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.
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.