I have always had a tumultuous relationship with my own body. I have abused it, starved it, worked it out beyond reasonability and said a lot of hateful things to and about it. I have daughters of my own now and I am trying really hard to be a positive role model for them. I try not to disparage my body or looks in front of them. Instead of talking about diets and weight loss, we talk about eating healthy foods and getting exercise to make our bodies healthier and stronger. I am proud of what my body has done: create, grow and birth four babies and nourish them for a total of four years. It really is amazing.
But I don’t love it. In fact, I hate it.
I hate my postpartum body.
I remember as a young tween/teen seeing my mother’s stomach and being mortified. Pasty white with a large (vertical) scar; it hung deflated, dimpled, distorted by age and multiple children. In my young, warped mind I swore I would never look like that. Never “let myself go” to that point. I may gain weight, but I’ll never be “like that.”
Today, under the harsh lights of multiple dressing rooms, I had to accept the reality: I am like that. It’s time to admit that I haven’t lost most (any?) of the last baby’s weight. That stomach I despised is now mine, and I don’t love it. Despite reading and writing and promoting the idea of loving yourself and your new mom body, I don’t.
I have friend that has had beautiful portraits done as part of the Fourth Trimester Body Project. I myself had seriously considered doing it. I mean, I posted a picture of my belly on the internet after my third child and hernia surgery but I would not do that today. Baby number four and 18 months of sleepless nights have taken it’s toll and I don’t recognize this body I am in. It leaves me torn as I really want to have the love and bravery of my friends and the women I read as I pour through the Fourth Trimester Gallery. Their stories and their bodies are beautiful, but not mine. I can’t see mine like that.
With every dressing room change under the harsh fluorescent lights, I saw my failures. My failure to balance my time, to prioritize exercise, to eat better (or less). I see my inability to love myself unconditionally, despite what I say and write. I see fear. Fear of raising daughters, beautiful daughters who I want to grow up loving themselves and loving their bodies, not hating them and loathing seeing them in the light.
My three-year-old was in the fitting room with me on this recent trip. I put on a dress that looked terrible. It was too tight and all the lumps and rolls showed. I couldn’t zip it up all the way so the back was open and gaping. “Oh mommy!” she gasped “That dress is so beautiful. I wish they had a little one for me so we could match. You are just so beautiful!” (Really I should rent her out to people because she is so good in dressing rooms).
Maybe I shouldn’t worry about my girls, maybe I should listen to them and work on me. This is the one body I have, and I hope that before I die and I can learn to love it the way she does.