Monday, April 29, 2013

On Body Image: We're All In This Together

Pregnancy: a magical and inspiring time in a woman's life where she is blessed to witness
the human body perform one of nature's most amazing feats, growing a baby.  During this
epic 9 month long journey, she will witness her body evolve in ways she never
thought possible, using its every resource to nourish and protect the little miracle
inside.  Ligaments will stretch, vital organs will shift, and hormones will rage.  She will,
at times, feel as though her body has taken on a life of its own.  And that's because it has.
The further I get into my pregnancy, the more often I hear the question, "Are you sure
you're not having twins?".  It has been the same through all three of my pregnancies:
strangers and acquaintances alike, marveling over the size of my growing belly.  Because
when I'm pregnant, I am PREGNANT.  My boobs spill out of the 36 DD bras I had to run
out and buy, my chin becomes a double, my face fills out, and my thighs rub together.
Those women you hear referred to as "all belly", the ones who don't even look pregnant
until they turn around and you see their tiny little bump, that ain't me.  When you see
my growing body, every inch of it in full pregnancy form, there is no doubting that I am
with child.  And people are quick to comment on it.  "There's no way you'll make it to
August!", "Are you sure you're only 22 weeks along?", "There has got to be more than
one baby in there!".
I know that people mean no harm by these comments, they say them with love and
affection and genuine excitement.  Some people just lose all ability to censor themselves
when they are around pregnant women.  They forget that underneath the glowing skin
and baby adoration we are still people with feelings and a dwindling self esteem.  They
don't realize that I actually spent about 10 minutes crying on the floor of my closet
this morning when I couldn't find a single pair of pants to wear that didn't make me feel like
a sausage link.  They have no clue that my belly is in fact NOT their personal property
to fondle and caress at any time they see fit.  They can't for the life of them understand
why their comments, which at any other time in life would equate to, "Damn, girl, you
are BIG!", are completely rude and inappropriate.  And I, quite frankly, do not have the
time or energy to even come up with anything witty to say back.  And so I just smile and
say, "Yes, the baby and I are growing and we are healthy.  Thank you for noticing".
But, I wonder, is society completely to blame?  Or should we, as women, take a look
at ourselves and our own unrealistic expectations for our growing bodies? The women who
are genetically blessed to be "all belly", to maintain their stick thin arms and size 2
bottoms: they are the exception, not the rule.  In truth, most of us gain 25-40 pounds
during pregnancy.  Most of us hold on to about 5 pounds of that after we have our
babies, putting us at a higher starting point with the next baby.  How many fashion
posts and/or articles have you read from women who swear off maternity clothes,
warding them off like the plague?  As if wearing maternity clothes is the ultimate throwing in
of the towel.  I once read a post from a very popular blogger where she advised her readers
to pack bottles for their babies when leaving the house rather than nursing in public.
That way, they never have to compromise their sense of self or their taste in fashion for
the sake of breastfeeding.  Because that would be downright shameful.  Another
blogger humble bragged about wearing her pre-pregnancy jeans only weeks after giving
birth to her child, assuring her readers that they too could achieve such miracle results if
they simply followed her strict vegan diet.  Totally legit.
Those posts had about 100 comments each of women singing their praises: "You
look amazing", "I hope to look as good as you as soon as I pop my little one out", "I only
gained 18 pounds with my pregnancy, too!".  Cue the eye rolling.  You'll never read a post
like that here.  Why?  Because that is not my reality. I'm not that girl.  I'm the girl who
eats healthy, exercises throughout my pregnancy, and makes my physical and mental
health the number one priority during these precious nine months but still manages to gain
35-40 pounds.  I'm the girl who doesn't feel guilty about enjoying the occasional
doughnut.  I'm the girl who stumbles into my yoga pants the first chance I get,
enjoying comfort over fashion any old day. I'm not going to spend this amazing time in my
life worrying about when I'll be able to wear my pre-pregnancy jeans again.  I'm not going
to feel guilty for wearing full panel maternity leggings and full coverage nursing bras.  I'm
not going to compare myself to Giselle and her ability to wear a bikini while
simultaneously holding her 2 month old baby.  I'm not going to expect my body to fall into
line with society and/or other women's perceptions of what I should look like.  This is me,
this is my pregnancy, and I am proud of it.  I am thankful for the fact that I gave birth to
two babies, over 9 pounds each, with no complications or surgeries needed.  And I have
my thick thighs and full cheeks to thank for it.
You see, we can't just blame society and/or the media for these negative perceptions of
what the pregnant body should look like.  We have to take responsibility for ourselves and
our need to hang on to some unattainable level of perfection.  Pregnancies come in all
shapes and sizes, a wide variety of symptoms and changes that make our own
personal journeys unique.  Let's celebrate the women that we are and the
amazing transformation our bodies endure rather than obsess over how we hope to look by
the end of it all.  Because at the end of this journey, it's not your thighs or your hips that
you'll be focused on.  It's the precious little life the doctor places into your arms, the
person your body created during all of that stretching and weight gain, that's the only
thing that really matters.
So, if you see me on the street and you think that I look a little bit bigger than the
average woman at 22 weeks pregnant should look, give me a high five and a few words
of encouragement.  You never know, I could be growing the future Hall of Fame
middle linebacker for the New Orleans Saints in this big belly of mine.

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Deanna Fike said...

this was a beautiful post! i am positive that some pregnant (or recent new mama) will read this post and feel better about themselves. i'm glad i don't know what blogger said to bottle feed your baby in public. i would have had a problem not leaving a kind of snarky comment.

i also believe that with each consecutive pregnancy, you begin to show sooner. you couldn't tell i was pregnant with gage until i was around 5 months. but with owsley? well at 20 weeks people were asking me if i was pregnant with twins as well.

Caitlin A. said...

This is beautiful. 1., You look amazing. and 2. I think blogs are the cause of so much in terms of baby-having, namely some postpartum depression and mom guilt. Blogs are annoying in that regard anyway, but I think mommy blogs have their own brand of humblebrag that must get REALLY old if you're a parent.

Love reading your thoughts as always. I hope that if I ever have a baby I'll remain as (genuinely) positive as you :)

Renee said...

Awesome post!! You look Amazing though, whether you feel like a sausage link or not!!

Bianca said...

What a beautiful post and a beautiful picture. YOU are beautiful and that photo brought me to tears. I would like to say more, but my 3 month old is sitting on my cushioned thigh waiting for her bath.

Marie Vie said...

I would definitely say You look Fabulous Liv' because you do!
Everybody seems to have an opinion about everything nowadays - I heard this "twin" message too many times when I was pregnant. I was just happy to have a big belly and I happy to show it, no matter what people think.

Well done Liv!

Raechel @ Our Island Outlook said...

Ahhhhhhhh, Olivia! Thank you so much for writing and sharing this post with all of us. It really spoke to me.

I, too, am someone who (at least with Evelyn, but it looks like I will with this baby, too) gains at least 35 pounds, and it isn't just confined to my belly. Just recently (a few days before your post), I started fretting about how the back of my arms are growing and darn it, my arms aren't pregnant! Why is this happening? That sort of thinking. :P

Your post really helped me see that maybe this is just the way my body grows babies, despite what I may try to do to not gain X amount of pounds, or look a certain way. Thank you! It was a freeing post to read.


Olivia said...

"this is just the way my body grows babies": I LOVE that!!! So true! It can be so daunting to see your body change so much but I really do try to find the beauty in all of the extra. I was just looking at your latest post and you look amazing!! Pregnancy definitely suits you!!

Olivia said...

YES!! We should and must focus more on the miracle taking place!! It is such a blessing to even BE pregnant!! I think you are pretty incredible, too, my friend.

Olivia said...

That big belly is a blessing, my friend!! I hope that you and your precious little one are doing well!!

Olivia said...

My mom always says our thighs have extra cushion just for the babies, to make our laps more inviting!! YOU are beautiful!!!

Olivia said...

Thank you my dear!!

Olivia said...

You are beautiful, too!! And you are right: we should all just take the time to love what God gave us. He made us in His own image, in perfect love.

Olivia said...

Blogs can definitely be a buzz kill at times. I can't help but roll my eyes/want to punch the screen when I read some of the BS that is put out there. But we all deal with things differently and, honestly, I feel bad for the humble braggers. It's just passive aggressive behavior that is masking something far deeper.

Olivia said...

One of the first posts I ever read on your blog included a video of you dancing with a baby Owsley in your belly. I loved you immediately.

Vanessa said...

1. I love you.

2. You are gorgeous, pregnant or no.

3. Frame that fantastic pic.

4. Yes, everything you said. Emphatically yes.