One morning not too long ago, I was rushing to get ready for the day, juggling an affectionate cat in one arm and a pile of dirty laundry in the other. I had places to go, people to see, and more than a few things on my mind. But as I rushed past the bathroom’s full-length mirror, I suddenly dropped cat, laundry, and to-do list for the amount of time it would take me to fully critique myself in the reflective glass.
This outfit makes me look fat.
Instantly I felt ashamed; because I’m pregnant and my belly is supposed to be swelling. Any additional weight I may be carrying is thanks to the first trimester nauseousness that forced me to eat nothing but carbs. (…and due to the second trimester cravings which consist only of… carbs). The girl looking back at me might not be slender, but she was healthy and growing a miracle inside of her.
What type of mother-to-be struggles with her body image while growing her beautiful baby, especially when not everyone can experience this?
Sadly, more than you might think.
I’m extremely fortunate to be married to a man who not only tells me that I look beautiful with the extra curves; but who actually shows me – with his eyes and body language – that he is attracted to my changing body. And honestly, even without that, the body image concerns started to melt away the first time I felt my baby kick. That moment does something to a woman that I can’t explain. Because suddenly, the stretching of skin and extra weight isn’t something to be despised.
It’s the sign of a miracle. And it’s exquisite.
But I’m not going to say that just because it’s a beautiful thing, I don’t sometimes struggle with the fact that the top button of my favorite jeans can no longer snap shut. In the safety of my home, I do feel beautiful, healthy, and strong. But it’s summer; and I often venture out into the world of bikini-body magazine covers and blockbuster-movie babes. I find myself staring at images of impossibly toned, beautiful women; and I sometimes struggle with the fact that I am moving in a completely opposite direction.
There are also times that I have to fight the urge to cover my husband’s eyes in immediate panic.
What if he sees that and wants me to be that, when I can’t?
I had thought that being pregnant would make any insecurities in my body disappear. But it doesn’t work like that. And upon talking to some close friends who are either pregnant or who have been pregnant, they too went through a stage of insecurity… followed by the same guilt that I had experienced. I suppose that, at the end of the day, we are still human.
I read an article the other day that called for the government to censor air-brushed images used in magazines, television commercials, and even store-fronts. These models, depictions of a false reality that no female could ever hope to reach, are nothing more than false-advertising. And customers, right down to little girls, are being negatively affected. (It’s an obvious fact that women in general, not only pregnant ones, often struggle with their appearance when surrounded so often by images of ultra-skinny models and actresses).
Let’s face it, if most of us were asked whether or not we needed to lose weight, we would say ‘yes’. But if asked for a reason and we were to answer honestly, we would admit that our wanting to lose weight had very little to do with health or a more active lifestyle, and a whole lot more to do with how we think we should look.
And tragically, this way of thinking starts at a very early age.
Have you watched the Disney channel lately? The teenage actresses are getting skinnier and skinnier, some of them dancing dangerously close to what looks like the beginning stages of an eating disorder. And our children are watching this on a daily basis, wanting to mimic what they see and subconsciously beginning a lifetime of body-image struggles at a very young age.
A part of me wanted to throw both my hands up in immediate support of government censorship, but I do hesitate when it comes to any kind of censorship on my free speech. I value the freedom I have to write down what I think and feel. Being a blogger, for example, would be a radically different experience in a country whose government regulated what was allowed to be said or depicted in photographs.
At the end of the day, it really does come down to us… the consumer. And sadly, the skinnier that models get, the more magazines are sold. The vicious cycle of fad-diets and power-foods continue as women (and even men) struggle to obtain that impossible body, instead of being happy with the healthy version of themselves.
And that cycle of surrounding ourselves with society’s version of beauty only strengthens and begins to shape our reaction to the reflection in the mirror. The more we’re inundated, the more ashamed we feel of our appearance.
Being pregnant most definitely does not change that struggle or cycle. Trust me on that. But for me, it did make me more aware of how ridiculous it is to give into it. In total, I have only nine months to enjoy being pregnant with my baby boy, and I won’t let the culture’s depiction of beauty steal the joy that should come with that!! I won’t compare my bump to skinner, pregnant women who better depict what this society deems beautiful, even if they appear on every preggo magazine, advertisement, and even some mommy blogs.
I will be happy with being healthy and strong!
Honestly, I wish I could hug all of the true-to-life bloggers out there who post honest pictures of themselves on a daily basis. Who put the real, beautiful versions of themselves out there every day for the world to see, not caring that they don’t have a team of makeup artists, hair stylists, and air-brush experts working on their image. Who show us that you don’t need to be a certain size, shape, shade, or height in order to be gorgeous.
To you bloggers out there (and to you amazing readers who also share some of your own experiences with me), ‘thank you’. ‘Thank you’ for being real amidst a culture that doesn’t embrace it. (Because let’s face it, there are blogs out there who put forth a perfect image that the rest of us can never hope to obtain. And at the end of the day, it’s just another reason for us to feel that we’re not good enough or pretty enough). But to the real-life bloggers, you inspire me every day to embrace what really matters, and you motivate me to focus on what is genuine and to ignore what isn’t. You remind me that sometimes life isn’t easy. That sometimes zits happen, that it’s hard to find work-out motivation most days, that preggo bellies shouldn’t be hidden or measured with disdain, that sometimes – most times – a girl does want chocolate over kale, and that each-and-every day is still worth smiling about.
We’re all on a journey, but we’re beautiful here and now.
True beauty is unique. It’s curvy, but sometimes straight as a board. It’s freckled, and frizzy, and toothy-grinned, and sparkly eyed. It’s real.
Who knows, maybe someday, if enough people stand up in protest, advertisers and magazines will make YOU the new face of their products. And oh, what a beautiful day THAT will be. :)
Until then, I challenge you to look in the mirror today and to see real beauty. I’m not asking you to find one feature you like about yourself. Too often we’re told to do that. We’re told to focus on our eyes, or our lovely nose, or even our hair; as though the rest of us is better off ignored. If the girl (or boy) looking back at you from the mirror is different than everyone else you know, then embrace it. Embrace who you are, right here and now. If there are pounds to be shed for you to feel your strongest and your healthiest, then do your best to become that version of yourself… but don’t wait until tomorrow to release your body-image insecurities. You are gorgeous today.
No one out there can be you. You are unique.
And unique – just the way you do it – is beautiful.