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Love-hate body image needs more love
Amy Choate-Nielsen discusses the love-like-dislike relationship she has with her body and and lessons she's learned. - photo by Amy Choate-Nielsen
Bodies are fascinating things.

They can be frustrating and rewarding, upsetting and amazing. They can be something we dont really notice or something we obsess about. We can be connected to our bodies, body and spirit, or we can be totally detached from this physical shell, and the results of either can impact our happiness and sense of stability.

This body is a shell, but it is so much more.

My body is a thing I often take for granted.

My body has propelled me through swim meets in high school, even when I had a panic attack and found myself unable to breathe in the middle of a lane in the middle of a meet after my goggles popped off during the 50-meter freestyle. My body went ahead and swam that whole race without any air because I was gulping for breath with every stroke and nothing was getting in.

My body has gotten broken and healed itself over and over. Its had broken toes, and a broken ankle and torn ligaments from my actions, but it always bounces back and lets me go again. Thereve been times when Ive sprained my ankle when I must stop and lay down, and walk slowly in recovery, when I think, my body is telling me to slow down.

It doesnt have a say, usually, so it is pulling the brakes and making me listen. And then I get better and go right back to what Ive always done: running, biking, walking, dancing and sometimes inadvertently twisting my limbs into injury.

My body has marks and scars and changes that sometimes make me mad. I have a chicken pox scar on my wrist that appeared sometime in childhood that never went away. I have hair growing in places that are not socially acceptable, and it hurts to get rid of it, but thats a chore I do regularly to make myself look better.

My belly has never looked the same after I had my last child, and, even though my body did this amazing thing of birth three times and nursing exclusively for years, I dont think Ive ever forgiven my body for changing. I welcomed my children, but not the stretch marks, the round belly or the other things after that. I told my body I didnt like it after it did so much for me.

And then one day, recently, I took my body to the dermatologist.

I had a mole on my leg, just above my left knee, that had always been there. It was a caramel-colored circle, the largest mole on my body. It was a familiar thing to see. I saw it so much I didnt even really see it anymore when I looked at my leg, it was just part of the landscape.

It was an even color, almost an exact circle, and it didnt have any of the other major markers of melanoma, but, it was getting bigger. When I went to the dermatologist, it was definitely bigger than the size of a pencil eraser.

Well, are you sure its getting bigger? the dermatologist asked me.

I said, "yes." And I wasnt really worried about it, but, there was a small part of me that worries about everything, regardless of reason, and, what if I had cancer on my knee and I was just ignoring the problem?

So I decided to let the dermatologist take it away. It was over in about five seconds, and when I looked back down at my leg, where once had been my familiar, caramel-colored spot, was now a tiny crater, white and scared and raw and open. I was shocked.

That little wound was just gathering its thoughts on how it was going to shout back and punish me for cutting it open. I guess sometimes my body gets mad at me too, because that tiny little spot caused me so much pain, burning and stinging for the next eight weeks as I tended to it. I thought so much about how I felt a piece of me was missing. My favorite mole was gone forever. It was part of my identity, like a road map of who I was, genetically and physically. It was a marker of my family history, of the DNA we share and moles the Choates sometimes have on their skin. My leg will never look the same.

The dermatologist tested the sample for cancer, and it turns out the results were clear. It was just a mole, after all.

But its time to stop taking this body for granted.
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