Like a lot of people, I have a complicated relationship with my body. My body is wonderful. Truly. It’s where I live, how I interact with the world; it’s able and strong and willing to do anything I ask of it. It’s a good friend. Actually, it’s more than that; it’s my life force.
But due to not unusual hang-ups and high school experiences, I don’t treat my body as a friend of any sort. I berate it, obsess about its imagined flaws. My body and I were getting to a good place though. I’d kept off 60 pounds for nearly a decade; I’d run a half-marathon, exercised (somewhat) regularly, ate well. I was good to my body, even if I didn’t feel good about it. So, I tackled that next. I overlooked my cynical nature and started doing daily affirmations and the assignments in Beautiful You. It helped. I was getting somewhere.
And then I got pregnant.
Though I was (and am) very excited to be pregnant, I was also now in full combat with the Body Image Demons™. Eating, which had become routine, was now a compulsion toward cheese and simple carbs, leading to self-flagellation and regret. I felt lethargic, a sleepy shadow of my former self. I watched my lower belly start to swell and realized it would probably never again be as flat. Anxiety resurfaced. I quit exercising; I quit affirming myself; I quit reading Beautiful You.
When I was 11 weeks pregnant, my husband and I set off to hike Banff and Glacier National Parks — our last pre-baby hurrah. We flew into Calgary and stopped by the 1988 Olympic Park. After we’d seen the Cool Runnings memorabilia (“Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme!”), my husband started casually ambling to the top of the bobsled run, then across to the ski jumps, behind the luge, and back down the mountain. I was lagging; my legs hurt; I was out-of-breath, and we weren’t even hiking yet.
I pretended I was fine until all of my terrible feelings about my body came flooding back at once (I wasn’t strong; I was lazy; I was fat). I screamed “FUCCKKKKKK!!” to the great Canadian expanse beneath and collapsed in angry sobs. My husband sat down next to me, started rubbing my back, and patiently listened to the emotional word-vomit that followed.
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Over the next few days, we hiked some short distances and focused on the beauty and bounty around us. My calves were sore, but getting stronger. The hikes got longer little by little, and my husband reminded me to eat what my body demanded, not what the Body Image Demons told me I should eat. I slept a lot and saw few night skies in the northern summer, but I was having fun. My body and I were becoming a team again.
By the end of our two-week trip, we had hiked over 70 miles in all — 30 of which came in our last two days of hiking. Those two days were filled with beauty, calm, exhilaration, doubts, and triumphs. On our very last hike, I quit. We were near the top of 2,000 feet of switchbacks and close to the summit of the hike. But, my body was done. I was done. I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) push through. After eating and rehydrating, my husband slowly and carefully led me down the mountain and back to the trailhead. I loved him so deeply in that moment, but, oddly enough, I also loved myself. Sure, I had quit, but I also achieved much more than I thought I could.
When we got home, I was happily in the second trimester and determined to keep treating my body well. I am exercising again and not berating myself when I do less than I did pre-pregnancy. I recognize exercise as a means of keeping myself healthy and preparing for labor, not a quest toward a beauty standard I will never achieve. I am eating when I’m hungry and not counting calories. I am going to pre-natal yoga with a friend. I am remembering that my body, convex and changed, is completing its most extraordinary feat yet.
I still struggle — on an almost-daily basis — with the silly battle of reconciling who I am with a made-up ideal, and I expect this to only intensify in the months and years following the baby’s birth. But I think I am getting closer to acceptance. And my path to acceptance is paved with gratitude for the wonderful body I have and the beautiful things it allows me to do.
Comments on My pregnant battle with Body Image Demons
THIS. I connect with this experience so much. Even though I knew I was never overweight, before I got pregnant I always thought that if I just worked out a little more, ate a few less cookies, tried a little harder, I could look REALLY good. I got into the best shape of my life right before I got pregnant, and it was pretty liberating to be leading a healthy lifestyle for something other than my own insecurities. It was also liberating, after awhile, to be leading a healthy lifestyle and not be thin. I will say, it does get harder after birth. I didn’t gain a whole lot of extra weight and I also had my baby a month early, so I snapped back to not looking pregnant anymore pretty darn quickly. Like, within a week. And after being so big for so long, I was pretty amazed at my body for looking so good again so quickly. But beware, things are different post-baby. I know a lot of people who have had a much harder time getting the baby weight off than I have so often I feel like I can’t really complain, but things are just different now. The most important thing, though, is taking care of yourself. I feel like you hear this a lot, but it’s so true. There’s just no earthly way you can grasp the toll having a baby takes on you in every possible way. I had probably the easiest physical recovery ever, but the emotional aspects of it all affected me in a very real, physical way. For the first time, I exercised for my emotional well-being rather than just wanting to be thin. My little guy is six months old now, and it’s all just a balancing act. It took me awhile (probably too long) to realize that I just couldn’t do it all, and that was okay. I stay home with the little dude, and my big dude works pretty long days, so mornings are always full of craziness before he goes to work. Even though time is tight, I have time to do one thing by myself in the morning before I take the dog out. Sometimes, that’s exercise. I feel great when I can do that. But sometimes little dude didn’t have a good night and I’m just too tired and I need to take a nap if I’m going to make it through the day. Sometimes I have to take a non-yelling-baby shower to get my mind right. Self-care is SO IMPORTANT after having a baby. I just can’t stress that enough.
Oddly enough, pregnancy was what allowed to me A) Realize I had been treating my body unfairly, and B) Begin the process of loving it properly. It happened really suddenly, when I was least expecting it. I was one of those people who, beginning from puberty, hated my arms. Don’t get me wrong, I hated the rest of my body too – but I especially hated my upper arms. Every woman in my family has ‘Bingo Wings’ and when my body got fuller and my arms started to expand, I hid them away under long sleeve sweaters. I wore them through the summer. I boiled. I got heat stroke on multiple occasions. I didn’t care – I’d rather boil that show my flabby arms. Then I got pregnant. It was summer- and I knew the dangers of having heat stroke. Everyone and their mom told me how my internal bits were at least five degree’s hotter than the rest of me (I still have no idea if this is true), and to keep cool for the baby. One day, we had to go for a bit of a walk to the corner store, and my partner picked up my hoodie and handed it to me (as he had conditioned himself to do, before I had a chance to ask him where he last saw it) – and suddenly I realized, I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to overheat. I couldn’t – I was pregnant. It wasn’t safe for the baby.
After we got home from the walk, and no one had screamed in fear of my jiggling underarms, swat teams were not called in to cover me up, not even a leering teenage boy eyed my arms with distaste – I realized that I had just done, for the sake of my child – what I could never do for myself. Why? Am I not as important? If I saw my own child engaging in my behavior – what would I tell them? I am someone’s child, after all. I am someone’s daughter. I realized how silly it was, that I cause myself so much strain and grief just because of a wobbly bit. I started to look at the other things I did, because of how I hated myself. I started to systematically dismantle every little problem I had built up. I started to look closely at how I spoke about myself, and to myself. I started to look at how I spoke to other people, especially young girls. I did a lot of hard work, staring in the mirror and being brave. It’s been 6 years, and I am still not done… but I am wearing a sleeveless shirt today.
I am someone’s child, after all. I am someone’s daughter.
This is a beautiful thought, and something that seems so valuable in helping us remember that we deserve the same love we would give others.
I just wanted to thank you all for sharing your stories. I’m currently a little bit overweight, but eating healthy foods and exercising — and struggling with the idea that my baby is going to set my quest for health back a few more notches than I’d like. I hope that I can follow your example instead and remember that having a little one can also be a good reason to stick to your healthy habits rather than let them fall by the wayside because you can’t reach Perfection with a capital P.
20 years ago, I was pregnant with twins, and went from 125 lbs to 200 lbs. They were born and I was left with “twin skin”. At age 25, I had the saggy, wrinkly belly of an old woman. Between birthing and nursing, I was amazed by what my body had done, but deeply disappointed in its ability to recover. Empowering acceptance mantras felt fake to me, like I was lying to myself. It took a good 10+ years, and finding strength and acceptance in yoga, to get me to make peace with my body again. It also helped to start treating my body with the compassion and support I would give a dear friend. It’s still tough sometimes, but I’ve realized that I love who I am, and I afford no time in my life for anyone who would judge me for how my body looks.