Our Bodies, Our Selves (Or, Body After Baby)

Almost two years ago I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. Shortly after I found out, I saw my obstetrician for the first of many routine check-ups. We chatted about what to expect the next few months, how my body would change, what I needed to remember (coffee was off limits, for example). When she asked me if I had any questions, the first thing that came to mind was this: “how much weight should I gain?” Even though I was excited about becoming a mother, I was afraid of gaining too much weight during the pregnancy. Since my pre-teen years I have been worried about my weight. Like so many women, I have been monitoring my weight since as far as I could remember. And the fact that my body would change and that I had no control over it scared me.

It sounds superficial, but pregnancy and motherhood have reflected back to me my biggest insecurity: my weight.

As a young girl, I was teased for not being as thin and trim as the other girls in my class. I was referred to on more than one occasion as “big boned.” Although size 12 is an average size for women, when I went shopping I always felt like nothing fit me right. As a teenager in high school I obsessed over numbers: calories, pounds, meals, sizes. Every meal I ate and every top I bought were measured in numbers. And in those numbers I saw myself. Junior year of high school I managed to lose a lot of weight (in part because of my obsession with those numbers), but I continued to compare myself to how other girls in my class looked. They always looked teenier than me. They also seemed to be surrounded by suitors, while boys always saw me as their best friend. It took me a very long time to get over that.

In time, I figured out that there were other things about me that were interesting, and so I worked on those. My sense of humor was one. I figured people saw me as interesting and/or funny, so my rationale was that if people thought I was fat or unattractive at least I could beat them back with funny. I also applied myself in school. I set myself academic goals and read a whole lot, everything from Austen to Rolling Stone Magazine, and that became a major part of my identity. Being smart had nothing to do with my weight; people might poke fun at me for being nerdy but they respected that I was smart and that I was headed to one of the top universities in Puerto Rico.

Three summers ago I reached something close to my “ideal” weight: I was going to the gym every day that summer, I was eating healthy (and eating for energy over eating for pure pleasure), and I was doing Weight Watchers. I was almost at the same weight I was when I graduated high school (which is when I was at my thinnest as an adult). I felt good about the way I looked, and I felt healthy. However, I couldn’t sustain that lifestyle once the summer was over: the gym membership got expensive, I couldn’t afford WW, and I dove head first into my post-coursework graduate research. So I did gain some weight, but I wasn’t particularly upset over that. I was still in the 160 range. That’s when I found out I was pregnant.

After I gave birth to our daughter and I sloooowly lost the baby weight, I thought hard about my relationship to my body. I don’t want my daughter to have my same hang-ups. Lord knows she will have some of her own (hopefully not.) I try to be aware of how I talk about myself around her and, more importantly, how I see myself. I want to be an example for her of how to love oneself and not let what others say about her get to her. I want her to love herself how she is. I want her to love her curls, her brown skin, the shape of her body. But I know she sees me when I look at my little pooch of a belly when I put my jeans on, or when I get frustrated that a pre-pregnancy blouse doesn’t fit me right.

A lot of women told me when I was pregnant that I would get my figure back. I heard a lot of “you’re breastfeeding, you’ll lose the weight!” Or, “you’re young, you’ll bounce back!” Or “just give it time, you’ll fit into your old skirts in no time!” I wish people hadn’t told me that. I spent a big chunk of time the past year fretting over whether I’d fit into my teaching outfits (a wardrobe I had invested a lot of money into over the years), or whether I’d be able to zip up my Gap Straight Jeans. Although by the time I stopped breastfeeding I lost about 43 pounds of the 45 I gained, a month after I stopped breastfeeding I gained a few pounds right back. Also, my body does not look like it once did. I have a different shape, so a lot of what I used to wear fits me differently.

At this point, what with a part-time job, a dissertation, and a two-hour commute on a regular basis, I have given up on starting a rigorous exercise regimen or watching every bite I eat. Frankly, I did that once upon a time in high school, and it took over my life. Not a good way to spend your time. So instead of getting frustrated that I am not back in the range of 160 pounds, my approach now is to love the body I’m in and not obsess over changing it. My body produced a beautiful baby girl, and it deserves some slack for that.

One of the pieces I had to let go. *Sniff, sniff*

So last week (as I was procrastinating from finishing chapter 3 of the dissertation) I went through my closet and purged it of all the clothing that doesn’t fit me right. If I’m going to love my new body, I might as well look good in the clothes I wear. And even though I don’t have the budget to shop for a whole new wardrobe (maybe we can get Stacey and Clinton from What Not to Wear to come out to Kansas City and give me a $5,000 Bank of America card to go shopping???) I will work with what I have. I can’t afford to not feel beautiful in the skin I’m in.

No more hatin’. End of story.

Comments

  1. OMG this could be my story (although I didn’t really obsess over my weight until college when I stopped swimming and discovered beer and poutine). I did WW before I got pregnant with my daughter because I wanted to be at a healthy weight for pregnancy. I gained a ton of weight. They sent me for an “emergency ultrasound” to make sure the baby wasn’t too big (she wasn’t). That last 10 pounds never went away. Then I got pregnant with my son. I gained an obscene amount of weight. People wouldn’t stop asking me if I was having twins or if I was absolutely sure on the due date. I’ve finally been able to get back into most of my working clothes. It took WW, working out, and getting back into the classroom (teaching for four hours straight twice a week was like a miracle weight-loss pill). I fret constantly about what messages I’m sending my daughter in regards to her body, her weight, and her self-image. I remember feeling relieved the day she was born and came out long and lean; she got the “good” genes, not my husky heavy genes. But I still want to be careful. I actually wrote about it here:

    http://blog.pigtailpals.com/2010/12/guest-post-generations-of-women-finding-fault-with-themselves/

    Actually, this whole blog is amazing to read, especially for those of us with young girls.

    Anyway, I know what you’re going through, and I wish I could say it gets easier. We just need to be vigilant and know that our daughters see us as beautiful.

    • As I was writing my post, I remembered your post at Pig Tail Pals but couldn’t find the link. I’m glad you included it here because that post really hit close to home for me.

      You make a good point: that oftentimes it’s what people say to us that gets to us. Pregnant women gain weight, that’s just how it is. Some, like us, gain a lot but others gain less. But people make comments. I remember flying back home when I was four months pregnant and one of my aunts telling me, “Wow, Liana,you’ve gained a few pounds.” What?! Never mind that she didn’t know yet that I was expecting. I also remember a lady at a Pearle Vision asking me how far along I was and making a comment about how big I was. Just an example of how ingrained these ideas of the perfect female body are.

  2. Believe it or not folks worry if you don’t gain weight when pregnant. I went down 2 dress sizes between pregnancy and breastfeeding though I’ve been back closer to my pre-pregnancy weight for the last 6 years or so (my daughter is 14). I’m really not convinced any of the social obsession about weight has much to do with health. There are lots of reasons to gain (or lose) weight in pregnancy.

    Your experience of changing shape is something less talked about. The older I get the more I accept that 30 year old women SHOULDN’T look like 18 year olds. Nor should 40 year olds. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that you don’t fit those clothes any more. Or will never be the size you were when you graduated high school.

    I also think there should be a way to eat healthy food for pleasure. Why do we oppose health and pleasure?

    Thanks for opening up this conversation. Because there really is an epidemic of poor body image among women and trying not to pass it on is something I’m committed to, too.

    BTW, you might like this recent post from @Kyeli and the post she links to in it: http://connection-revolution.com/change-through-self-love/

  3. A colleague and I are doing research entitled “Toys, Tantrums, and the Pursuit of a Doctoral Degree.” We are working on making the survey online so that we can distribute it over social networking sites. We are both parents (I am a single parent) and doc students, and we’re struggling as well as noticing different treatment between ourselves and our non-parent counterparts. We know there are many people in our same situations. I am following you on twitter, please let me know if you would take the survey and maybe post the link on this blog!

    Thanks.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Liana Silva at Words Are My Game: Shut One Door and Open Another or Moving Along With My Dissertation and Our Bodies Our Selves or Body After Baby. [...]

  2. [...] not the first time that I have written about my concerns about my weight. In fact, I revisited that post before writing this one, in order to remember what I had told [...]

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