I went to my annual check-up with my midwife, and sat anxiously through my appointment. Over the past few weeks I had noticed my body changing. First I thought I was bloating, then the bloating didn’t go away. I changed my diet, took away bread and sugar, and started questioning every food choice I made. Still, my usually flat stomach poked out in a way that I had only known when I was pregnant. Even though I knew it was impossible, I took two pregnancy tests. They were both negative.
I was hardly able to contain myself when my midwife came to the end of her exam and asked if I had any concerns. I blurted out that I had developed a pot-belly, seemingly out of nowhere, and I wanted to know if something was amiss. I hadn't had my period since my son was born over a year ago. I suggested maybe something was terribly wrong with me.
She told me it was totally unrelated. My exam was perfectly normal and my extended breastfeeding was the reason for my still missing periods. She looked me up and down and seemed surprised that I was worried about my stomach, but she was kind and took my concerns seriously. It wasn’t noticeable to someone who has only seen me pregnant, but I knew my body. It looked and felt off.
It was easy to love the changes in my pregnant and postpartum body because I knew it was fleeting.
She checked my abdomen and went to get a second opinion. She thought I might have a hernia.
My first thought? Thank god.
I didn’t care that it might require surgery or that it could be a potentially dangerous situation. I was more relieved that I had an "excuse" for my body changing than I was worried about having a possibly serious medical problem. I immediately texted my husband “might have a hernia, not just getting fat.” I needed an outside force to blame for my rounded stomach, and for a moment I had it.
Then the specialist came in and looked me over. As it turned out, I didn't have a hernia. There was nothing at all wrong with me. My body was simply changing, bloating, readjusting due to hormones, age, food, who knows. He joked that I was eating too much ice-cream, and I wanted to cry. I was attacking my body with diet and exercise. I was doing ab workouts like my life depended on it. I was looking for a medical excuse for my body changing, and now had to live with my new body or fight a terrible uphill battle to change it.
My knee-jerk reaction was to want to fight against my body, to beat it into submission and back into the shape I had always known. But my visceral reaction also made me wonder why I cared so much.
I had always thought I was body positive.
I had long preached body acceptance and appreciated bodies of all shapes and sizes and abilities. I bared my postpartum body without shame, even accepting my stretch marks with relative ease. I had never had a problem with loving myself, until now.
I realized it was a whole lot easier to preach self-love when I always had a body that fit into what society deemed good and normal. I was always naturally thin without putting in much effort. Even though I flaunted my postpartum body, I did so with the knowledge that my body was resilient and would “bounce back” to its natural shape before long. It was easy to love the changes in my pregnant and postpartum body because I knew it was fleeting.
This time there were no guarantees. I knew that there were no babies on the horizon. I knew that this was my new normal, and it no longer fit neatly within the mold I had always known and embraced while easily claiming the title of someone who was body positive and full of self-love. It turned out I did have deeply ingrained ideas about what a “bikini body” should be and what “healthy” looked like, at least for me.
But I was yet to face the cold, hard fact that my lack of acceptance for my own body, was really a lack of acceptance for all the bodies I had falsely embraced for so long. Could I really love someone else’s ample stomach, when I could not love my own? What did it really say that I would make myself miserable, viewing food which once brought me joy as the enemy in order to attain a certain body-type? I knew my desire didn’t come from a place of health. It came from a place of misplaced vanity, and stubborn thin-loving propaganda which I had never dismantled within myself.
I finally had to make a decision — I could work to change my body or work to love my body. Neither option was easy, but in the end, I wanted to live up to the person I had spent so long telling myself I was. I wanted to accept my body. I wanted to be the woman who loves herself. I had never consciously defined myself by my weight, and I didn’t want to start now. So I went the other way, and decided to try to truly love myself for the first time, without the caveats I had tucked into the back of my mind.
It is easier said than done. I find myself categorizing food in my head as good or bad. I have to remind myself that doughnuts are not the enemy, my mind is. I have to fight the urge to workout as punishment, and only do it when I am in the proper mindset of self-care. I am not often in that mindset.
I tell myself I am a work in progress, even when I feel like a lost cause.
Part of me wonders if I will ever really get there. If I will look at my body, when it isn’t sleek and young and fit, and embrace it wholeheartedly, instead of repeating the mantra that I should love myself. I can’t say for sure that I will. But I can say that I will keep fighting the good fight, because I know somewhere inside of me that my worth is not defined by the curvature of my stomach. I hope someday I won’t simply know it, but that I will feel it too.