Body Acceptance: Change the Conversation
It's a really delicate subject, and I don't know where to begin. I'm going to let you know right up front that there's a little bit of shame lurking behind what I'm about to spew out, so I'm asking for your compassion and an open heart.
The 'love your body' movement that's happening right now is powerful. I'm inspired and uplifted by so many friends and strangers I'm seeing on social media loving on their bodies - whether they're one week, 10 years, somewhere in between, or not at all postpartum. This movement has triggered something within me I'd like to share from my viewpoint.
Before, and even during my pregnancy, I would never have thought that I'd have postpartum body image issues. I've always been considered a 'healthy weight' according to my BMI, etc. I didn't gain a lot of weight during my pregnancy and at my daughter's two week checkup, I was back to my 'pre-pregnancy' weight. Woo-hoo, right?
I'll come right out and say that I'm currently struggling with what I can't describe other than feeling self conscious of being thin. Right now, I weigh less than I weighed my senior year of high school. I'm hungry almost all of the time. My hormones are messy. The intensity of my sugar cravings often leave me wondering if something is wrong with me (my poor husband). I hesitate to exercise beyond slow flow yoga because in the back of my mind, I know that if I exert myself too much, I'll be even hungrier, and I have to catch up even more calorie wise - it takes a lot right now to make me feel truly full. I'm breastfeeding around the clock and because of that, I'm burning calories like I've run 3 miles and to be totally honest, I don't do a lot more than sit on the floor and sing along to Raffi radio. Genetically, I was handed a fast metabolism. Before you think, "I wish I had that problem!", please wait.
The message I'm seeing on social media is that you should love the body you're rockin' no matter what size it is. And I agree. I can get behind this message 1,000%. I'm struggling though, because what I'm hearing a lot of, by family, friends and even strangers, is a lot of: "Look how tiny you are." "Geez, Natalie, you look really skinny", or "You're so small", otherwise translating my already self-conscious mind to, "you are not enough", a voice I work so hard to quiet. Body shaming, even the unintentional kind from well meaning folks, exists no matter what size a person is.
Every single time one of these comments comes my way, I want to curl into a ball and crawl into a hole because it makes me feel uncomfortable. I don't always feel good in the skin I'm in. I often feel hungry and exhausted, and I feel like I miss working out and practicing strong yoga poses and going to pilates and eating one meal at meal times and feeling like that's enough. I used to fend off my emotions around body-specific comments by saying, "Thanks, I feel healthy" (trying to speak to what actually matters to me) but I can't even respond with that anymore and feel like I'm being honest because it's not totally true. So I awkwardly change the subject because, why are we talking about my body anyway? Why does it matter? I know that while I medically check out as healthy, I don't always feel like it. And, you guys, I've always been on the side of feeling healthy is way more important than looking good.
Breastfeeding adds an additional biological demand on my body on top of the emotional and physical demands of taking care of a baby around the clock. I know that a lot of how I'm feeling right now is related to how much it takes for my body to make breastmilk to help June grow, which is why it's particularly shame-inducing when I hear the comments about June's size. I hear them all the time. "She's so petite!!" "Look how tiny she is!". I'm good at brushing it off, but internally it's hard not to go to back to that place of 'not enough'. I'm busting ass to keep her healthy, full, and happy - but she's still "small" to most. Like every other breastfeeding mama out there, I'm literally giving it my all for her and as I mentioned above, I'm feeling the repercussions around the clock. Guess what? June has steadily climbed her growth curve and has even made some leaps. She's never, ever dropped on her curve. She's healthy and perfect and I'm empowered by this because I'm the reason for that. I've put in the hard work and she's thriving and this all makes me want to cry because biology and growing humans is fucking incredible and I am doing my damn best and I am PROUD. Excuse my language, but can you feel my passion here? I mean it.
Brene Brown said it best in her TED talk about shame: "Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket." I'm feeling these words, big time. Postpartum, who am I supposed to be? What size should I be? What size should my baby be to fit the norm? The fact that I'm even asking those questions makes my stomach hurt.
I guess what I'm trying to get at is, there has to be SOME WAY to change the conversation. There are so many other ways to talk to people than to bring up physical appearance, even in small talk. This Buzzfeed Parents video was going around a few weeks ago on Facebook and reiterates further why it's so important to find other ways to talk to others, especially little kids. I want June to know what's actually important instead of focusing on outward appearance. You don't always know what someone else is going through. It's great to give compliments but there has to be more. Being sensitive and aware of what's coming out of your mouth and how it might be received on the other end is part of empathetic communication and we could ALL be better at it, myself included.
I can't live any longer expecting myself to do more and be more. Take this as my commitment to continuing the hard work on accepting who I am in this moment, knowing that I'm doing the best I can with what I have. Aren't we all? Take the commitment with me and thank you for having an open heart.