You don’t need to get your body back – it didn’t go anywhere
Story originally published in The View, July, 2017
I’m standing in the shower staring forlornly in the mirror, lifting and flattening my belly in an attempt to remember what it looked like four years ago, before babies.
There’s a tight white scar that marks the place where my c-section incision was, and my flesh over it is soft, like the half deflated balloon wasting away in my kids’ room. Thin silver stretch marks crisscross around my belly button, which was once tight and high, and is now of sunken and soft.
There are days when I look at this body and don’t recognize it. That’s how profound the change has been since before babies. If someone put my headless body in a suspect lineup and said, “Which one is yours?” I would never point to it. Literally never.
There are days when I lament this change, because I didn’t think it would be so permanent, and because vanity makes me miss my leaner self. “This isn’t me at my best,” I quietly admit.
I think of the magazine that caught my attention at the store the previous day: A ubiquitous headline with a ubiquitous celebrity boasting, “How I got my body back!” She’s holding a baby while posing in an outfit that exposes her midriff. That midriff feels like a big middle finger pointed directly at me. It makes me want to stick my whole head into a bag of chips.
Never mind that she’s got the time and money for trainers, chefs or nannies. Never mind the genetics (or youth) that predispose her body to “bounce back.” It makes me wince all the same because I don’t think I’ll ever get my pre-baby body back.
As I stand in the shower with the headline playing over and over in my head, I think, “F**k you magazine, and f**k you celebrity midriff: “To hell with it. My body didn’t go anywhere. It’s here now. I’m looking at it.”
I’m squeezing the flesh around my upper arms. Arms that I use every day to pick my children up after they’ve fallen down, to hug them when they need comfort, to rock them when they’re tired.
I’m touching the soft flesh around my hips. The hips that widened to make room for my babies as they grew inside me. The hips that my one year old sits on as I hold her with one hand while stirring vegetables with the other.
I’m touching my belly, the belly that grew bigger than I could have fathomed until my babies were ready to continue their growing on the outside. I’m touching the scars that are written on me like tattoos, telling the stories of my children’s births, and of the time I became a mother – twice.
My body isn’t gone. It’s here.
We tend to over-discuss women’s bodies – other people’s, and our own. And when women become mothers, we often divide the history of those bodies between before (pre-baby), and after (post-baby). A line drawn in the sand.
I realize the “how I got my body back” headlines don’t mean that women’s bodies disappear and then are found again, like a sock lost under a couch. You don’t stumble upon it one day, yell, “Here it is!”, blow the dust off it, then put it back on. The headlines mean these women are back to whomever they were before they squeezed out Tiny Snowflake, and Hallelujah for that!
But the thing with this stupid phrase is that it suggests our body is this one static thing: the thing it was before children. And our soft, squishy, post-baby body is an imposter.
It also insinuates that pre-pregnancy bodies are both something we should and can get back. Both these presumptions are wrong.
For some of us, our scars are here to stay. So is the extra flesh that sits around our middle, despite sit-ups and crunches and planking.
Some of us have chronic pain or injuries as a result of pregnancy and childbirth that make vigorous exercise difficult. Some of us have gone through hormonal changes that mean the change to our bodies is permanent.
Some of us are okay with all of this, because retrieving the bodies we lived in two or five or eight years ago doesn’t really matter to us. Because bodies are never meant to be static. Because we are always changing, all of us. And that’s okay. It has to be.
My daughters are growing up in a world that will place an obscene amount of value on how they look, and I have an important role to play in how they develop their own sense of self-worth.
I need to show them that my body – all women’s bodies – are strong and powerful and beautiful, no matter how they look.
I want them to know that our bodies don’t go anywhere when they change, no matter what causes that change.
I want them to know bodies that grew babies deserve to be respected, by virtue of them having done something incredible, something that took sacrifice.
The truth is, my body has stayed with me, and done me well. It is altered from growing life, but that’s a small price to pay for the two little girls who are playing dress up by my feet.
My body – as it is right now – is where my children go for comfort. Its presence is constant and reassuring. It tells them they are safe and loved. “This is me at my best,” I quietly admit.
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