|Taken at a pretty low point in my body image. I can see the puffiness in my eyes.|
How I came to hate my bodyAs a teenager and young adult, I struggled with my body image just like every other woman I know. I was never thin enough. Muscular enough. Curvy enough. Straight-haired enough. Symmetrical enough. My legs were too short (I wore heels every day).
I was ok with my body (though not my face or hair) until I got sick at sixteen. I was always thin... Then I put on a lot of weight (it turned out to be water) in a really short period of time. As if my suddenly-changing body (and rapidly-appearing stretchmarks) weren't enough to make me physically uncomfortable in my own body, comments were made. I can, to a point, forgive the comments because we didn't know I was sick. But to this day my immediate reaction to changes in people's weight (whether they are gaining or losing) is to make sure all is well with them.
That period of my life did a pretty major number on my body image, though. I was so uncomfortable. Not only were my clothes tight, but my face wasn't just "fat" - it was puffy. I would wake up some mornings with my eyes swollen shut. On those days, I often struggled to hide my face. And there were the "ew! gross!" responses to seeing the pitting edema in my legs and ankles. I could leave craters in my legs with a press of my fingers. It was a bit of a crazy party trick to show my friends, but it wasn't something I wanted people to see randomly.
The low sodium diet I was put on led to some obsessing about food, though that was partly because staying on the diet in a dining hall setting (I was at boarding school) was incredibly stressful.
Eventually (and I have very rarely talked openly about this) the stress of my teen years led to what a counselor later called "passive bulimia." I never made myself throw up, but I would throw up after almost every meal. I didn't necessarily want to - I really didn't do anything to make it happen - but I did feel a bit of relief when I threw up after not being sure I'd stuck successfully to the sodium limits, or feeling particularly puffy and unattractive. The low-sodium diet was, at the time, mostly to keep the swelling to a minimum (now it is also to control my blood pressure, which in turn protects my kidneys).
How I came to love my bodySometime around my freshman year of college, the puffiness subsided. (The puffiness is technically called nephrotic syndrome and it is not uncommon for it to disappear after a number of years, even though the disease that caused it is not in remission.) I found the time to exercise regularly, and I started to like what I saw in the mirror. I didn't consider myself "attractive," but at least I felt somewhat at home in my body again and liked the way clothes looked on me.
Always under all this was that there is literally something wrong with my body. Part of me does not work quite right. It's so hard to put in to words the love/hate relationship that has sometimes held for me. I have had to conceptualize my kidneys - my body - as "quirky" just like I am.
I never struggled much with the weight gain of pregnancy. (If you're curious, I gained 40lbs with Bean and 43lbs with A-Train.) Frankly, I was so terrified during much of Bean's pregnancy that I was obsessing more over the numbers on my blood pressure monitor than those on the scale. And I figured I would bounce back from whatever I gained because I had gone into pregnancy more fit than I had ever been before (I was training for a half marathon). I adopted the "9 months on, 9 months off" mentality and was shocked to be back in my pre-pregnancy jeans at about 7 weeks postpartum. I suppose I got lucky on the stretch mark front - the ones I got from pregnancy are in places that are covered by swim suits.
My body changed a lot more after A-Train's birth. My breasts are lower, probably by a couple inches! My butt seems to have joined them for the journey south. My stomach will always have a different look (is it extra/stretched skin? The muscles being less taught? Honestly I'm not sure, but I'm positive it's not something I can change with diet or exercise!). My belly button is permanently disfigured.
And I love my body more than ever. I think I have my mother to thank.
My mom was a single parent of two daughters. It was just us girls in the house. I have lots of memories of watching her get dressed while I talked to/bothered her about something or other, and I remember asking her about bras. I wanted to know how to put them on, how they functioned, etc.), In any case, I have clear recollections of my mother's body after two kids.
I remember she had stretchmarks. I remember that her stomach was not flat. I remember that her breasts hung down and looked weighty (I never would have known to use the word "saggy," but that would be the common parliance, I guess!) - they were not the perky globes that I was graced with as a twenty-something. I'm about the same bust size as she was, and I used to look at my body and not know where the heck it had come from. It seemed to be curvier than my sister's - and I think her body type comes from our father's side - but not as soft and curvy as my mother's.
After A-Train was born and I had lost much of the weight (it took much longer the second time around), I got out of the shower one day and my body looked shockingly familiar. It brought back a flood of good memories.
I have two kids. My breasts hang and look weighty - some might say saggy (to whom I say "bite me"). I don't have the stretchmarks on my belly, but my maimed belly button is a pretty good substitute. I'm softer and curvier than I once was.
My mother was beautiful and I always wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Well, now I've birthed and nourished two beautiful, perfect babies. Just like Mom.
So I love my body. I love the marks of motherhood, and the connection to my mother. There was a time I was not sure I would ever get to experience pregnancy, and there was a time when the experience of pregnancy was one of terror. But my body, complete with quirky kidneys and now-maimed belly button, gave me these two great joys. Its softening and changing has given me another connection to my mother. It feels good when I run. It feels good when I snuggle those I love. The only thing I ask of my body now is that it continues to cooperate as I finish that life list. I want to meet my grandchildren!