I fought bulimia for many years. It was something I felt guilty about. As a feminist, I should know better. It was something I was ashamed of and hid from most people around me. Eventually, I worked towards recovery. I came to a time where I had more confidence in who I was becoming inside and out. I also found running, a sport I could excel at simply by defining success as working hard and improving my own performance rather than comparing myself to others. Running helped me to see food as something I could enjoy as a way to fuel my body.
Having wrestled with body image, I was prepared for the inner demons to come calling with my pregnancy. I continued to think of how hard I had worked to recover and to again think of food as fuel, this time not just for my own well-being. I will be honest and say that I struggled a bit in the first few months as my body began to change. I knew that from the outside, it looked more like a few extra cookies than a bun in the oven. I welcomed getting to the point where what many called a "cute" belly developed and I felt like people could see that I was pregnant. They gave up their seats on the metro and while I am a bit ashamed to admit it, I was relieved that I was visibly pregnant.
Then there were the people who would ask how far along I was and exclaim how small I looked. It was almost as if I was being rewarded for fitting some sort of pregnancy beauty norm. I found myself being perversely pleased while also panicking that things were not going well and wondering if I had gained enough weight. I had a midwife who told me that I was developing well and another who said I should not gain too much. It was tough at times to have so much attention on my size -- not to mention the people who thought they could just touch my belly, as if being pregnant meant my body was not even my own. I had my inner dialogue during these moments, but I was so thrilled to be adding to our family. I was committed to making sure I was taking care of myself, but I would be lying if I said it was easy.
I had considered what it would be like after our baby was born. Baby weight is an oft-discussed topic in pop culture. Just look at the newsstands with the covers of new moms in bikinis touting how they lost their baby weight in just eight weeks or the nasty coverage criticizing celebs who are not focusing their entire new mommyhood on shedding baby weight. I remember getting a message on social media advertising some weight loss book or pill. The person talked to me about how I could lose that pesky weight -- assuming that of course I could not be happy with how I looked.
Finding comfortable and flattering clothes for a figure that is a bit rounder than it used to be has been an adjustment, but I don't often have time to obsess over the fact that I don't look exactly like I did before. I'm busy caring for my kids, doing my job and making sure I have time to play with my children and stay connected to my wife. I try to eat healthy, but I also enjoy a cookie or ice cream cone with my girls. I drink a lot of water, usually with an eye to producing the milk needed by my little one. I squeeze in whatever sleep I can get. But I have not felt like I could add exercise to an already lengthy and challenging "to do" list.
Faced with the prospect of bathing suit season and wearing tight spandex in public, I came face-to-face with whatever lingering concerns I did have about my body. The fact that I would get to spend a week at the beach with my family was exciting, so I decided to face it head-on. I jumped in the car and headed to the closest department store with my eldest daughter in tow. I grabbed a pile of tank suits that I could actually picture myself wearing and set out for the dressing room. As I tried them on, I noticed which ones I felt more confident in, but I found that I also focused on the ones that would be more comfortable. Which suit would be the best to sit in the sand and build a castle or run into the waves? I showed them to my daughter and asked which one she liked. She promptly told me I should get the orange one because it is the color of the Orioles, our favorite baseball team.
I think that a part of me will always need to work to keep that negative voice at bay, but it just doesn't get the head space that it used to. I have more important things to think about and so much to be thankful for. I do want to make time for exercise to again have that feeling that comes from pushing myself and frankly to have some time to myself, but I don't want it to become part some obsession with the scale.The fact is that the scale we had is broken and I do not plan to replace it.
I read a great comment from my friend, Erin recently on the idea of "getting your body back." She said, "This is my body now." That really stuck with me. There are many changes when I look in the mirror, but that is something I can embrace instead of feeling self-doubt or judgment. I had a baby. So much about my life changed, including my body. So what?
I wore that orange suit and I looked good because I was smiling and laughing and splashing with my family. I may not be on the cover of any magazine, but I am embracing and enjoying my new beach body.