I went to Texas in August, at the beginning of my pregnancy. I hiked miles a day through Big Bend and the Chisos mountains. One day, I carried a backpack filled with thirty pounds of overnight gear up onto the South Rim—a hike deemed strenuous by any standards, let alone when done at 11.5 weeks pregnant. At the top, I asked my friend to snap a picture of me and my belly; I felt great accomplishment and pride for myself. When I looked at the photo, I saw only fat arms, a chubby face, enormous breasts and a belly looking far more swollen than I thought it should for only a couple of months of pregnancy. My pride diminished. I felt defeated. How had I forgotten so easily that my legs had just carried this pregnant, tired body up such a long, arduous hike, 7500 feet into the thinner mountain air? Where had this self-loathing come from? Why?
As women, we are taught from a young age that we have to look and act a certain way. Whether this is taught to us by our own mother's lack of self-acceptance or through peers, through the inundation of commercials and products promising an unattainable set of beauty standards, or through our patriarchal, unforgiving society, it doesn't fully matter; the bottom line is, we learn it.
We are supposed to be beautiful, but not too beautiful. Smart, but not too smart. And oh, we are to be thin. Thin above all else.
What then, does this mean for our bodies in pregnancy? How then, are we approaching this dramatic, life-altering transition? Is it with health, trust, love? Or, perhaps more accurately, are we approaching pregnancy with the same messed up standards imposed upon us, pre-pregnancy: thin, with just the right amount of bump? Viewing body changes as a natural consequence of what bodies do during a healthy pregnancy, is essential to accepting the body that comes—seemingly without our permission or by any “fault” of our own. We need to find understanding and compassion for ourselves during this transition. We need to look at pregnancy as a time of healing and acceptance of ourselves...in whatever shape we take.
My initial feelings towards this photo angered me. I left those Chisos mountains vowing to get to the bottom of where this was coming from. Pregnancy has proven to be a time of deep self-reflection: clearly, self-love is much more of a journey than I had ever known. I want to change how I feel before my children learn this behavior from me.
My mother is a beautiful, incredible woman. People have always said this and I’ve always agreed. I still do. But when anyone compliments her in some way, she scoffs and says something negative about herself—this has always bothered me. I hated the way she would say negative things about her stomach, rubbing her soft belly in shame, a belly that I loved to lay my head against, a belly that I loved simply because it belonged to her.
As an adult, I can recognize that she is a woman with body image issues that were never healed, but as a child, it made me think of my own stomach and developing body. Was my stomach flat? What should my stomach look like? Hearing my own mother's negative self-talk certainly shaped the way I thought about my own body; so I am determined to heal my image of myself before this baby comes. We are, as young girls, inundated with images of what we should grow up to look like, and having a mother that viewed herself as failing to belong to whatever strange beauty standard imposed upon her, made me aware that I didn't fit it either.
I don't know what I am having, a boy or a girl, but it doesn't matter to me, because I think it's equally as important to teach a son self-love and respect as it is to teach a daughter. The conversations might look different, and there might be difficult obstacles to overcome for girls that are not always imposed upon little boys, but I think it's equally important.
This isn't just about accepting your body. It's about how you treat yourself, how you view yourself. Because how you treat yourself—how you love yourself—is a precursor to how you love others. I find it greatly important to teach self-acceptance from the start. I want my child to be a kind, compassionate and empathetic addition to the Earth, and if they grow up feeling inadequate, self-loathing, and full of hatred toward themselves, will that be truly possible? It is with greater self-acceptance that I have learned to more fully accept others—with understanding of myself, I have gained a deeper understanding of others.
So. That moment I had with myself on that hike. What was at work there? I'm not thin. I am strong though, and I'm sturdy, capable. I've grown to accept my large breasts, despite the comments and inappropriate touching that has happened because of their size. My friends only spoke positive, encouraging words to me on this hike; in fact, we all spoke positive, encouraging words to each other because we felt strong the entire time we were doing this. A bit bad-ass, actually. So why was I standing up there, loathing my body? Was it really because I wasn't a skinny, perfectly-sized little bump, pregnant woman?
Here I was again, feeling those same old feelings. But now, instead of sitting with these thoughts and spiraling down with them, I think instead about where they are coming from—this underlying feeling and belief that I don't fit, nor ever will fit, society's standard of what it means to be beautiful.
I've come to this conclusion: I want to take this pregnancy as a time of evaluation and shifting in how I think of my body. I want to accept myself, at this point, right now. I want to shift this attitude I have that I thought was eradicated but so clearly was just lying dormant, and I want to embrace this pregnancy as being the positive and magical process that it is. I want to feel really good about myself. I want to print the photo of me on the South Rim and put it on a frame in my child's room. You were there with me, I'll say. Maybe I don't want to forget how I picked apart my body, but I do want to forgive myself for how cruel I was. And I want to remember how it felt, because I want it to shape how I talk about myself internally and externally for the sake of not only myself, but for my child's own journey of acceptance.