I recently read an article by the American Pregnancy Association about body image and ways to love your body before, during, and after pregnancy. The article opened with this quote:
A woman who feels good about herself will celebrate the changes that her body experiences during pregnancy, look forward to the challenge of giving birth, and willingly accept the physical and emotional changes of the postpartum period.
That’s sound advice. However, it doesn’t take into consideration the simple biology that, from the moment you conceive, your hormones go haywire and the part of your brain that deals with rational thought takes a nine-month vacation, with a return date to be determined.
My body (image) before baby
Throughout my 33 years on this planet, I have typically viewed my body in a positive light. My husband used to joke that I’m the least maintained girl he’s ever known (I’m taking it as a compliment, not a complaint). I don’t fuss with my hair, I wear little makeup, and I know which clothes suit my 6-foot 2-inch frame.
Before I became pregnant, the only exposure I had to a pregnant body was photos of celebrities in glossy magazines: not an ounce of fat on them, gorgeous and radiant with their burgeoning bumps. I assumed this was how all pregnant bodies developed, and that I would be no different. How naive, right?
I’m not seeing the ‘pregnancy glow’
I’m now six months pregnant and people tell me I’ve got the ‘glow.’ I don’t. It’s the fresh-look makeup I’ve spent the last five months plastering on to cover up the pallid skin that lies beneath. The only thing I’ve gotten, since becoming an incubator for this child, is fat.
These social media images of pregnant celebrities with their svelte frames and tiny bumps are a daily reminder to me that my body is in stark contrast to theirs. My midsection resembles an overstuffed sofa, the bump being the middle cushion on a three-seater, cocooned between unnecessary pillows. My thighs are two hairy saddlebags and I dream of the day when I get my tiny tits back, promising myself that I’ll never complain about their diminutive size again.
I know that celebrities have help to keep them looking as good as they do but it doesn’t stop me from comparing my changing physique with theirs and body shaming myself for the differences.
Every time I look in a mirror, I have to fight back tears. I scuttle between the bathroom and the bedroom at night, turning the main light off before shedding my clothes. Quickly hopping into bed lest my husband sees the behemoth I’ve become and realizes he’s been conned into marriage with the elephant woman.
Trying to remember the miracle of pregnancy
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not depressed. I’m simply struggling to get my head around my changing body. I can’t process it as I should and instead see my weight gain and expanding self in a negative light, rather than as a direct result of the miracle that is occurring inside of me.
I’m convinced that other people are judging me, as I judge myself, because I’m all too aware of the pressures that we, as women, put ourselves under, to try and maintain a body that society deems acceptable.
I know my body is simply doing what it has spent 33 years gearing itself up for, morphing into a safe haven to allow new life to flourish. But it seems to be doing it independently of me.
Changes will happen
All of the pregnancy guidance I have read tells me matter of factly that change will happen and it will be unique to each expectant mother. I’m an educated woman and I understand what has to happen to allow my daughter to develop and grow but education falls away when low self-esteem is drowning out logic and reason.
It also doesn’t help that, apparently, it’s okay for people to comment on my increasing size, using phrases like ‘gosh, you’re big,’ or ‘I assumed because you were so tall you wouldn’t show for ages’. All meant in a harmless way but interpreted by me as a failure to control my out of control body. My sister, for example, on seeing me at four months pregnant greeted me with a hug, a quick look at my ass and smiling said, ‘oh, there is a God after all.’ I spent the afternoon crying.
I’m not the first woman to think such negative thoughts about the miracle of pregnancy, and I won’t be the last. In fact, I suspect this phenomenon will only increase as our lives, and those of the future generations, continue to play out on social media. These visual platforms that are already leading the next generations into believing that their self-worth is based purely on their appearance.
Getting my body image in check
I want so much for my daughter to grow up, like I did, without a second thought to her body. Caring only that it is a strong vessel, capable of carrying her through life, and knowing that functioning well is more important than how it looks.
When she’s old enough to understand, I will teach her that every human body is unique—mine, hers, even the picture-perfect celebrities, and that we are all just as beautiful, in our own way, lest appearance does matter to her.
Before she’s born, I have to get my own body image issues in check. The last thing I want to do is plant any seeds of doubt in her sponge-like mind, and set in motion a chain of negative perceptions that I will ultimately have to battle against in my quest to ensure she has a healthy body image.