This is me, nine and half months post-partum:
I’m okay with how I look. Sort of. I think. Some days are better than others. Some days, I look down at the plush landscape of my body – the belly with its rippled hillocks, the mountainous breasts under snowy swaths of cotton – and I think, well, it’s a mother’s body. It’s a new mother’s body. It’s the body of a nursing mother, a mother who is run ragged by a preschooler and has no time or energy for focused exercise, a mother who has learned the hard and disappointing way that preschooler-wrangling and baby-hoisting do not, contrary to expectation, tone the muscles. It’s the body of a mother who is in her thirties, and who does not have personal trainers or dietitians on call. It’s not the body of Gwyneth Paltrow, dammit. Wanna make something of it?
Some days, I am accepting of my body; some days, I get defensive. Some days, the line between forgiving myself for not having the body that I had four years ago and berating myself for same gets blurred beyond recognition, for the simple reason that the very idea of needing to ask forgiveness of myself for something that is in no wise a wrongdoing confounds any effort on my part to accept myself, my body, as good. (The very idea is toxic, is it not? That I have transgressed myself for allowing my body to become matronly, for having put my energies into nourishing my baby and raising my little girl instead of shredding my body back to pre-maternal form? That I need to forgive myself for something that I should celebrate, something for which I – I believe this, I do – deserve praise?) I need to move past this idea that the reality of my body is something that I need to explain/justify/forgive. I need to allow myself to just be the physical being that I am – lumpy, imperfect. And to do that I need, maybe, to find ways of thinking and speaking (and writing) about myself that are a little less accusatory (lumpy, imperfect) and a little more celebratory (soft, strong, life-giving, perfectly suited to nourishing babies and cradling children.)
(I have a nearly perfect sense-memory, from childhood, of my own mother’s body: the soft curve of flesh on her back, between her breast and her shoulder blade, just under her upper arm, where my hand would rest when I snuggled against her, and the plush pillow of her belly, where I would sometimes rest my head, and the sweet-smelling skin – part Diorissimo, part flour-and-sugar, part soap – at the back of her neck, where I would bury my face to sob over some childish disaster or another, or to rest, or just to feel at peace. It was always soft and fragrant and reassuring – there were no hard edges, no unyielding surfaces – and it enveloped me and comforted me. It still does, when I think of it, of her. I want my children to remember me this way – as a space/place/body of comfort and safety and love.)
And yet… I do want this body, my body, to be my own. I want to return, in some significant way, to the relationship that I had with my body when it was all mine, when I regarded it selfishly and proudly, when I vainly primped it and polished it and when I casually disregarded it and – yes, sometimes – misused and abused it. (The days of subjecting it to diet Coke and cigarettes and all-night clubbing and all the petty and not-so-petty abuses that all-night clubbing entails are long behind me – thank god – but I do long, sometimes, to not pass on that third glass of wine, to not put my body’s status as a life-giving, child-nurturing organism first in any consideration of whether to drink more or stay up later or have that fourth espresso.)
So here I am, stuck between wanting to love my body as it is, and wanting to change it, and it’s so tempting to throw my hands in the air and wander off in search of another cupcake, or, alternatively, to berate myself for wanting the cupcake and then to drop to the floor and do two or three sit-ups before deciding that it’s not worth the effort and getting up and looking for that cupcake anyway, after which I will just feel alternately guilty and self-satisfied. And this is the problem, right? That however much I love my body the way that it is, there’s still that part of me that wants to love it more. Rightly or wrongly, I want more from my body – not for my children, not for my husband, not for my shred-happy friends (who I enthusiastically support, by the way) – but for me. Just for me.
Which, translated into a course of action, means this: a cupcake, some coffee and some gentle Sun Salutations. And then, maybe, when it gets warmer, a run around the block, or a bike-ride with my girl. And if I ever get around to shredding, great, but if not? I’ll just enjoy the fact that my belly is soft, comforting place on which tired little heads can rest. I’ll just celebrate being strong and soft. And then I’ll have another cupcake.