I wish I could say I’ve always given my body the benefit of the doubt. But the opposite is true. If anything, I’ve had doubts about my body since the time I was about 7 years old. I can look back now at photos and see that I’ve never really had a weight problem, although I remember the feelings of self-loathing and worry about how “fat” I was at every point in my life from then on. I’ve always had a passion for fashion and figured out at an early age how to silence the criticism in my head long enough to let myself wear something cute out the door, from short skirts to backless tops. But, I never felt comfortable wandering around my home minimally clothed — I am the least naked person ever, and it stemmed from the discomfort I’ve always had with my body.
College was all about selective eating, vigorous cheerleading practices, and constant self-criticism. My early twenties were spent squeezing into the tiniest size I could zip up and looking around at my skinny friends with envy. I yo-yoed later in that decade, peaking two sizes up from my usual about 10 months before my wedding. My now-husband and I were heading out to dinner to celebrate a job offer I’d just received. I was engaged to a great man, living an exciting life in Dallas, and had just solidified my highest-paying (and most fun!) full-time writing job to date. Life was so sweet. But rather than throwing on a cute dress and heading out to enjoy dinner and a glass of bubbly, I spent 30 minutes crying on my closet floor before stepping into an oversized tunic and spending the evening sulking at the best restaurant in town.
I lost 20 pounds, looked great at my wedding, and started out our marriage at a smaller size. But there were still body parts I loathed. My husband and I discussed starting a family. As much as I had always wanted a baby, I was terrified about what pregnancy would do to my body. And sure enough, as my baby grew inside me, the process of gaining weight was absolutely miserable. I put on about 35 pounds when I was pregnant, and each individual pound stressed me out. Ostensibly, I knew my bump was cute. But, I was afraid that when my baby was out and the belly deflated, I would hate my body for real this time.
And then the strangest thing happened. We took our little girl home from the hospital and started a new life…and I stopped hating my body. No, really. I watched my baby belly deflate with a sort of detached brand of intrigue. I gave birth to a nine-pounder, so the skin was definitely stretched as far as my poor torso could accommodate. I lost the bulk of the weight quickly, but the final six pounds lingered until the morning of my daughter’s half-birthday. (That was after I pitched this article, by the way). I still have some clothes that don’t fit, and might never fit again. I’m giving myself another six months before I let them go. And if they still don’t fit? I’ll replace them. For the first time in my life, I don’t care so much about the size of the clothes. I have started caring more about how they make me look and feel.
Of course, I’m still me. I still look at waif-like moms and feel pangs of envy sometimes. And there are days when I miss the flatter stomach I never appreciated when I had it. I also have a dark pink, angry scar from my unplanned C-section. I eat healthy, take Pilates classes twice a week, and go on long walks with my daughter every day. Despite the effort, my body definitely does not look like it did before. But it’s weird. I see the flaws clearly, and yet my behavior demonstrates that I’m more confident now than I was before.
For the first time in my 30 years, I’ve made a habit of wandering around the house half naked. I was breastfeeding my newborn ’round the clock in the early days, so I totally stopped wearing bras. And usually shirts, too. I thought that once summer came, I would freak out about the extra chub I’ve earned on my inner thighs since pregnancy. But as soon as I realized I couldn’t zip up my old short-shorts, I just bought a couple of new pairs and have been sharing my thicker legs with the world.
Last weekend I did something I never would have done before, even when I was a size zero. It was 85 degrees and sunny so we headed to the pool. I was wearing a skimpy bikini and not a stitch of makeup, my hair in a ratty bun. With my daughter situated on my hip, I asked my hubby to snap a picture of us. Under the glaring sun, my flaws were more pronounced than they are in the mirror. My tummy was lumpy with a little shadow underneath it. My thighs definitely need work. I’ll admit I probably looked cuter in this suit last summer (pregnant) than I do now. But I didn’t care. I posted it on Instagram, tummy-shadow and all.
I’m tempted to believe the change stems from a combination of functionality (who has time to get dressed when there’s a newborn around?) and pride over what I had to do to get her here (40 weeks and one day of an extremely rough pregnancy, sciatica, and unending lupus flare-ups followed by 20 hours of labor). And then again there’s the most important thing: her.
I don’t want my daughter to grow up like I did, so obsessed with my looks that I let my small chest or even one pimple ruin not only outfit selections but times that should have been among the best moments of my life. I don’t want her to look in the mirror on her wedding day and zone in on “problem areas.” I want her to build her self-worth around things other than what’s happening in the mirror or on the scale. These are my conscious thoughts; I guess unconsciously my actions are following suit.
I’m sure my husband couldn’t believe it the other day when I walked into the living room in simple white jeans and a black tank and declared for the first time since he’s met me, “I look cute today!” Did becoming a mother change my body for the “worse?” You bet! But if only I’d known it would change my body image, too, I wouldn’t have been so scared at all