doubt, the self-consciousness, the spasms of shame—everyone is vulnerable to this. It’s universal. It connects all of us to each other. 
 
But we're largely (ha) unaware of this in our world today. And to make matters worse, most average-sized or larger women will usually alienate any smaller woman who dares to speak her truth about her own experience of it. When a thinner woman complains about gaining weight, or worrying about her body, or feeling like she's not enough, other women dismiss her feelings. They roll their eyes and laugh and beg her to shut up and eat something, already. 

Perhaps they think it's reassuring to brush off these concerns so casually, but when women do this to a friend, they unwittingly shut down any real conversation that might have led their friend toward a breakthrough.
 
The truth is that for women who struggle with body image but look like they “shouldn’t”, it can be even more painful. Because being invalidated, shunned, or unseen by others is hurtful; and being left outside of the mutual understanding that other women share is lonely and frustrating.
 
So, my skinny sisters, if you've heard any of these before: 

  • You couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to feel shame or self-consciousness about your body...
  • You’re not entitled to voice your feelings...
  • You have it easier than everyone else...
  • You’re just fishing for compliments when you confess to struggling with your body image...
  • You’re too skinny to have a valid experience of body image issues...
  • You don’t belong in the body positivity movement because it’s not for women like you...

 
…I SEE YOU. Your struggle is real. And you deserve just as much mutual understanding, compassion, and solidarity as anyone does. And with my heart in my hands, I offer you mine.

If you’ve been yearning for a space to explore and heal your body image with women of ALL shapes and sizes…

If you want to be seen and validated like everyone else…
 
If you want to start seeing your own beauty the way everyone else apparently can (or better)…
 
Then I personally invite you to join us for the Body Love Bootcamp workshop. I promise that THIS tribe is different from all the rest. Your story is just as important as everyone else's. 

Monday is the last day to register for this workshop, so please be sure to sign up by tomorrow if the course description speaks to you. 
 
With love and solidarity,
 
Jen

P.S. Today I decided to give a special gift to everyone who registers for this course, and I'm excited to reveal it sometime during this month-long program! Woohoo! 

Okay, vulnerability time.

Three years ago I was really struggling.

I had been fighting to lose weight and keep it off for years, and I just couldn't win. I felt trapped in a body that was all wrong, and I felt absolutely tortured about it.

It wasn't just that losing weight was hard (although it was), or that it felt like I had to keep losing the same damned 20 pounds over and over again (I did).

I was tortured by it because my weight loss struggle wasn’t just about my body; it was about ME. Because I didn’t feel worthy of love and success unless I was thin. So my failure to keep weight off meant that I was doomed to remain unlovable. 

That might sound a little crazy when you read it spelled out like that, because obviously there's a lot more to someone's worth than their dress size. Even now it's a little embarrassing to admit I felt that way, because it makes no sense at all. How was it possible that I had done so much personal work and I still had this irrational belief? Ouch.

But if you’ve ever felt like I did, you know it’s not a conscious rational thought process; it’s an emotional belief that gets embedded in your mindset. It gets so entangled in your emotional wiring that you can’t seem to dislodge it, no matter how ridiculous you know it is intellectually. 

In my case, since I didn't feel intrinsically worthy of love and success, this belief also led me to becoming a chronic people-pleaser. I thought I had to earn approval and love by making other people happy, even in relationships or jobs that didn't resonate with me at all.

My needs came last every time when I lived with that belief. Actually, after a while I didn't even know what my needs were anymore. I was so focused on everyone else that I fell completely out of touch with myself.

I may have appeared confident to other people, but inside I often felt ashamed and hopeless. I would try to ignore those feelings until they periodically overwhelmed me, and then I would try to subdue them with another diet.

This pattern played out exhaustingly for years until 2014, when a series of events led me to a major breakdown. I had had lots of breakdowns about this before, but this time I handled it differently, and I took some actions that made a huge difference in my life.

It was then that I had a huge breakthrough, and I fell in love with my body and my own heart.

As I write about in The Body Love Workbook, when I finally got off the rollercoaster and figured out how to love my body, some weird things started happening in my life:

  • I started LOVING my body and enjoying all the amazing gifts it gives me. 
  • I discovered my own real worth, and started turning my dreams into realities.
  • I made nurturing myself a top priority. When you love your body, it's so much more fun and rewarding to take care of it!
  • I stopped putting myself through stressful weight loss campaigns, and learned to trust my body and follow my intuition.
  • I started really listening to my own heart, and it turned out that that quiet voice within me had a LOT to say.
  • I started standing in my own truth and setting boundaries, and my quality of life skyrocketed.

Now, I'm not saying I’ve got it all figured out and I'm done learning. But these shifts made such a huge difference in my life that other people took notice. Because when you start loving yourself and listening to your heart, your life changes. 

When you feel beautiful and strong and confident, you start creating the life of your dreams. And when you tune into that quiet inner voice, it will lead you to your most fulfilling, satisfying life yet. 

The results are life-changing. Here's how you can tell you're on the right track: 

  • You feel confident and beautiful in your own skin.
  • Your gratitude for your body and your life expands exponentially. 
  • The dreams you’ve put on the back burner come alive with possibility.
  • You create more spaciousness for YOU in your busy schedule.
  • Your relationships and career become more aligned with your needs and desires.
  • You get fed and nourished emotionally—and boy oh boy, is your soul ever thirsty for that. 
  • And most of all, you have more to give. And holy shit, does the world ever need more of you. 


 The Body Love Bootcamp is going to take an amazing group of women into precisely that realm. I’m going to teach you how to rewire your beliefs about your body, see your own true worth, and connect with your heart. It’s going to be an inspiring and self-nurturing journey, and the results will rock your world.

This is the final week to sign up, so if you feel called to join this tribe, pop on over to the registration page and sign up right now! As soon as you register, I’ll add you to our online community so you can start feeling the love before we even get started.

Register here.

With love,

Jen

P.S. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to offer this workshop to you. This work is my deepest calling, which is one of the big things I realized when I started listening to my own heart. To even be sitting here writing you this email feels huge, because doing this work is a reflection of my love for my body and my deep belief that I am worthy of fulfillment and joy. Thank you for being part of this journey for me.

 

 

Loving My Body Through Infertility

 Self-portrait by Jen Hecht.

Self-portrait by Jen Hecht.

We start trying to have a baby the year after we get married. We do not know this yet, but we will try for four years to have a family, first my wife and then me.

We are incredibly optimistic when we start trying. We make a list of names and calculate what our baby's birthday will be. But a year goes by, then two, then four. We try to reframe things. We try to keep the faith. We try to keep perspective. Infertility can tear couples apart; we are determined to come through this closer than ever. We lose our shit sometimes anyway. We lose perspective. We lose faith. We are surrounded by friends getting pregnant. It seems like everyone is constantly celebrating and complaining about parenthood on social media, at parties, over coffee. We are inundated by it and yet outside of it.

Everyone knows we're good with kids and that we want our own children; we become everyone's favorite babysitters. Friends are well-intentioned but often oblivious to our heartache. A couple complains to us that they wish they hadn't gotten pregnant, and we fight the urge to snatch their baby away from them. Other friends commiserate, saying they understand what it's like to struggle with fertility because it took them three months to conceive. They kindly offer us the consolation prize of being aunties to their children. We know this is an honor, and we do feel honored, but it's not the same thing as being mothers to our own children. We fight tears at dinner parties, and we rage and cry in private when we are alone again. 

We take some time off from trying, give ourselves room to breathe. Feel our hope growing back. Try again. My wife gets bad test results. We grieve, and switch from her to me. We pour many thousands of dollars into fertility specialist appointments, donor sperm, procedures, ultrasounds, drugs. We switch donors six times in four years. We take breaks and try again. We do fertility acupuncture. Yoga. Herbs. Meditation. Visualization. New drugs. Sobriety. Clean eating. We accumulate baby gear and children's books, consoling ourselves by buying baby clothes when we get bad news. We eat sushi and then avoid sushi and then eat sushi again. We read parenting books. We try to relax and just let it happen. For four years we are suspended in limbo. We can't make travel plans or commitments in advance because the ovulation cycle is the first priority. We paint a room in our house and plan where to put the crib. We have a glider and a fancy diaper bag and a box of baby clothes in the basement labeled "Peanut". Our cat takes over the glider and gets fur all over it. At first we object, but eventually we let it go.

I get pregnant, but I miscarry when our baby is still the size of a sesame seed. I overcome my fear of needles and get really good at getting my blood drawn. My wife and I deal with the loss differently, and it takes work to heal it between us. As soon as we can, we start trying again. As soon as we find out a cycle has failed, I have to start taking hormones for the next cycle. I begin to feel like a lab rat. I am poked and examined with alarming regularity. Our hope seems to be quantified in physical measurements: hormone levels, uterine lining thickness, follicle sizes. Things always look good, but nothing happens. We try to find the silver lining in everything. We try to be gentle with ourselves.

Eventually we contemplate IVF, but our resources are exhausted. We are exhausted. Tapped out emotionally. Gradually I realize that I no longer yearn for an infant to come through one of us; the idea of it has become fraught with too much painful history and hopelessness. Without realizing it consciously, I have turned some kind of a corner. Even though there's nothing wrong with me and the fertility doctors have been unconcerned, I have just run out of steam. It feels clear: we're barking up the wrong tree.

I start to focus on our garden instead. If I plant things there, they actually come up. The tender green tips of new life poking through the soil bring such huge satisfaction. It is such a relief to do something that actually yields results. I develop a plant problem; I can't resist stopping by the nursery on my way home. The irony is not lost on me. 

I will be 39 in three weeks. She is 42. Time is passing. So much time has already passed. So many times when we thought we might get pregnant at the same time as our friends, and then they did, and we didn’t.

We begin wondering whether we could afford to adopt, considering that our resources have already gone to fertility treatments. A social worker advises us to tell all our friends in the hopes that they will know someone who is searching for an adoptive family. We hesitate. How public do we really want to go with this? How do we want to do this? We don't know. My mother is on hospice. There's a lot going on. We need to call the social worker back but it keeps slipping through the cracks. Maybe we want to adopt from the foster care system. Do we adopt a single child? A sibling pair? We will need to learn about attachment issues. Are we up to the challenge? Do we want to be? We don't know. All that's clear is that we're giving up on getting pregnant, but we still want children. And even though exploring adoption feels like a relief, our inability to create a child still feels raw.

Because of my work, I frequently receive messages from women sharing that they are finally able to love their bodies because their pregnancy and birth experiences have shown them how powerful and miraculous they are. That's wonderful for them. It really is. It's totally fucking amazing. I read their emails and posts about their miraculous bodies and I celebrate with them. But my joy for them is my pain for us. I read their emails with an equal mixture of joy and piercing heartbreak. I feel invisible. I feel lost.

I mourn for myself, for my wife. For the unlived life that we have worked to create for over four years. For the little kicks that neither of us will ever feel within us. For the lost chance at an awe-inspiring experience of childbirth and the milk-drunk slumber of an infant in our arms.

I had to find love for my body without experiencing the power and miracle of childbirth. I had to learn to love it because it simply gives me my own life, not because it gave someone else theirs. Because my own life is a powerful miracle, even when it brings me to my knees.

A core part of unconditional body love and self-compassion is finding the huge gifts that emerge from the shittiest parts of life. And as I reflect on our quest for a family so far, it is with an awareness that the greatest hardships of life have been my biggest teachers.

My body isn't going to give me a baby, but it has given me everything else I have received from this journey. I have learned more about myself and my wife and who we are together than I ever would have without these last four years. My body has given me an emotional resiliency I didn't have before. It has given me grief, but it has also given me deeper compassion, self-knowledge, and a marriage rich with mutual understanding and solidarity. And I believe that someday it is also going to give me the exquisite experience of falling in love with the family we create, however that looks and whenever it happens. 

Ours is a vulnerable and private story. We haven’t known how to share it. We didn't want to give the pain of our story more oxygen. We didn't want to make people feel bad. We didn't want our new-mama friends to feel that we've been anything but happy for them. We didn't want any more well-intended advice and recommendations. I didn't want women to stop celebrating their special brand of motherhood body-awe with me, as hard as it is for me.

But part of our pain is in its compression, in our efforts to smother it and keep it under control in mixed company. It is painful to be invisible, omitting the biggest story in our lives, this line running through our last four calendars, a long string of doctor's appointments and disappointments. And how many sisters do I have out there who are silently holding a similar story, feeling unseen, feeling queasy at every baby shower invite, wary of social media because one more baby bump selfie would bring them to tears? And how many mamas out there are unconscious of just how lucky they are, even on their worst days of motherhood?

So here I am, here we are. Invisible no more. Because I need my own compassion, and part of that is owning my truth and giving myself a voice. Because I want to offer my compassion to others who are walking a similar path. Here I am. Here we are.

--Jen Hecht

Update on February 1, 2016:

I'm humbled and moved by the response to this piece over the last week. I thank you all for your thousands of shares, your compassionate messages, and your recognition. It turns out there are indeed many sisters out there who feel the same way, and we feel far less alone today than we did a week ago.

This piece has also brought up other emotions for some folks, which took me by surprise at first. There are a few readers (like one voice in the comments below) who felt that I have levied a mountain of shame at parents. That couldn't be further from the actual intention of this piece, and I want to be absolutely clear about that. 

We see you, birth-parents. We know your job is unbelievably hard. We've been dress rehearsing for your job for five years. We know it's simultaneously the most brutal and most rewarding job in the world. We know that no matter how ready you are, you're never really ready for it. For the way pregnancy changes your body. For the intoxicating love you'll feel for your child. For having your identity completely destroyed and rebuilt around motherhood. For what pregnancy and parenting will do to your marriage, your sex life, your sleep, your orientation to the world. For never using the bathroom in private ever again. It's a crazy, exhausting shit-show. We know. And we have tremendous admiration and compassion for you, and for what it takes to keep doing the hardest job in the world.

And it is also true that we would give anything to know that rocky and staggeringly beautiful terrain ourselves. We would like to experience the exhausting shit-show firsthand. We would trade with you in a heartbeat. And we have silenced ourselves long enough. We want to have a voice, to be seen and to help others be seen; to cultivate mutual understanding and compassion, and to share the nuances of a body love journey that has not been without its hurdles. 

XO, Jen

 

We're on the Huffington Post!

Wow, what a day! The project was featured on HuffPo Women! It's such an honor to have this project spread through the world and reach more women with a message of hope and inspiration!

Read the HuffPo piece here!

 

I love you, Mary Lambert

Yes, yes, yes and YES. Except sometimes? The sexy love earthquakes are HUGE, and they give you the power to rock the world. 

When your little girl asks if she's pretty

“when your little girl
asks you if she’s pretty
your heart will drop like a wineglass
on the hardwood floor
part of you will want to say
of course you are, don’t ever question it
and the other part
the part that is clawing at
you 
will want to grab her by her shoulders
look straight into the wells of
her eyes until they echo back to you
and say
you do not have to be if you don’t want to
it is not your job
both will feel right
one will feel better
she will only understand the first
when she wants to cut her hair off
or wear her brother’s clothes
you will feel the words in your
mouth like marbles
you do not have to be pretty if you don’t want to
it is not your job” 


― Caitlyn Siehl

4th Trimester Bodies Project

“I think it’s SO important that we love the bodies that we’re in, because they’re the ones that we have, and because– look what they do!  Look at who they make!"


The Bodies of Mothers

Here’s another inspiring body love project, this time documenting the real beauty of mothers.  Jade Beall is the amazing woman behind this book project.

Fat and Happy--and Loved

“…Choosing fat and happy wasn’t a choice made out of laziness; rather, it was a choice made because I was tired of hating my body—something I did no matter what the number on the scale said. What never once crossed my mind was that I could be fat, happy, and attractive. Like many people, I thought fat was always ugly, especially to men. I cared less about men, though, once I stopped hating myself. A great side-effect of learning to love myself was feeling less of a need for another person’s approval.”

Read the rest of Autumn Whitefield-Madrano’s article: Fat and Happy–and Loved

 

Body Love - Mary Lambert Style

Mary Lambert, the singer of “She Keeps Me Warm” and Macklemore’s “Same Love”, created this spoken word piece as part of her Body Love Campaign.  

 

"Try this
Take your hands over your bumpy love body naked

And remember the first time you touched someone
With the sole purpose of learning all of them

Touched them because the light was pretty on them
And the dust in the sunlight danced the way your heart did

Touch yourself with a purpose
Your body is the most beautiful royal…

…You are no less valuable as a size 16 than a size 4
You are no less valuable as a 32a than a 36c

Your sexiness is defined by concentric circles within your wood
It is wisdom

You are a goddamn tree stump with leaves sprouting out
Reborn"

- Mary Lambert