You know, since I gave birth, I feel so free. I wear what I want and I’m like: Fuck you! I have delivered a human being and I pushed her out of myself, my body is so beautiful and powerful!
Maja, a day over lunch
I was looking at pictures of me taken a couple of years ago, for a photoshoot I did with Lebanese photographer Lara Zankoul, and I found myself thinking, damn, I looked good.
I was curvy, always have been, always will be I guess, but significantly thinner than what I am now.
Because now I am pregnant you see, and my body is doing all kinds of things I do not understand. Like throwing up certain things, and feeling nauseated by almost everything yet roaring in pain if I don’t feed it. It’s expanding, making room for life, pushing things around. It’s like my body was telling me: by all means please get on with your life, I know what I’m doing here. Go. Go I tell you!
It’s an odd feeling for me. Relinquishing control and giving in to nature. I normally don’t do that. I like facts and books and solving things with my brain; and nature, and trusting my body to know what to do simply doesn’t come naturally to me. To give you a rough idea, I’d rather trust the Internet and the waves of doomsday scenarios relayed by total strangers it brings rather than trusting nature. That’s how bad I am. If I could, I’d live in my OB-GYN’s pocket so he could reassure me with ultra-sounds and exams and more facts and figures that my body, is, indeed doing what it should, but alas for now he’s on vacation and trying very hard to avoid me and the likes of me at all costs. So instead I bought a home Doppler to listen to my baby’s heartbeat and soothe my anxiety away, reassuring me that baby is, in fact, still here, but this is another neurotic story that we don’t need to get into right now.
I used to think I was immune to the body image hysteria surrounding me. Yes, I was that naïve. After all, I had never been on a diet: I consider dieting as a barbarian act of torture against my body that would eventually fail anyway. I believe in taking care of one’s own body, but I also believe in metabolism and different shapes and sizes and I’m grateful for the variety of bodies out there, because imagine how excruciatingly boring it would be if we all looked the same. I’m all for eating healthy, but eating only proteins or cabbage soup or baby food for all eternity? Really? Are you kidding me? That’s just not healthy, that’s fucked up and crazy and a manifestation of some very greedy people trying to exploit the mass hysteria around women’s weight they have created so they can build summer houses in Majorqua. The whole ‘weight loss’ industry strikes me as one of the most successful collaboration between patriarchy and capitalism: let’s guilt women into feeling horrible and ashamed every time they put something in their mouth and then let’s guilt-trip them a bit more because they’ve skipped Pilates this week. And let’s make sure they spend tons of money trying to make them change their appearance. So I was all happy and smug, thinking because I didn’t diet and couldn’t give two fucks about the amount of calories in my Twix so long as it tasted its usual caramel-y gorgeousness, that I had accepted my body the way it was and learnt to respect it.
I could not have been more wrong. Because when I got pregnant, something clicked and I finally felt free. Well, let’s not completely get carried away here, I felt a certain sense of freedom. Like, I went to the swimming pool and realized I was not tucking my belly in, the way I usually absent mindedly do. I had never really noticed it until I stopped doing it and something felt great. I felt it was ok for me to be curvier because I was pregnant you see. Suddenly, it was like my curves were justified. Normal. It’s like I had, and needed all along, an excuse for my weight and shape. Of course by then, it was really hard to dodge the fact that I had, in fact, not been comfortable with my body before and that I could get off my self-righteous horse and admit I was not the Kryptonite of weight dissatisfaction and obsession. .
Pregnancy liberated me in a way because it is socially acceptable for pregnant women to gain weight. But again, let us not get lured into a sense of unicorn-y acceptance of pregnant women putting on weight: judging by the constant scrutiny pregnant women have to endure, it is only socially acceptable to a certain extent to be gaining weight. If you look bigger than what is fantasized about(meaning the body of Gisele Bundchen with a tiny bump), then you can expect incessant comments on your bump and size, with ‘well-meaning’ people telling you that you should be fine if you exercise after giving birth. Er, who asked you anything? And more importantly, shouldn’t you be concerned by my health rather than by my weight? Reading up pregnancy forum boards, I am amazed at the amount of judgment, self-judgment, scrutinizing of every ounce gained and agonizing the majority of women seem to be doing, while most of the times stating ‘my doctors is not concerned’. Again, doctors seem not to be concerned but women are, because pregnancy magazines show us pregnant women that have nothing to do with what pregnancy really is, because there is a growing pressure on women to look maternal and sexy and to pop that kid out while whipping up a quiche and sending in the last budgeting report. I don’t know why I had expected societal pressure to ease up on women once they sport the visible marks of harboring another life. Ultimately, what’s true for women in general are true for pregnant women: my body isn’t mine, it belongs to whomever controls it. Be it a partner, a religious institution, society as a whole, people jeering it on the streets or my own demons in my head. And it comes as no surprise really that we tend to stress over our bodies the minute they cease to be representations of patriarchal fantasies. Some people manage to let their confident selves control how they view their body: they’re able to celebrate it for the gorgeous miracle it is. Others, like me, need an external trigger to boost their confidence and be able to establish boundaries between one own’s body and the daily attacks it goes through every day.
By doing things more or less on its own, my body has forced me into accepting it the way it is. Being pregnant allowed me to make peace with that body I apparently did not trust enough. And the truth is, I have no choice really. It is going ahead with manufacturing a new life regardless of how I feel about the changes it’s operating. At the moment I’m trying to tell it to stop making me crave pizza and shrimp dunplings all the time, and to stop enlarging my breasts because, thanks, they’re big enough as they are, but so far it’s refusing to return my calls.
So I just let it be. And when I look at those pictures, I think: damn, I looked good.
And when I look in the mirror now, I think, damn, I’m powerful. I can create a life, AND go to work, AND write and cook and see my friends and do all the things I enjoy while at the same time having a little bean growing and doing its thing and just asking me to sleep and eat a lot more.
And I also think I look good. A different kind of beauty, a beauty that has a lot more to do with real acceptance of myself and less to do with beauty ideals we are being sold.
My only regret is that I couldn’t reach this level of peace with my own body without the intervention of pregnancy. But I’m writing this post to remind myself for after I gave birth: pregnancy or not, our bodies are powerful. And beautiful.
If we just learn to let them get on with their job.