body image

No Effs to Give: On Body Image at Eight Months Pregnant

I recently posted a few pictures on Instagram from our babymoon in Thailand. A few people kindly commented on how confident I looked. At first I thought they were just being nice, but looking back at the photos, I can see what they mean.

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It’s true that I’m not self-conscious about my body or about how I look pregnant. It’s not that I look at my swollen belly and my stretch marks and think, “I’ve earned these tiger stripes,” or whatever it is the mommy bloggers like to say. I know I look huge. I am huge. But it’s also abundantly clear why I’m huge. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

My confidence is that of a person who has zero effs left to give. And I realized that that is a far cry from who I was nine months ago.

***

Back in January, I wrote this post about how very much I was struggling with my body. I had reached an all-time low, exhausted by self-loathing and feeling powerless to make any lasting change.

I spilled my guts about my desperation, and six weeks later I found out I was pregnant. Hilarious, God. Truly.

As you probably know, my initial reaction to the news was not positive. I admit, one of my first panicked thoughts was, “I can’t be pregnant now. I am the heaviest I have ever been in my life. I am going to be HUUUUGGGE.” I understand that extra weight and a changing body are a small price to pay for creating a whole new life, but at the time it felt like one more way my life was being taken from me.

Now here I am 8 months pregnant and it turns out that losing control has been one of the best things that’s ever happened for my relationship with my body. I have felt freedom from self-criticism and self-hatred for the first time since I was ten years old and became aware of my body as female and of all the expectations that go along with that.

Some pregnant women are filled with love and appreciation for what their bodies are capable of as they move through the stages of pregnancy. And yes, it is miraculous. But for the most part, I have not felt this way. Most of the time I feel this odd combination of being intensely aware of everything going on in my body while also feeling like a stranger in it. I feel every ache and pain and jab and stab acutely, and at the same time I have the sense that I am floating around inside of this vessel I do not recognize, just waiting to get my life back. While this distance from my body has been isolating in some ways, it’s been healing in others.

Let me be clear. I have not particularly enjoyed pregnancy. I do not feel beautiful, sexy, or powerful the way some women seem to feel during pregnancy. I don’t particularly likethe way I look pregnant and I definitely don’t like the way I feel. But I’m also not disgusted by my body the way I was pre-pregnancy. I just honestly don’t care.

For the first time in my life, what is happening to my body is really and truly beyond my control. I could eat organic kale for every meal and workout twice a day and I would still going to have this giant belly. Since there is nothing I can do to change what my body looks like right now, I have no brain space or energy to waste worrying about it.

My expectations of my pregnant body are so vastly different from what my expectations of my body have always been. As an adolescent growing up with the mixture of societal pressures and the targeted messages of purity culture, I was constantly aware of the wrongnessof my body. There was the shame of not being attractive enough, along with the shame of being inappropriately attractive. I felt the expectation to simultaneously figure out how to be thin, toned, feminine perfection, and to dress in way that protected helpless men from that thin, toned, feminine perfection.

As I got older, I stripped off some of the burdens of purity culture, but struggled as my weight fluctuated and my self-worth rose and fell with the expansion or shrinking of my thighs.

Now for the first time, my attractiveness is utterly irrelevant. I take up more space than ever before. People are hyper-aware of me and my body. And at the same time, I have never felt more invisible. I feel no expectation, from myself or from anyone else, to be attractive. My body is no longer an aesthetic object, it is pure function. I am an incubator. That’s all.

Of course, I don’t want to feel this way forever. I don’t want “mother” to become my identity. I don’t want to disappear. I want to walk down the street and have someone think (but maybe not say) “Daaaaayummmmn, girl!” But there are also things I hope I take with me from this time.

I hope my base level expectations of my body have permanently changed. Instead of valuing myself based on arbitrary measures of attractiveness, I hope my foremost expectation of my body is for it to be healthy and strong so that I can do everything I need to do. No more. No less.

I want to feel attractive again someday, but I hope that feeling is based on confidence and acceptance, not meeting an external expectation. I think it can be incredibly attractive for someone to say, “My body is just my body. I look how I look.” If I can accept without difficulty the fact that I have blue eyes and small hands, could I also accept whatever shape my body ends up being when this ride is over?

I don’t know what to expect or how things will change post-partum, but I’ll be sure to keep you updated.  Whatever the next part of the journey looks like, I kind of hope that I’ll continue to be fresh out of effs to give.

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I Hate My Body (Let’s Not Sugarcoat This)

I want to write this post, but I don’t know how.

I’ve been a bit paralyzed honestly. It’s not writer’s block exactly. Rather it’s that I’ve found myself approaching writing with much more fear than I have ever had before. In spite of how lovely this community has always been to me, I am paralyzed by the fear of being misunderstood and of being judged. While I always strive to be intentional about my words here, I am feeling guarded in a way that I never have before.

I see this blog as a platform for me to practice vulnerability, not for validation and not as some sort of emotional dumping ground, but genuinely in the hope that what I share will bring hope and encouragement or at least a sense of solidarity.

This time, I am afraid. But I think the only way forward is through.

I hate my body.

The feminist in me is cringing. In spite of everything I passionately believe to be true about beauty being expansive and inclusive and about how there is no ideal or perfect body, I wage a silent war with mine every day of my life. And more and more, I have been losing the battle.

I am not the first person to feel this way, and I am certainly not the first person to write about it. I don’t think my experience is unique or that I am equipped to articulate it in a way that no one has before. But I am writing this as a kind of confession. I have reached a point where I can no longer pretend that I live with the sort of self-acceptance I advocate to others. I don’t think my size or shape define my worth as a person. But they greatly affect my happiness and confidence with myself.

The difficult thing is that I am not measuring myself up against an airbrushed movie star or a Victoria’s Secret model. I don’t want to look like women in magazines. Instead, I am measuring myself up against other (better) versions of myself.

For the past 10 years, my weight has fluctuated often, sometimes dramatically. I have lost 20 lbs and then gained 30 in the space of a single year. I have been thin, and I have been overweight ( And I don’t mean 5 vanity pounds, I mean properly overweight).  I have done all of the diets, both the intense ones and the ones that are “not a diet, but a lifestyle” with many periods of “success.” But in the end, I have never found a way to live a “normal” life. There is no stasis for me. I am only ever gaining or losing weight. The sad reality for me is that no matter how many vegetables I eat and no matter how many miles I run, unless I am counting and measuring and restricting, I am gaining weight.

While I think all women struggle with body confidence to some extent, I have felt very alone in this for many years.  My closest friends do not seem to have the same issues managing their weight that I do. They are either naturally thin or are able to eat a normal, moderate diet without experiencing big weight fluctuations. The women in my family are all (either naturally or through admirable discipline) exceptionally fit.

When I think of how much mental and physical energy and anguish I have expended trying to control the size of my body, I am both embarrassed and exhausted.

I would vow to you that the number on the scale or the size on your jeans label mean nothing. And yet, I can tell you that in February of 2011, I weighed 164 pounds, and on the morning of my 28th birthday I weighed 143.5, but almost passed out because I had eaten so little the day before, and the August before that, I weighed 128. Why in the world do I remember this? Imagine all of the worthwhile things I could be using that brain space for instead of these years of meaningless numbers.

And the “healthier” I try to be, the more time and energy I spend trying to figure out what I can and cannot eat, how to prepare it, and how to plan ahead. I don’t know what it would be like to spend just one day where what I will or will not eat does not consume my thoughts. What a trivial and selfish thing to waste so much of my life on.

I want to be free from this.

I want to walk into a room without subconsciously assessing whether or not I am the biggest woman in the room. (That truth both disgusts and embarrasses me).

I am tired of thinking of my body as it is now as somehow temporary. Like I’ve left my body somewhere and this is the one I’ve borrowed until I can get my real one back. I have actually said to myself when clearing out my closet, “When I’m my real size, that skirt looks great on me, so I’ll hang onto it.”

Do you want to shake me yet?  Because I do. Wake up, Woman! It doesn’t get any more “real” than this. This chest rising and falling with my breath. These freakishly small fingers typing these words.

There are words we say in faith because we want them to be true. Because they are things we want to believe and we hope by speaking them they will make their way into our hearts. This year, more than ever, those words are, “I want to be at peace in my body.”

But I do not understand what it would mean to be at peace with my body as it is now, as it will be tomorrow, or as it will be in 5 years without also giving up the drive to maintain a healthy body.*

I don’t have any answers. I don’t expect you to have any answers. This struggle is the one I am most ashamed of and also the one I feel most alone in. I am ashamed because I know the “right” words and the “right” attitude. I know I am supposed to embrace my body and reject society’s narrow construction of beauty and love myself. But can I love myself and still want to lose weight? Can I maintain some sort of equilibrium where I am not always in flux? Can I reach a point where my thoughts are more consumed by what I can give to others than with how I feel about myself?

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*I do know that health and weight do not always correlate – you can be thin and unhealthy or overweight and relatively healthy. Unfortunately, that is not the case for me right now.

 

 

 

Thankful Thursdays Guest Post: I’m Thankful for My Body

You guys. This post. I just can’t even. When Karissa first sent it to me I immediately responded with this mondo email chronicling my own constant battles with my body, my weight, and my eating. For me, they all started at summer camp the year I was ten when I was playing soccer and a boy behind me said to his friend, “Hey look! That girl’s butt jiggles when she runs.” I don’t think there’s been a day of my life since then that I haven’t been self-conscious about my body. So many of us have those stories. So many of us need this post. There are so many things I admire about Karissa as a writer and as a woman, and her ability and willingness to tell these truths here today is one of them. Soak this in, friends, and then be sure to head over and subscribe to her blog. She’s doing some great and beautiful work there that you won’t want to miss.

I’m Thankful for My Body

You might think this is an inappropriate thing to be thankful for. But as a woman, I believe I’ve been taught to despise my body. The magazines at the grocery checkout teach me I need to diet, the photos of movie stars teach me I need to be a smaller size, and even my coworkers’ chatter in the teacher’s lounge teaches me I need to exercise more. We live in a world where only certain body types are praised, and mine is not one of them.

My husband and I were talking before bed the other night. “It makes me unhappy when I tell you you’re beautiful and you don’t believe it,” he told me. I tried to hold them back, but the tears came anyway.

Seventh grade: I have been living in Bangkok for a year and am applying to a new school. When I arrive at the uniform store, a Thai woman takes her yellow measuring tape and winds it around my hips. “So fat!” she exclaims. It doesn’t matter that as an American I am simply taller and bigger than most Thais (even the men). Her words scar. My body disappoints.

High school senior trip: My friend Denny and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the hotel room mirror in our bathing suits. We compare our bodies, inspecting the curves of our hips, turning sideways to see how far our stomachs stick out. “Who’s bigger?” I ask. “I think we’re the same,” she says. She’s Bulgarian; I’m American. We are the biggest girls in our grade.

My wedding day, 15 years ago: 128 pounds. Skinny arms that boast a bit of a farmer’s tan. I never considered trying to fix that. Hair: short, streaked with highlights, impossible curls. Size 8. I wear a fitted, straight wedding dress with a mandarin collar. The pearl-covered dress fits beautifully over my hips.

Today: I step on the scale before getting into the shower. 156.5. At the doctor’s office a couple of weeks ago, his scale said 158. “Losing ten pounds might help your heartburn issues,” he told me. I sigh and turn the water on. After showering and drying off, I inspect myself in the mirror.

Stretch lines stripe my hips. They look pink head-on, but silver if I turn sideways. Mom arms that jiggle. A waistline that pushes out of last year’s size 10 capris. Thighs riddled with cellulite. Size 12. Surely I won’t edge to 14.

Face: Round. Full cheeks, a double chin when I look down. Crows feet around my eyes when I smile, permanent shadows beneath my eyes, oily skin, makeup that rubs off by noon.

The problem is that I like food, and I don’t like to exercise much. If I stick to diets, I lose weight. But I have a hard time following through. One week I get up early every morning and lift weights. The next week I drink wine and eat Oreos every night.

When attempts to lose weight don’t work, I try to make my body seem more acceptable. I feel the need to apologize for how large my body has become, the need to soften the blow of thirty pounds gained. I get tattoos and dye my hair and layer on make-up. I research body types and try to dress for my shape: belts, flared skirts, empire waist dresses, fitted jackets.

Underneath it all, this one truth haunts me: I won’t be happy until I accept my body. My attempt to make my body more presentable to others is really just a way to combat my disappointment with myself.

So here I am, declaring it: I am thankful for my body.

My body is a gift, a vessel that brought two babies into the world and carried three into the afterlife. It is a source of pleasure, of help, of kindness, of love. My body is a gift, even to me, the gift of being present in the world in a physical way.

My son gave me this little questionnaire for Mothers Day:

Karissa Thankful Thursdays

“My mother looks prettiest when she is here.” Not when she’s got make-up on, not when she’s wearing a dress or after she’s lost ten pounds. When she’s here. My presence is beauty.

Observe: Arms that wrap around my children every morning. Round, full lips that give goodbye kisses. Hands that brush out long tangles in hair and wrap bandaids around toes. Feet that carry me with confidence into my workplace, where my face smiles at coworkers. Legs that take me up hiking paths and around playground walking tracks. Lungs that take in oxygen, skin that renews itself constantly, ears that notice the sounds of a world discovered.

I am learning to be thankful for my own skin: even its round softness, even its scars, even its imperfections. I am learning to be thankful for this gift that my husband calls beautiful, and to actually believe that myself.

Karissa

About the Author: Karissa Knox Sorrell is a mother, ESL educator, and writer from Nashville, Tennessee. Read more of her writing at her blog or follow her on Twitter @KKSorrell.

If you’re enjoying this series, be sure to go back and check out other guest posts I’ve shared so far in the Thankful Thursdays series, here, here, and here!

PS- Sorry about the placement of these ads. Haven’t figured out how to move them yet!