Monday, October 10, 2011

A New Kind of Beautiful.

Motherhood doesn’t have to mean the end of looking or feeling great. If you’re reasonably healthy and fit before a baby, odds are good you’ll be reasonably healthy and fit afterward. But every time a magazine that’s been slavering for months over a celebrity’s “bump” turns around and blares about her POST BABY BIKINI BOD, it sends the message that the normal, natural process of recovering from birth, from nursing and nourishing a child, and from the very real and often permanent changes of pregnancy are but temporary obstacles, to be eradicated with extreme haste. It’s unfortunate, because it doesn’t consider the possibility of a new kind of beautiful. You’re not the same after you have a child. You’re not supposed to be. And that’s a good thing.

-Mary Elizabeth Williams in an article for Salon
 
I have struggled with my weight as early as fourth grade. The curve of my belly is where it all started. I remember it vividly; pictures of me on our family vacation wearing a purple two piece still haunt me (I was 11.) When puberty started to hit, I looked a lot different than my other classmates (and my tiny, younger-by-a-year sister), though I started to notice before anyone else did. I stayed relatively "fit" through high school with a healthy regimen of cheerleading and teenage metabolism, but by the age of 18, I felt the pressure to be thinner than I was. (If I could have the body I had then, I would be ecstatic.) I did Weight Watchers, and then a low carb diet, and then Weight Watchers again, and then another low carb diet. I would lose the weight, but would always end up in the same place, get bored, gain it all back, and be depressed again.

Part of my depression has always come from this, even at my thinnest (about 40 pounds below where I am now):  I love fashion. I love clothes and I love fashion blogs and I love glossy magazines and pretty things.  But in that world, very few people look like me (and very few clothes fit me). In the plus-sized fashion world, I occasionally feel represented physically, but being labeled plus-sized is just another small offense against a body that I try my best to take care of.  Becoming a mom has added another level to that desire to achieve: I am comparing myself to women who have never gained 35 pounds in three months or pushed out a baby that changed their entire life (and body).

I know I will never be skinny or small or even thin.  At best, I will be curvy or athletic.  Currently, I am: squishy and husky. I feel my own heaviness.  Some days, I come to terms with it, and think that it's okay. Other days I hate it passionately, eschewing all the pretty clothes in my closet for a pair of stretchy jeans and an oversized tee shirt, covered by a scarf to hide any rolls.

I went vegan because I felt tired and blah. I wanted to eat healthier, and I wanted to make better choices for myself (and the world).  But also, I had read so many stories about veganism leading to incredible (almost effortless) weight loss and clear skin: two things that have alluded me for so long.  Since having Aurora, I just haven't felt like myself. I don't recognize my own body. It seems that no matter what I do--eat high raw, eat a lot of cooked foods, bike 5 days a week, walk 2 days a week--nothing changes.  I am stuck.

I see baby bloggers (ew, I hate that term) who have newborns writing about fitting into their old jeans or answering reader questions about how they're losing the baby weight so quickly.  I wish they would be honest and answer that it's genes.  If you were naturally thin (or "reasonably healthy and fit" as in the quote above), you aren't going to come out of pregnancy as obese.  Your body is good to you. Don't try to tell me that doing that yoga DVD once a week is really helping tone you back up (or blame it all on the breastfeeding, which is wonderful, but is different for everyone, and not a magic weight loss cure for mamas).

I am alive. I have no diseases. I can run, jump, bike, play with my daughter.  And yet I often feel like my body hates me, and in return, I hate it back. It's a vicious cycle.

I wanted so much out of veganism, and I am not giving up on it. I think I wanted the wrong things.  But I don't know how to want the right things. I don't know how to avoid wanting what I'm told I should want:  jeans in a single digit size, the scale to read what it did 2 years ago, waking up to a face that doesn't need a single ounce of makeup.

 I try, daily, to give myself grace, but there are so many messages being sent my way that I just want to go into my bedroom and shut the door sometimes. Every time I am feeling better or more positive, something (or someone) else knocks me down.

I am so used to dealing with these issues that I don't know who I am without them.  But now that I have Aurora, my beautiful girl, I am more concerned than ever about becoming healthy: physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy. I want more for her. I want to protect her from this kind of thinking as much as I can.

But how?  Where do I even begin to erase years and years of conditioning and hurt and habit?

The only time I can recall these issues almost "magically" disappearing was when I was pregnant with Aurora. It was amazing, focusing on the little person growing inside of me instead of on all the other growing I was doing. I walked because it felt good and I knew it was good for Aurora, I ate well, but indulged in little things I wanted (I was a slushie and Sour Patch Kid fiend!), and I found ways to dress myself so that I was both comfortable and looked cute.

one of my favorite pregnancy photos.
I truly glowed--it's not just a cliche! And I find myself missing that and wondering if I can only ever feel that way by getting pregnant. Considering the fact that I will most likely only be pregnant one more time in my life, that's a scary prospect.

I feel stupid for voicing these things, just another girl with low self esteem or body issues. As I write all of this, I feel shame. I feel shame about my body, I feel shame that I think this way, I feel shame that there are people who read this to whom I'm a "thin person." I'm writing this because I know I'm not the only mom (or woman) who feels this way. But I am writing this with no answers.

I want to find that "new kind of beautiful." And some days, I think that I do. I have moments, like this week, when the air was crisp and the sun was bright and the sky perfectly blue and Aurora and I were walking up the street and I couldn't help but sigh...every person and every thing was beautiful then.  Even me.

7 comments:

Rici said...

I love this and I love you! I completely understand the words you wrote and feel.

Shannon said...

I loved this blog post! So honest! I feel the same way you do about my own body. And I think A LOT of people struggle with that - especially after having a baby. You are beautiful inside and out.

Cara said...

I think you are so beautiful and your honest & brave words are such an inspiration.

So many women (including me), having been pregnant or not have dealt with similar feelings at one time or another and your candid thoughts are SO appreciated you don't even know.

Sending lots of LOVE your way!!!

XO

Cara

Mary Beth Williams said...

I love that having myself on a Google alert leads to finding wise, honest posts like this!

We live in a culture that makes it very hard for women to make friends with their bodies. Kudos to you for working toward getting there. And what a great name for your daughter. Keep on keeping on.
- Mary Elizabeth

Jenarcissist @ the closet narcissist said...

First things first!! I HAVE THAT DRESS NOW!! I am so glad y'all sold it to me because I loved it so much during my pregnancy!! And still do.

Second, the opening quote from Mary Elizabeth Williams is wonderful. A friend said I was the "new and improved me" recently, which is similar to "a new kind of beautiful." I have remarked to another new mom friend of mine that in some ways, I think my body is more beautiful now than ever because of how it changed to grow my baby girl.

Having said that...oh, wow...I really needed this post today. Even though you wrote it 3 days before I gave birth and I'm just now catching up, it's like you wrote it for me TODAY. Because I do not always feel as positive.

I have about 20-30 lbs left to lose post-birth. 20 if I get back to my pre-preg weight. 30 if I want to get back to my optimal weight where I truly *feel* my best. (Regardless of how I look.) I gained a perfectly healthy 40 lbs and dropped 20 almost immediately from the baby/water weight/placenta/etc. and assumed for some reason that the rest would come off easily. Ha! I've been trying so hard not to care what my body looks like right now because really all that matters is that my body brought me this beautiful little girl. In the beginning, I didn't think I'd ever care what my body looked like again because everything seemed so stupid and trivial compared to her. As time has gone by and I have been able to get out of the house more and more, that's when it starts to bother me. At home, my husband thinks I'm hot, and my friends don't care what weight I am, so I don't really think about it. When I go out in public and see someone thinner than I am, wearing some really cute outfit, that's when it starts to bother me. And I HATE admitting that. I've been thinking about blogging about it but haven't known where to start. Sometimes I feel like on a blog like mine that I shouldn't talk about weight too much because we're all about beauty in all its many forms and self-confidence no matter WHAT. But when I'm really honest, my extra weight does bother me sometimes. Not to mention my pancake boobs, lol. And while I think you look totally awesome and in no way overweight, I know that doesn't matter much when YOU don't feel good about you. This sounds so snobby, but I used to wonder why moms "let themselves go." Well, now I know that many times it's not for lack of trying or it's just because you have zero time to do anything about it! lol I don't have time to exercise again yet and would feel guilty being gone from her anyway while she is so brand new, and I forget to eat or drink water half the time because I'm caring for her, so then I get ravenously hungry when I do eat. And, you know, I don't even think it's the WEIGHT in and of itself that bothers me so much but the tons of cute clothes in my closet that I can't wear because they don't fit. My baby isn't even 3 months old yet, so why would I expect them to?! That's ridiculous and unrealistic. But I am tired of wearing maternity clothes except the cool vintage ones that can be restyled.

Jenarcissist @ the closet narcissist said...

(cont'd)

I had some body image issues in the beginning of pregnancy because I gained weight so fast but didn't yet look pregnant and kind of in the last couple weeks because I was sooooo miserable, lol. But in all honesty, pregnancy was the time in my life when I felt THE BEST about my body. Even when I look at our wedding pics and see how small I looked (even though I didn't think I was small at the time), I still think my pregnant body was at its most beautiful. :)

So, I don't necessarily have any good answers yet either. But I wanted to say thanks because I relate to this post so much. And maybe it will help me formulate my post and be able to express myself. The bottom line, though, is that even though we still need to feel good about ourselves as women and not just as moms, there is no price we wouldn't pay to have our beautiful daughters, and being a mom to this lovely lady is more important than anything!! :)

Jenarcissist @ the closet narcissist said...

Okay, here we go.

Baby weight blues? Nah. Okay, sometimes.