Stop telling me I'll 'get my body back'

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Of course someone had to take photos of me at a party wearing my favourite dress (should I stop wearing the clothes I love to events where there might be photos taken?) – bulky, lopsided, unfortunately proportioned . . . my pregnant beauty bubble was popped.

No matter how many times I tell myself, “No. Don't pay attention, the photo is lying!” part of my mind says: “But this is the truth! The terrible truth in a random, impersonal universe without a god.”

I had been feeling glorious in all my pregnant majesty – belly outthrust, butt and thighs cushioning, the breasts, well, they never co-operate. I had been liking my new bigness, how it felt essential, necessary and full of purpose. I was carrying a baby human. I was holding the trump card. Kiss my pregnant belly, Victoria's Secret.

But the frightening thing is that somehow, some of the old familiar obnoxious rules seemed to apply.

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Among women who talk of pregnancy there is much discussion about gaining too much weight, gaining it in the “wrong” places, and especially, getting our bodies "back" afterwards.

The goal is to reclaim the former body as soon as possible. Magazines run on about it – not that I read them, but I see the headlines in the checkout line. And it's all over the internet: tips, regimens, lists of exercises and rules to live by that will allow women to spring back, practically unaffected, like virgins.

An “expert” explains in a book or on a website, “There is no evidence that breastfeeding causes breasts to sag. However, some sagging is to be expected, regardless of how you feed your baby.”

“Congratulations!” reads the email I receive automatically. “You've reached your 23rd week of pregnancy! How your life will change at this stage of pregnancy, after the jump…” I click, of course, like a sucker who's never seen a Facebook ad. It says I might develop stretch marks. So I guess I should prepare myself for that “life-changing” event. “Many women find stretch marks upsetting,” the notification continues. “But don't worry, they will fade, even if they never completely go away.”

And the women on the pregnancy forum are always talking about how much they weigh. They are so upset because they have gained a few pounds “too much”. “Ten lbs this month!!! I HATE MYSELF!!!” Another woman was triumphant: “I only gained 10 pounds with each pregnancy and I lost them immediately, the day I gave birth, so I never had to worry!”

“Don't worry,” I read, “it's normal to feel unattractive at this stage of pregnancy.”

“Don't worry, even if you gain a little extra weight, it's probably OK. But don't use this as an excuse to pig out!”

“Don't worry, many women find that their vaginas have returned practically to normal six weeks after the birth.”

“Don't worry, this too shall pass.”

We are reassured over and over again not to worry – but I wasn't worrying.

I wasn't worrying, but there were analyses of the best kind of pregnant body – what belly shape is the most aesthetically appealing, where you should hope to carry any weight.

I had been admiring my largeness, feeling deliciously proud, but there were more articles and books about how I might quickly regain my dignity and sex appeal. Everyone seemed to think about afterwards, when my mission would be to negate every trace of the transformation, every hint of the fact that I had changed and changed through remarkably dramatic phases and impressively evolved stages that rearranged my organs and opened my ribs and poured new blood into my hardworking veins.

In the pictures I looked lumbering and ungainly. Suddenly, I was worried. What if I was ruined? What if I would never look good again? Suddenly, I was afraid of what was happening to me.

And I can't stop it. My belly button is quickly disappearing, a little shallower every day. I am afraid to look down in the morning, because maybe it will be gone. Irrationally, I'm nervous about the fragile skin there, which looks knotted from the inside, as though it will split open when stretched.

I am supposed to want my old body back, which makes me think about the idea that we have an optimal body that we're always trying to get to. It's as if whatever body we're in right now is probably not the right body. It's not our ideal body, so we should work to get to that better one, just out of reach, but ultimately, we're reassured, achievable.

When I've written about being thin, sometimes commenters on this blog have reminded me that it's easy to think of weight dichotomously: thin people on one side of an uncrossable line and heavy people on the other. But people inhabit many versions of their body over the course of their lives. Bodies are always changing. I like being reminded of that, that it's the nature of bodies to change.

At the same time, I know what they mean when they tell me to get my body back. They mean the one with the least amount of evidence of life. They mean something like erasure. Erasure would be perfect. And automatically, I want that. What if I have stretch marks? What if I can't lose the weight? What if my breasts sag and I am always a little lumbering after this? What if I have a different body, one that I don't quite recognise?

Well, I will have a different body then. That is the way bodies work. That is the way it's supposed to be. A body is a long story with twists and surprises and secret abilities almost like little superpowers. I never knew my body could do the things it is doing now, which is why I am instinctively proud.

But even if I wasn't pregnant, the evolution of my body wouldn't be any less interesting or relevant. My body would just be telling a different story about my life.

Which is why I want everyone to shut up about what I should worry about and how much I should want my old body back and how I should be preparing to get it even before my daughter is done growing inside it. Stretch marks are not life-changing. She is life-changing. She is becoming a part of my story and the story of my body.

Clearly I need to do one of those naked pregnancy photo shoots in warm lighting, holding crystals or something. Clearly I need to sit here for a moment, looking down at my disappearing belly button, and touch my newly stretched skin and admire its flexibility. Clearly I need to get my body back from all of these other people and their opinions about what exactly it should be doing and how it should be looking at any given moment. It is mine, and we are on an adventure.

But I still wish I hadn't worn that awesome dress. Damn it. How could it betray me in this heartless manner?!

Kate Fridkis blogs about body image issues at her blog, Eat the Damn Cake

40 comments

  • The real goal once baby is born is to raise your child, get sleep and stay sane. Who gives a hoot about the body? It's just a milk-producing hormonal sleep-deprived shell. Some women are lucky - their bodies do bounce back to pre-pregnancy state within weeks (not me!), but these women are few and far between.

    Commenter
    origin
    Date and time
    May 20, 2013, 10:09AM
    • Gee ,my Mum never had those views.Are they a modern invention?

      Commenter
      Kane
      Date and time
      May 20, 2013, 10:47AM
    • @Kane, what views did your Mum have then? Just saying that what your body is like post-pregnancy isn't the most important thing in the world.

      Commenter
      origin
      Date and time
      May 20, 2013, 11:36AM
    • You contradict yourself. First you say women shouldn't give a hoot about being slim, then you say those women who do achieve it are lucky. That suggests you do believe in this 'ideal body' more than you care to admit.

      Commenter
      photondancer
      Date and time
      May 20, 2013, 11:47AM
    • @photo, no I honestly don't care, my body was nothing special to start off with. Yes, I would have liked not to have to work at keeping my weight down or not having to wear my maternity clothes for far longer than intended, but I couldn't say it mattered to the point where I was actually consumed with despair about it (I had plenty else to be consumed by despair about!)

      But plenty of women do care about how they look, and for them, if they are one of those women whose body does spring back into shape, it is good fortune, because it's one less thing to worry about.

      Commenter
      origin
      Date and time
      May 20, 2013, 2:19PM
  • It's funny, I'm doing a program now that purports to help you "achieve" your "best body ever". Like there is an optimal one. Like you definitely don't have it now. Like gaining it is a worthy goal. And I suppose that I think in a sense those things are true, otherwise why would I be doing it? A lot (but not all) of the other women talk about their best body being one that fits a certain size dress, or has a flat stomach, or is a certain number of kilograms, and I do feel the pressure to conform to that idea too - to not have the sticking-out stomach, to look good in jeans and t-shirt. When I really think about it though, my "best body ever" is the one that is strong enough to carry a pack on the multi-day hikes I love, fast enough keep up with my niece and her friends in the park, able concentrate a full day at work, and with the general biochemical balance that stops my mental health from deteriorating whatever else I do. In other words, the body that allows me to live a full life, happy and useful.

    I imagine I'd fall prey to the same illogical fears as Kate, should I ever be pregnant, even though I know them to be such. What is it makes us this way?

    Commenter
    Chatty
    Date and time
    May 20, 2013, 10:12AM
    • ... my "best body ever" is the one that is strong enough to carry a pack on the multi-day hikes I love, fast enough keep up with my niece and her friends in the park, able concentrate a full day at work, and with the general biochemical balance that stops my mental health from deteriorating whatever else I do....

      Best comment ever! For many women post-pregnancy, the reality is [ie., their BMI is overweight or above] that they need to lose some weight over the course of a couple of years to attain this healthy body.

      Commenter
      JordanJ
      Date and time
      May 20, 2013, 10:58AM
    • JordanJ - For seeing that that was the best comment, I don't think you quite understood it's point. Fitness and health are not equal to perfect "healthy weight" BMIs.

      Commenter
      SR
      Date and time
      May 20, 2013, 1:48PM
    • photondancer - I have to flat out disagree with you. For *most* people, a BMI of 25 will be very close to their healthy weight. There won't be many physically healthy people with a BMI over 35. There will be even fewer mentally healthy people with a BMI over 44.

      Commenter
      JordanJ
      Date and time
      May 20, 2013, 2:25PM
  • I still get people commenting to me now, how "big" I was 6 years ago, and how fantastic I look now. 6 years ago I had my son. At the time, I was either pregnant or post-baby weight. I've never been as big as I was at that time. It took me nearly 2 years, but the baby weight finally fell off. Not only that, but I am now 10kg lighter than before I fell pregnant. I didn't do anything to "achieve" this; I eat no differently, I live no differently. It's just something that my body decided to do. I get praise - together with unwelcome reminders - both undeserved, as it was not within my control for either to have happened.
    I have to comment that it is sad that society encourages us to be so selfish these days. For most normal (ie. not rich celebrity) mothers, we are too busy getting through each day with a newborn, tending to all their needs (I breastfed and used cloth nappies) to worry about getting to the gym to get our "bodies back" within weeks of giving birth. If you eat well, and live well, you'll get it back eventually. What's the rush? More important to make sure you're healthy and functioning for your baby's sake.

    Commenter
    Ms B
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    May 20, 2013, 10:24AM

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