I’m one of the lucky ones. For most of my existence, I’ve been tall and thin. Standing at 5’9″ (or, 175 centimetres) and sporting an approximate size 6, whether I was following a strict physical regimen or chowing down on bacon cheeseburgers, I’ve not been exposed to body shaming. It has felt like winning the physique lottery, especially in a world that shames women, and men, with a body type that isn’t impossibly perfect.
Over the past few months, my body has changed. Pregnancy does that, obviously. I’ve ballooned in weight, and the number on the scale is daunting, to say the least. To date, I’ve gained ~27 pounds, which doesn’t phase my obstetrician. The average weight gain, during pregnancy is between 25 lbs and 40 lbs, and because of my height, I expect to end this journey towards the higher end of the range, not because I have had an unhealthy pregnancy, but because taller humans tend to weigh more than shorter humans. All my other vitals are in perfect order, and while I have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, I’ve been able to avoid gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.
Visible changes aside, my energy levels have plummeted, especially in the last few weeks, when I entered the third trimester of pregnancy. Do you remember that goal I made – to exercise three days per week? It’s been flushed down the toilet, unfortunately. As my tummy has grown, I’ve become uncomfortable in every position, and insomnia means that I’m exhausted during the day. Going the gym is WAY down on my priority list, next to knitting a sweater and archaeological discoveries. My overall strength has decreased, and there is a visible depletion in muscle mass – no more spectacular squat booty and, if I could do a set of bicep burls with 10-lb dumbbells, I’d be proud of myself. I’m at peace with this – my body knows what it’s doing, and it’s telling me to rest.
This has drastically changed my perspective on body shaming. I used to think that many women were being oversensitive – if someone shamed your body, fuck ’em. Sounds easy, right? It’s about your own self-esteem, and you control your response to assholes. Sometimes, the comments aren’t malicious, on the surface and, for the first time, I felt shame over the changes I was experiencing. When a coworker said, “Wow, your tummy is larger than it should be,” or when an acquaintance said, “Oh, you look larger than most women at twenty weeks,” I politely smiled and felt a pit in my stomach. When another coworker proclaimed that pregnancy and childbirth ruined her sister’s body, I wondered if my body was ruined, if I would ever regain my strength and find solace and comfort in this miraculous work of nature (listen, our bodies are fuckin’ miracles and more intricate than we could ever imagine). Instead of thinking, “I’m growing a human, and I should be proud of my body’s ability,” I started to think, “Oh my gawd, everyone thinks I’m fat and ugly.”
For a short while, this extended to the belief that my physical appearance didn’t matter. Make-up? I was a troll, so it wouldn’t make a difference. Hair? Won’t make difference. Clothing? Oh, like anyone is going to notice the effort, because pregnant. (we can chat about the abhorrent prices of maternity clothing another time) It affected my mood, and I started panicking about my postpartum fitness program. I had to heal quickly and start lifting weights and squatting and going to spin classes and swimming, because postpartum bodies are even more horrible than that “pregnancy glow.” Everyone will think I’m a fuckin’ monster, if I’m not pumping iron seventeen times per week to lose all this baby weight!
Then, I started reading mommy blogs that repeated that our bodies took ten months to gain weight to support our babies, that nothing changes overnight. I realized that, for those first few weeks, my priority should be nurturing and caring for this teensy human I had helped to create – the gym would still be there, and they would still take my membership dues. The squat rack would be waiting, whenever I was ready. The dumbbells and barbells and spin bikes weren’t going to judge me, so why should I judge myself? I started to look forward to my postpartum body – how would it change and would I embrace it with the same fervour as the bloggers I had followed? After all, stretch marks were warrior stripes – evidence that I had created life, not evidence that I had “let myself go.”
And, during that time, I have embraced the notion that body shaming is real, that’s it’s insidious and soul-crushing. I have embraced the beautifully complicated nature of human physiology, even though I hardly understand the details. Every body is beautiful, and every body is a work of art – a reflection of experience, memories, laughter, sadness, kale salads, milkshakes, and desperate attempts to forge relationships with a treadmill. Someone’s exterior doesn’t determine their value – my personality didn’t change, my insatiable love of science didn’t disappear, and my sense of humour didn’t fade with my old physique.
As I’ve made these transitions, both physically and emotionally, I vow to stand with my sisters and fight against body shaming, against society’s bullshit expectations of beauty, against orthorexia and outrageously unsustainable exercise plans, and against the lunacy that physicality determines any kind of value.