AnyBody (@AnyBodyOrg) recently launched a Twitter campaign asking women to discuss how they feel about their pregnancy and post-pregnancy bodies using #occupyyourbody. It got me thinking about the way my body’s changed and whether I welcome or reject the changes. In the seventh month of my first pregnancy, I don’t know how I’ll feel after the birth but right now I feel:
This is why.
I remember being as young as eight and discussing weight with my best friend. We were arguing about who was thinner. We both thought we were thinner. And it mattered. But it didn’t affect our eating habits until later.
When I was 14 a close friend developed anorexia. This was the first time I’d heard about eating disorders. She’d hide food, skip meals and pick at her sandwich (before throwing most of it in the bin). She began to lose a lot of weight and she stopped coming to school. But I didn’t understand her eating disorder – food was still fuel for me and I enjoyed it.
When I was 16, I became very aware of my body. I took ballet quite seriously, dancing at least three evenings a week, and I had a healthy attitude towards food – so was never overweight – but suddenly the magazines we were reading were telling us that we should be dieting. So a friend and I decided to try the Atkins diet. We made a salad nicoise for lunch (this probably isn’t in-keeping with Atkins but we assumed ‘no carbs’ meant no bread or pasta) and an hour later had chronic diarrhea. We were amazed. This diet’s really working, isn’t it? We said – before realising the eggs in our salad had been out of date and that’s why our lunch was shooting out of our bodies at high speed.
We laughed about our dieting ignorance but I pinpoint that day – or period – as the beginning of my preoccupation with my body. Suddenly my girlfriends and I would ‘feel fat’, ‘need to lose weight’ and a handful of our friends developed serious eating disorders. One friend told me drunkenly that she’d made herself sick because she felt she was surrounded by people thinner than herself.
None of us were fat. None of us needed to lose weight. But the media (and I really do feel our body insecurity was fuelled by the media) kept telling us that we were – and we couldn’t ignore it.
And so since then I’ve been through periods of eating too much, not enough, the wrong things, of over-exercising, under-excerising and of not simply listening – and being kind – to my body.
At work, especially during the summer, people discuss calories. I’d never had any idea about how many calories were in a salad – or any other meal – until working in an office. The 5:2 diet was trending last year (five days of ‘normal’ eating and then two days of eating only 500 calories) and several colleagues hopped on board. It didn’t result in any weight loss, but it did make them feel irritable, tired, hungry and unable to concentrate.
Dieting doesn’t work. The only way to lose weight and then maintain that lower weight is to eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full and ensure that your diet is balanced. Skip carbs and you’ll binge on meat and other fatty foods. Skip meals and you’ll only make up for it later (probably with sugary food when you CRASH). The most fraught women I know are those on diets, cutting out whole food groups and exercising obsessively. They’re not happy and they’re never satisfied because perfection is unattainable; there is no such thing.
But, like every woman in my life – dieting or not dieting – I equate beauty with thinness. We congratulate each other on losing weight, not gaining it. We feel great when we have no fat rolls and like a failure when we do. UNTIL NOW, that is.
I found out that I was pregnant last September and went for a run in celebration. I was told to carry on exercising as normal, so I did – until the dreaded morning sickness kicked in. And then I stopped completely. I could suddenly only eat very specific food – sometimes an ice lolly, often a baked potato, once a plate of corn-on-the-cob. My body was now in charge – not my mind.
Still keen to move around and get fresh air, I started walking for a couple of miles a day. And then later on I began swimming, which I now do four times a week. But none of this exercise is to flatten my stomach, shift inches off my thighs or tighten my arse. It’s purely to stay active, as this is good for my mind, for birth preparation and for the baby (apparently – who knows).
I have continued to listen to my body and to eat whatever I want, whenever I want it.
My belly is now MASSIVE. I’ve been asked if I’m having twins. But feeling a little baby kick inside me is a constant reminder of the miracle of pregnancy, which is far more amazing to me right now than toned abs.
Pregnancy is about nurturing and nourishing a growing baby – not about being sexy, or thin. And that is liberating. Because ever since teenage-hood those two words have felt so important. I’m now leading a more primal existence where the only things that matter are: sleeping, eating enough, eating healthily, eating what my body craves and staying relatively active. My breasts will soon be for feeding: not to be ogled by men.
There is pressure to look a certain way when pregnant – I’ve been told that throwing up every morning for 26 weeks is great because it will prevent me from putting on too much weight, that I’m lucky to have all my new weight on my belly not elsewhere and there are comments about how ‘glowing’ I am. When I am. Which is hardly ever – as I’m usually red-faced, or blotchy, or spotty, or pale as I’ve been puking for three hours. I’ve ignored the ludicrous comments (like the suggestion that morning sickness is anything but utterly horrific) and paid little heed to the positive ones because all that matters is the baby’s health.
I’m sure I’ll face new body image challenges after the birth, when I’ll be judged on how quickly I do or don’t ‘lose my baby weight’ but right now I’m revelling in this break from giving a shit. And so – in answer to AnyBody – how has pregnancy made me feel about my body? It’s taken me back to those carefree childhood years when body shape didn’t matter and I hope so much that I’ll continue to be amazed, rather than disgusted, by it after the birth.