On Getting Rounder and Body Image

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

Basically all that is wrong with how the media and society see pregnant women.

Basically all that is wrong with how the media and society see pregnant women.

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.

Look in the Mirror, Tell Me What You See

Ahem, have you gained weight? Is a question I’ve been hearing more than I care to mention since I’ve been back to Lebanon. Mind you, it’s the kind of question I hear EVERY time I come back to Lebanon, so much so that if it were actually true, if I HAD gained aforementioned weight, I wouldn’t be able to go through doors now. And last time I checked, I was well able to. Talking about weight is at the same time commonplace and taboo. I mean, look at the amount of ink and saliva spent on talking and writing about diets and whatnots, yet people give each other sideways glances to assess weights, gains or losses of it, and think twice before making any comments (that is, if they have an ounce of good manners, which sadly is becoming less of a norm lately).

Usually, when such comments are directed my way, I obsess for two days (I’m an elephant and I’m never, ever getting nowhere near chocolate again. Ever) then I happily bite my manoukche back. But not this year. This year, comments made me wonder about neurosis related to weight, body image hysteria, and the obsession of bodies so slim you’d mistake them for visa cards. You see, the fact is, I have actually lost weight, about 4 kilos of it (clearly people whining about kilos haven’t experience the “let’s organize a wedding with a Lebanese mother” diet) and while I have to admit I was happy with the news (yes, even I fall pray to the feeling of happiness whenever I lose weight, although I know it’s a constructed feeling, not a genuine one, it was given to me by the media and by the Lebanese mentality that a woman has to be slim, something I try to fight, but clearly, haven’t been able to cancel altogether as of yet), I’m being very, VERY, careful not to lose any more of it, because one I do like my curves,  two, whenever I lose too much weight my spasmophilia goes haywire and no thank you, it’s bad enough as it is and three, I love food. I do, and I live in Lebanon, land of the delicious food, and Kate Moss can pout and tell me that nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels, I’m thinking, fuck that, clearly the woman has never tasted hot Knefeh in the morning.

The fact that these comments emanated from two über slim girls was not lost on me, and I started wondering if they considered themselves too slim, normal, or fat, and how distorted was their vision of their own body. I don’t think we ever see ourselves as we truly are: I have a friend who’s constantly on a diet, yet she’s one of the most beautiful girl I know and has a fine, healthy figure, while another one shocked me by telling me she was fat. I mean, you could fax the waist of this girl, and here she was, trying to convince me that she was, indeed, overweight.

I know everyone blames the media and people get tired of it, but the media IS to blame, so until they make an active step towards change, we’ll continue bashing them. However, I do think it would be wrong to think of the media as a separate entity hovering over women’s heads, dictating them what to do, what to eat, what to wear. We’re not victims, and difficult as it might be to disentangle ourselves from their messages, it’s an effort that is both worth it and needs to be done in order to reshape the media to a size that fits (yes, pun intended). Media productions are nothing but a reflection of the society they belong to: once society changes the way it thinks, the media, in order to sell, will simply have to follow. Especially if there is a boycott involved: perhaps one day the disappointing sales will prevail over the astronomical amounts paid by brands for advertising, and magazines will review their policies. The economic components and stakes of weight loss are huge: by showcasing unattainable standards of beauty (Perfect super big boobs, tiny waist, never ending legs) the media urges you to buy that cream that’ll make your cellulite go away, which you will do, because that’s the look you’re supposed to have Dahling if you want the perfect job, perfect man, perfect life. Lose 5 kilos and your life will be perfect, perfect, perfect. What no one tells you, however, is that you’ll feel hungry all the time, hence miserable and irritated, and that you’ll spend too much money on useless creams (I’ll say it once and for all: They.Don’t.Work). So let’s summarize: you’ll be grumpy, hungry and broke. Clearly, the recipe for happiness. Not to mention the constant guilt that will accompany each bite you’ll allow yourself to swallow: since when did food stop being enjoyable and NECESSARY TO THE MERE FUNCTIONING of your body to become this evil thing that is to be feared and loathed and agonized over?

In the Middle East, not only the pressure is to have a certain body shape, but cultural imperialism and integrated imperialism by local populations mean that dark skin, frizzy hair and every type of nose that is not tiny, straight and slightly going up are deemed unaesthetic and should be corrected with the help of creams (Fair and Fucking Lovely, I ask you, who wants to be stared at by some creep in a library?), serums and doctors (Come, said unethical doctor, let me make you look like everyone else (that’s if you’re lucky, otherwise you’ll just end up looking like late Michael Jackson)).

 The thing with resistance, is that it works. Madrid has cancelled too thin models from its fashion week in 2006 and some magazines and brands have showcased non photoshoped and regular women. These trends, while despised by the cosmetic and fashion industries, are welcomed by the public, and are to be encouraged.

Until the media changes, maybe it’s time to make our own internal revolutions. So here’s the first five points of the manifesto:

         People come in all shapes and sizes: trying to look like someone you’re not is a mere waste of time that could be used for something else. Like living your life, for example.

         Food is necessary. Unless you have a special condition, bread won’t kill you. Not eating will, however.

         You were born with a specific set of genes and bones, and modifying them is like getting Katie Holmes to smile. Go on, try.

         Health is vital. Cosmetic surgery isn’t. Heard about breast implants preventing doctors to detect early tumors, post surgical complications, teeth being removed from your gums because of the vomiting, iron and vitamin and magnesium deficiencies?

         Last but not least: you’re precious. Take care of yourself, eat tasty, healthy food, go for a relaxing massage, do absolutely whatever you feel like, as long as you’re the one feeling like it and not your ugly, guilty, influenced-by-media-and-mentalities (or mother) conscience whispering that you’re dissatisfied with your life because of measurements. Honestly.