body image. noun. "the subjective picture or mental image of one's own body." body shaming. noun. "shaming someone for their body type." (she hasn't lost her baby weight yet? she looks terrible!) or (did you SEE that girl?! she's too skinny!")
I have always been "the small girl." I reached my maximum height when I was in the fifth grade and from high school on, my weight remained a consistent 110#. Once I got to college and was no longer playing sports, fitness rarely crossed my mind. I continued however, to wear most of the same clothes that I wore in high school and I was beginning to come to terms with the fact that 'flat' was just my body type. I wasn't ever graced with good curves and many times I have been referred to as a 'rolling pin.' As I've gotten older, I've even had others refer to my 'chicken legs.' Society admits calling a woman 'thunder thighs' or 'chunky' is unacceptable. When is society then going to catch on to the same offense caused bylabels such as 'twig' and 'surf board?'
I met my husband when I was nineteen and we were married by twenty. My still-young body remained the same. Three years down the road, I happily got pregnant with our first baby, our son. When I read pregnant on the digital pregnancy test, I couldn't have been more thrilled. We had tried for several months and I was so ecstatic to rock a pregnant bod. I couldn't wait for the baby bump, and when it began to grow, my excitement never faltered.
He was eight pounds two ounces and I was so happy to have a healthy baby boy. Having no idea what a legit post-baby bod would look like, I was a bit traumatized that I had a miniature basketball belly still there, even after he came out. But I watched that little ball shrink more, and more, and more, day after day and within two weeks, it was completely gone. My belly flattened, and went back to almost 100% normal. My core was weak and I knew it would take some exercise to get those muscles back to my normal, but I was still thrilled. Pregnancy felt great and here I was, with a brand new baby, not feeling too shabby.
And then it happened. My hair began to fall out in clumps. Not the normal shedding while shampooing or brushing after a shower, but my hair, in piles. "This is normal after a baby!" everyone told me. Then my heart rate sped into high gear. It felt like my chest would burst at times from its' speed. I started to get sad, a lot. I cried over really silly things, like my son growing bigger. I worried over the most trivial nonsense. I walked down the hall at my school and my co-workers began to ask, "Are you sure you're eating enough?" I could hear the uncertainty in their voices; the caution and worry. "You're breastfeeding though, right? So it's normal to lose weight quickly for some women!" they would say. My pants began to fall off of me; my regular pre-maternity pants that I've worn forever. I stepped on a scale. 105#.
I yelled for my husband to come in and look at the number. "Well, you are nursing," he said. "I've heard it's normal for some women to lose weight quicker while nursing." I stepped on the scale the next afternoon, 104#. And the next, 103#. "Are you sure you're eating enough?!" he gently checked as he too, was starting to worry. We began to track my calories, and I indulged myself in huge amounts of Nutella, carbs and cheese. "If I get below 100# I have to see a doctor," I told him. I was worried, I honest to God felt like I was wasting away, I felt judged and like all eyes were on me, but there was nothing I could do about it. Rumors spread at work that I was anorexic; co-workers monitored my lunch eating habits. I started to hear comments about how 'sickly' I looked and how I needed to put on weight. Several days later the scale read 97#. I immediately went to see my doctor and after doing a heart test and going through all of my symptoms, she nonchalantly said, "You have hyperthyroid! It's no big deal. I'll get you referred to a specialist and you'll be perfectly fine." I was able to breathe a little bit better, knowing that I at least had a diagnosis, one that didn't sound too scary. On to the specialist I went.
Worse news there: she called it Postpartum Thyroiditis and said because it 'was temporary,' there was absolutely nothing she could do except prescribe a pill to regulate my heart rate. My body continued to work on overload and I had gone from a healthy pregnancy weight to a mere 97# within five months. My milk supply dried up because my body was in a starvation mode. Go figure, just a couple months after being diagnosed with Thyroiditis, did I learned that I was pregnant with our daughter. No period, no indication of a period; I had been nursing as often as I could, though I clearly wasn't producing much, and I was on a birth control pill safe for breastfeeding moms (that was obviously pointless and didn't work since I didn't have much milk).
Before my pregnancy with my daughter, my stomach was flat, there wasn't a single stretch mark and even my belly button that once held a ring (sixteen year old me was awesome, duh), was normal. And then the weeks turned to months, the lines appeared on my midsection and my body had a much harder time handling being pregnant. My legs felt like heavy cement slabs, my back throbbed 24/7 and I began to worry how I would feel after her birth. Three days before her due date, she arrived, another eight pound two ounce, healthy baby. And while I had the hardest time initially accepting my pregnancy with her, it felt like she had always been here. I held her in my arms, she latched on to my breast and she was soon sound asleep after nursing like a champ.
Postpartum Thyroiditis hit again, two for two. Luckily I never dropped under 100 and for two years actually, I've maintained the same exact weight. Except it's different. I may be the skinniest I have ever been but I have to admit that when I look in the mirror, I do it so quickly that I dodge certain parts of my stomach. That stomach- the one that carried two strong, healthy, gorgeous babies. The stomach that kept them safe, that was their home, for nine sweet, but difficult months. I never rocked that six-pack and I've always worn a small pants size, but until two years ago, I never had loose skin that drooped when taking off my socks, or pulling up a pair of jeans. There's a part of me who sees that skin and is reminded of the beauty that is my daughter. How I was terrified to have a second child so soon, how I was bitter to give up my body when I had forgotten what it felt like to be mine; but how I also have witnessed grace with her completing our family. Then there is also the other part of me-- the human part-the woman part. My husband could care less about the skin on my stomach. He would tell you he doesn't even see it. And maybe he doesn't. But I do. And the fact of the matter is that this is me.
This is the woman underneath the size 0 pants. The one who is told she has bird legs. The woman who is referred to as "a skinny little thing." Prior to babies, I guess I just had good genes (look at my Mama). Then Postpartum Thyroiditis caused me two years of an emotional roller coaster. And back-to-back pregnancies caused me saggy skin; skin that is difficult for me to wear. As I write, I am wondering when it became okay for others to body shame each other. If a woman is too heavy she is called 'fat,' and if you're in between, maybe you've been called, 'average' and if you're skinny, people tell you "eat a sandwich." No matter what size you are, how your skin looks or doesn't look, isn't this you? And shouldn't we put our arms around the women in our lives and tell them that they are freaking rock stars, child bearing or not?
If you think the answer is the number on a scale, I am telling you it is not. If you think it is in a pant size, well I've found no comfort there. If you are wondering if a skinny girl appearance on the outside has helped me sleep better at night, that's a no. But my so-called 'flat' hips have still served my children well. They have bounced them during long nights; they have been home to their tiny legs wrapped around me. When there's a "hold you" or "up, up, up" request, my 'skinny' arms don't complain. I have a hard time seeing myself without a shirt, I have to tuck in my pooch when I sit down and while I am blessed to be Mom, there is freedom in admitting that I am learning to love her. I don't strive for perfection; I could care less about a number. I want to be healthy and happy, I want my daughter especially to see a strong woman who is comfortable in her skin; a mother who can be open and honest about the trials that have existed on this journey of bringing her children earth side. And I want to be a woman who loves you no matter how you look. While I myself struggle to accept it, we are given these bodies one time. Of course they are going to change as we age; they will tighten and droop and re-tighten. And the bodies we had two years ago won't be the bodies we have tomorrow. We will all strive for different things, but can't we all work our asses off for one thing: to avoid the universally accepted process of body shaming and instead challenge our hearts to seek good in each other?