If I don't start embracing the body I am in, my daughter loses, too. Image: Dahiana Candelo/Unsplash.
I am in awe of this body. But I don't love being in it.
Content notice: pregnancy.
I don't hate my body. It doesn't disgust me.
It just feels not mine.
When I look in the mirror, I see lopsided breasts, folds of skin laying on each other like tired seals lounging at the beach.
Thighs with stretch marks. Hips that somehow tripled during my pregnancy and have just felt comfortable staying that size. A double chin. Age spots and alligator feet that look like my grandmother's. Skin that's always parched and a scalp that's perpetually flaky.
When and how did this happen?
Ever since I got pregnant, I stopped seeing my body as a compilation of perky breasts, taut midriff, toned arms, and luscious eyelashes. My body became a vessel of nourishment for the life growing inside me.
When the OB told me not to worry about my weight gain and eat whatever I wanted, I did just that… gave in to all my cravings, didn't deny myself that fourth scoop of ice cream or third helping of butter chicken. I ate heartily.
I also exercised an adequate amount, but mostly, I relished in the freedom that came with eating without judgment.
I've always been a “healthy” weight for my height.
Even now, with all this excess skin and stored fat, I am by no stretch of the imagination overweight.
My doc says my BMI is “perfect” (for what little that’s worth).
But my mind says I'm anything but.
I've always struggled with the amount of body hair I have… It pokes through socks if allowed to grow wantonly, attracting sneers from classmates in tweenhood and comparisons with my dad.
I was convinced at one point that I suffered from hirsutism, until a doctor showed me photos of what that really looks like.
But even my excess hairiness was a fixable problem. Body waxing took care of the body shaming.
But this… this collection of love handles and torso bulges seems obtusely resistant to any kind of easy fixes.
I've never believed in fad diets, and I dare not put my body through a “detox” regimen when I'm still nursing my toddler. I bike everywhere instead of taking the car. I hike three times a week, with my daughter hitching a free ride on my back. I walk whenever the opportunity presents itself. I try to eat intuitively — not just for myself but also because my daughter is increasingly becoming aware of how our society links portion sizes to dress sizes.
And it worries me to think I might be giving her the wrong message.
I don't want her to grow up concerned about her looks, her weight, or which Spanx underwear to buy. I don't want her to think that beach bodies need to be different than street bodies or home bodies. I don't want her taking stock of her appearance in every show window down the sidewalk.
I don't want her looking at mannequins and wishing she were one.
But I can't stop myself from sighing inwardly every time I disrobe.
I can't stop my eyes from welling up when I spot a dress in my closet that used to fit like a glove. I can’t stop catching glimpses of myself and loathing what looks like a six-month pregnant belly.
I don't want my daughter to get the silent message that looks matter more than brains or humor or compassion.
I can't pretend to love the body this has become.
I love the child it bore. I am fascinated by everything it did for my baby when she was within and when she came out. I am still amazed by how much weight my knees bore in the last trimester and how heavy a load my arms can bear now.
I am in awe of this body. But I don't love being in it.
And it kills me that my husband still finds me desirable despite the cracked heels, the all-too-visible stretch marks, the loosely-draped skin folds where my abs used to be. He doesn't miss the thongs or sheer, lacy XS lingerie that got traded for my current comfortable, pale-colored, medium-sized granny pants.
He doesn't care that my body hair could give him a run for his money. He is comfortable with who I am. He loves the mommy me just as much — perhaps more — than the me I used to be.
But the myth of perfection, the idea that sexiness begins and ends with a curvy top and bottom flanked by a flat middle, the notion of beauty as defined by media… these are too deeply entrenched in my psyche.
As much as I want to fight them, these ideals overwhelm my reality.
More often than not, I find myself contemplating girdles and back-fat-minimizing bras and butt lifters that could do wonders for my body image.
But the thought also gives me pause.
I realize hormonal changes affect metabolism as one ages. I know that my being a size 6 instead of a size 2 doesn't really matter to anyone. I understand that feeling good is far more important than looking good.
But it's hard to not get caught up in the frenzy to lose all the baby weight when that's the only thing everyone seems to comment on post-delivery. It's not easy to waddle around two years later with a paunch and a maternity skirt when everyone expects me to be in skinny jeans. It takes a tremendous amount of self confidence to parade a post-baby body on the beach in a bikini, stretch marks and all.
The worst part is that I let it matter when none of it should.
I don't want these strangers, these acquaintances, these well-meaning friends, or my hypercritical judgmental self get in the way of my enjoying this perfectly good body.
I don't want my daughter to get the silent message that looks matter more than brains or humor or compassion. I don't want to be another peg in this bashful mommy shaming competition.
If I give in, I lose. If I don't start embracing the body I am in, my daughter loses, too.
Perhaps, I can't love this body, but I can try to like it.
For it is but a transient mold, this shape. A decade from now, I'll probably be wistful about the body I am in today.
There will be other battles, other challenges, other physical metamorphoses to contend with.
And I can tell myself this too shall pass (if I can only let it go).