I’ve wanted to post for a while about body image. It’s not that I’m one of those people who walks around telling everyone to love themselves or anything like that. But getting pregnant, and then being introduced so suddenly to my strange post-partum body, I felt a little cheated.
The thing is that we don’t talk openly about this stuff and I don’t understand it at all. I don’t know why we women keep so quiet about it. So many of us have kids and so few of us are lucky enough to have our bodies snap back into shape quickly. You’d think in a culture that’s so obsessed with baby weight that it’s the constant cover story of supermarket tabloids we’d be a little more straightforward about it.
Instead we don’t talk about it at all.
Or we talk about it the way I did when I went shopping with my friend Laura last week. I’m going back to work Monday. I’ve been in the workforce for years. I built up an awesome wardrobe. And then I had a kid and none of it fit anymore. So I went to buy some new slacks and I was self-deprecating. I joked about my belly. I made jabs about my size. I waxed ironically nostalgic about the clothes I used to fit into.
I guess that’s better than not talking about it. But not much.
I was inspired to honesty by this post at the Curvy Girl Guide. I am web-friends with some of the Curvy Girls who brought my attention to it. Women are posting pictures with their height and weight. Sounds simple, right? But would you boldly proclaim such a thing in front of the whole internet?
The first thing I love about this post is that it moves us towards honesty. And ladies, we need more honesty.
Once we’ve got honesty we can move towards the second thing I love: perspective.
We don’t get enough honesty from ourselves and from others. And it’s because of that that I think we’re so hard on ourselves. We have these unspoken rules that we don’t talk about weight (except in the most abstract terms). But by not talking to others, we have no basis for really understanding ourselves.
Looking over the pictures I found myself thinking, “She looks so great” and then seeing their weight and thinking, “No way!” It was most effective was when I saw women near my own height or weight and realized that I was viewing myself differently than the way I was viewing them.
So I want to talk about that honesty and that perspective, especially when it comes to the pre- and post-partum body.
I was short as a kid, a wee little thing. When we lined up the entire grade by height when I was in middle school I was 3rd shortest. Remember the people you went to school with who were really really short and little? Yup, I was one of them. I remember being around 35 pounds as a 2nd grader and no one could balance on the teeter-totter with me. But once I hit high school I finally started moving towards average. I broke 100 pounds my freshman year.
Some time after that I stopped weighing myself. I don’t remember this being a specific decision. Maybe I just didn’t have access to a scale. Maybe the fact that I could no longer brag about being so teeny meant I didn’t care anymore. Maybe it was just that teenage modesty. I wore baggy clothes (as did many teens of the 90’s) and wasn’t entirely comfortable with myself.
At the end of my freshman year of college I was back to weighing myself, since I was pretty sure I’d put on a bunch of weight. Thanks, dorm cafeteria! I was 140 then.
Over the next few years I went back and forth from skinny phases in the 120’s to not-so-skinny phases in the 130’s. At my law school graduation in 2004 I was around 135. Finally I can show pictures!
Can’t tell much about my weight with the gown and all, but I look fine, right? But I spent that whole summer being incredibly frustrated that I couldn’t lose weight. I exercised 5 days a week. I was self-conscious about my chubby cheeks. Then, freakishly, at the end of that year I got down to 118. I stayed teeny for a good year.
I look at this picture now and I think I look teeny. Like magazine cover teeny. I was wearing childrens’ sizes, for heaven’s sake! I’m not sure how this became my “normal” weight in my head, but it did.
When I met Eric in 2006 I was nice and little, in the 120’s. As often happens in a relationship you settle in, you gain some weight, and by the time we go engaged in 2007 I was back to the 130’s.
Here I am the day Eric proposed. When we got engaged I wanted to lose 5-10 pounds before the wedding.
I didn’t. I only felt a little bit bad about it.
I wanted to lose 5-10 pounds before I got pregnant. I didn’t. A week or so after I peed on a stick I weighed myself and came in right at 140. It was the heaviest I’d been in years. But I’d come to realize over the last decade or so of going from 120’s to 130’s and back that 130’s wasn’t a “bad” weight for me.
Another thing that gave me perspective? After law school I seriously considered joining the FBI. I passed the exams. I just needed to pass the physical tests. But I decided not to. Part of it was because I wasn’t sure I wanted to live wherever they told me to live. But also partly because the minimum weight requirement for my height was around 135. It didn’t seem like something I could guarantee at any particular time. 135 had been one of those “bad” weights for me, one of those that meant I was gaining and needed to pay more attention to my diet or exercise or whatever. But now it was a minimum?
Once I accepted that 120’s was possible (and maybe even ideal) but not actually my “comfortable” weight, I didn’t mind so much that I was 140 when I got pregnant. And I didn’t mind so much when I finished my pregnancy at 172. There are hardly any pictures of me pregnant, I was really self-conscious. (Want to really see some bravery? I envy Monica’s guts.) Here I am just before I went to get induced.
(If you are wondering why my kitchen is so clean, the answer is easy: my Mom was visiting.)
But that perspective and acceptance I found went out the window when I stepped on a scale a few weeks later and found I was around 160. (I don’t remember what it was exactly. I kind of blocked it out for a long time.)
This is where things can get really tricky. No matter how much “body acceptance” you’ve done, pregnancy has the potential to muck it all up. You generally hear only two kinds of stories about post-baby bodies.
- The people who lose the weight insanely quickly and without trying. These include the people who wear their pre-pregnancy jeans home from the hospital and the ones who lose weight uncontrollably from breastfeeding.
- The people who are never the same.
When it comes to group 2, if you’re like myself you think of these women as being older than you. They’re older. They’re distant. They’re certainly not a group you expect to be in.
So here are the photos people usually don’t post, ones with the scary postpartum body on full display. (Don’t worry, I am fully clothed.) I would never have shared one of these pictures before. (Pardon me while I feel proud of myself.)
Leaving the hospital:
1 week after birth:
Baby weight may be temporary but marrying a nerd is forever.
What we need to talk about more is what honestly and really happens to our bodies post-baby. I was hugely lucky to have some online buddies who’d been there. Around 3 months postpartum I asked them about losing baby weight since I had lost exactly none. (Not counting the baby weight that was the actual baby.) They told me to not even worry about it for the first year.
I was shocked. The first YEAR?? As in 12 months?
Rationally it makes sense that the 9 months of changing your body does isn’t going to change back in a day. But this 12-month rule was new to me. No one warned me during pregnancy that it would take so long to get back. I was looking forward to getting myself all back into shape nice and quickly once I had my mobility back. No such luck.
I knew my body would change, too. But I wasn’t prepared for the fact that I’d be wearing maternity clothes far more than regular clothes for that year after birth. I was expecting bigger boobs and wider hips.
No one told me about the belly. I never heard about those tightening things until it was too late. Even now I wonder if things would be different if I used them.
Which is exactly the kind of thought I’ve been discouraging myself from lately.
Here I am about 1 month postpartum, belly and all.
4 months postpartum, not much change. Here we’ll switch to the rearview, just to be thorough.
Not many pictures until May when all the family came for Eric’s graduation. When I look at those pictures all I see is arm flab and double chins. Which is exactly why I’m putting them up. I need to get over myself and look at my smile. I’m happy. That matters.
I hate my hair, but that’s a post for another day.
One of the funny things is that I’d actually dropped over 10 pounds in the month of April and was hovering somewhere around 150. It came out of nowhere. And yet I feel like I look worse in the May pictures than I did 6 months before when I weighed more. Everything was redistributing and moving around. I didn’t feel like myself.
But I bought both those dresses just for graduation. And I felt really great in both of them, as is evidenced by the fact that I even took off my sweater to let my arm flab fly free.
By November 2010 I’d settled into my new body more. I felt more comfortable with it, even if I’d only dropped a couple of pounds in over 6 months. Still, I cropped most of my body out of the picture we used for our New Years card. It’s funny because when we first got these pictures I felt like I looked huge. (And so did my hair.) Now I think I look fine and I wonder what I was so upset about.
Cut to today. It’s been over 20 months since I had the baby. It’s been nearly 30 months since before I was pregnant. It’s a long time to go without feeling like yourself.
The last few months being home I’ve finally just decided to embrace it and not worry. If my weight ends up in the 140′s instead of the 130′s, so be it.
And as things often go, sure enough here I am now:
5 feet, 5 1/2 inches, 139 pounds.
It is supremely weird to actually feel like me again. I even mostly look like me again. I can see the differences, but who cares? I haven’t really done anything. I’ve been busy chasing the baby around the house. I walk on average about a mile a day, but it’s not for exercise, it’s to run errands or catch the bus. I’m eating whatever is around, sometimes having two lunches, and yet it seems like I’m finally back in pre-baby land.
What I really love is not that my weight is back. Even if I was 10 pounds or more heavier, I just feel comfortable. My body is where it wants to be, my weight is pretty consistent, and my clothes fit. I shouldn’t be telling my body what it should be doing, instead it’s telling me and I’m finally listening.
If you’re postpartum, I hope you’ll take some time to consider how you think about your body and if you’re being too hard on yourself.
If you’re pregnant or plan to be soon, you can plan ahead for some perspective. You can promise yourself that you’ll lose the weight, but you can’t necessarily plan when or how. Your body’s going to go through a lot, just be nice to it.
And after this walk down memory lane I am seriously considering chopping my hair.