I am a big girl. I’ve never been skinny or scrawny and unless I am throwing up my toenails I’m hungry at regular, maybe-too-close-together intervals. I don’t eat dainty portions and I almost never order salad at restaurants. I stopped playing sports when I entered high school but I was never overweight until college, when I discovered that I really enjoy beer and that Alfano’s delivered delicious pizza even at 4am to drunk college kids. I gained about 25 lbs. in college but I couldn’t admit to myself that I was making some pretty unhealthy choices.
Something that took me a long time to realize about myself is that I look to what and how much other people are eating and make those decisions for myself accordingly. If we are together and you want McDonald’s, great! But if you prefer a healthy homemade vegetarian meal I am up for that, too. Not to make any of you who know me in real life self-conscious, but I am always aware of people’s food and portion choices. I am more willing to load myself to the gills with spaghetti if you are serving yourself a generous portion. I’ll take that second (or third, or fourth) piece of bread at a dinner party if the other women are helping themselves to multiple servings, too.
When I moved in with my now-husband after college I began to eat portion sizes that were much more appropriate for a man’s body (not to be sexist, but men do require larger portions than women because of body size differences). I don’t say any of this to absolve myself of the responsibility of what I put in my body, because I don’t feel like it does or should. I am responsible for my food choices. It’s just easy for me to allow myself things I shouldn’t (and don’t need) when other people are allowing themselves first – I feel like it gives me permission. Does that make sense?
Since leaving college I’ve gained about another 25 lbs. and a pretty dysfunctional attitude about my body (and food). To be honest, the attitude has been in the works as long as I can remember.
I know I began this pregnancy overweight – not just heavier than I wanted to be for my self-esteem, but heavier than I wanted to be for my health. I figured I was going to gain a bunch of weight when I got pregnant anyway, so why bother trying to lose it before? I would make the effort to lose the weight all at once, after the baby came.
I’m telling you all of this because pregnancy has really begun to shift the way I feel about my body and how I think about body-image issues in general.
Pregnancy has surprised me. I feel very good about myself, generally speaking. My weight gain was almost non-existent until the third trimester, and at my last doctor appointment I’d gained about 10 lbs. so far (I’m not positive of my pre-pregnancy weight so that’s a best-guess estimate). All of the noticeable gain has been in my boobs, which are quite impressive these days, and my belly. My mom and Zack swear that I’ve even slimmed down through the hips and butt. I feel proud of my body until I see photos like this one:
When I look at this photo (taken Saturday as I learned to drive my in-law’s new boat) all I can see is that flabby arm and back roll and the maybe-beginnings of a double chin. I don’t feel chubby anymore, so it’s a shock to see that I still am. And then it bums me out that I’m not as thin as I feel which, believe me, I know sounds weird coming from a lady who’s popping a kid out in approximately five-and-a-half weeks (!). I think because my stomach feels so tight and UNflabby after it being, ahem, not unflabby before the baby bump, it’s lulled me into a false sense of fitness. I don’t even see the chub when I look in the mirror, only in photos. I have to say, it has been quite a nice vacation from my norm to feel good about how my body looks (and that’s nothing compared to how impressed I am with the work my body is doing, which I could fill a whole separate post about! Women’s bodies are so fucking cool, you guys. It’s more than a shame that our bodies are judged so harshly and trash talked so much).
After this baby comes, I want to lose the pregnancy weight and then some, because I want to be healthy and I want to be happy with my body FOR ME. But since we found out at 14 weeks that we’re going to have a girl, there is another reason I want to be happy with myself: I never want my daughter to hear me say things like “I am so fat” or “I hate my body” or “I look disgusting.” I don’t want her to see me squinting at myself with disdain in every photo and I don’t want to hate every picture of myself because now pictures of me are a documentation of her life, too. I don’t want her to witness me on a constant dieting loop or to think that the only thing routine about exercise is how often I begin a new one and abandon it. I want her to grow up with a healthy attitude about food and about her body. I don’t ever want her to look at herself and think she’s ugly or not good enough for any reason, but especially not because of her body and ESPECIALLY not because she has learned that type of self-hate from me.
It is hard to lie to someone you live with. In fact, it’s damn near impossible. If I hate how I look, my daughter will know. It will leak out no matter how carefully I try to hide it. If I overindulge every day she will think it is healthy and fine to do so. She will have a harder time making exercise a regular part of her life if her parents don’t model that behavior.
Our daughters will spend their lives hearing from other people that they are not good enough, not thin enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough just like we do. It is our job as mothers to make them know that they ARE good enough, in every way, and to give them the tools to love themselves. If I can spare my daughter even one moment of self-doubt or self-hate by learning to love myself, then it will be worth all the struggle to get there.
After I have this baby I am going to make the effort to lose weight and get healthy. But if I don’t slim down to my pre-college weight that’s okay. My effort to get healthy – in body and attitude – is going to start now, with trying to love my body as it is right this second, for the incredible work it is doing. It is possible to be large AND beautiful, and I am. I am going to work on loving myself at every size and I’m going to teach my daughter that her self-worth isn’t tied to the number in her jeans – no woman’s is.