What Does A Body Good

March 3, 2009

This is me, nine and half months post-partum:

In which I reveal my muffin-top, my inability to properly clean mirrors, and the fact that my personal trainer is a Siamese cat.

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.

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    Miss Grace March 3, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    I think you look darn good. I know that wasn’t, like, the point of the post or whatever, but you do! And women who look good need to be told.

    Assertagirl March 3, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    I am being completely honest when I tell you that the last time we got together I thought to myself, “I hope I can look that great after having a couple of kids.” AGAIN, I should have said it out loud.

    Colleen - Mommy Always Wins March 3, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Oh, you brave woman you!

    I say its the struggle or balance between the two that makes a mother’s body a Mother’s Body. Because as much as we are mothers to our children and love it, there are other sides to ourselves as well – parts of us that are still US – adults, women…

    You look great!

    MLB March 3, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    The question this post raises for me though, is where does the issue of health come in? I’ve got three kids, five and under and also work, as you do. I am trying at least 2-3 times a week to exercise for my health, and really for the benefit of my children. I fall short of the mark sometimes, but I want my kids to see their parents at least trying to have healthy habits. I think women have far too long placed an emphasis on looks rather than health and it shows in our rates of heart disease and cancers. You look great. No question. And I look in certain ways like a mack truck hit me. But my question is not really how do we as women look, but how do we take care of ourselves, and therefore our children. And part of taking care of ourselves means eating the cupcake, but doesn’t it also mean balancing that with fitness?

    Her Bad Mother March 3, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    MLB – hence the yoga (Sun Salutations), light jogging and bike rides ;) But good point, yes.

    Peggy March 3, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    First of all, props to you for the dirty mirror! Love it!

    2nd…nine months pp? You look fab! The shred can only rip you even more! (That’s a good thing!)

    3rd…I cannot bring myself topost me pre-shred pics cuz I look about 4 months pregnant (no) and I’m not even pms’ing! Good for you and good luck!!

    geeklady March 3, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Hey, being muscled isn’t all it’s cut out to be. I’ve lusted after having a pair of sexy knee high boots for years, and am not yet reconciled to the fact that I will never find a pair to fit.

    See, my (well muscled) calves are a full inch bigger in diameter than the largest shafted boots I can find. Sigh. I’d probably look ridiculous anyway.

    Seriously, you look great. At least as good as I do, and I’m not 30 yet. And you definitely weigh less than I did BEFORE I was pregnant.

    WildbillthePirate March 3, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    I may be a Spooty Spoot-head, but I think the Siamese has done a Great job! You might want to lend him/her out ’cause I need that kitty Motivation!

    karen @ peckedbyducks March 3, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    I need a cupcake. And do you think it is the soon to be appearance of spring that is making us all consider (re-consider?) our mommy bods? I just started working full time outside of my home for the first time in over six years and was thinking about my new body in my old work clothes style just last week.


    Anonymous March 3, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    I am also 9.5 post-partum and love that you posted this picture. I carried and 11 pound baby and a lot of extra fluid – trust me, you look beautiful.

    habanerogal March 3, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    mai I haz cupcake pleez? Srsly looks great from my angle plus the mirror smudges act like a soft focus filter LOLZ

    Christine Gram March 3, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    I’m right there with you, but I’m not 9 months post-partum… I’m 5.5 YEARS. I’ve had enough “when are you due” comments and I’m taking charge of my temple again. I love how I look, but with back problems from my ultra weak core muscles and my climbing cholesterol levels, I just can’t loaf anymore.

    Pamela March 3, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    I have a friend who says “As long as your husband wants to get in your pants you shouldn’t care what size they are.”

    Also, have you heard of The Belly Project? http://thebellyproject.wordpress.com/

    Women contribute pictures of their bellies and tell the tale of the number of pregnancies, babies, their belly history. It’s pretty cool.

    Janet March 3, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Funny but, until I stopped nursing, I always felt like I looked great. Nursing made weight fall off of me and I had big boobs. Sure there was accordion skin and stretch marks but I always gave myself a break on that b/c of the old “9 months to grow a baby, 9 months to recover” adage.

    But afterwards when my chest deflated and I realized there was waddle and wiggle and jiggle in every which corner? Oof.

    I’m two years past nursing my 3rd and final baby now and I am rapidly approaching 40. I am trying to focus on healthy and strong. It feels more attainable.

    Mimi March 3, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Hey good lookin’!

    Me too.

    But now I’ve been so sick for so long that all I ask of my body currently is that it rid itself of infections and manage to stay upright, and to make it from one end of the house to the other without fainting or running out of breath. Dream big, that’s me.

    I am, of course, going to the other end of the house for cupcakes. Obvs.

    Sarah March 3, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    I’m 8.5 months post partum and you’ve exquisitly articulated where I am in regards to how I feel about my body. The main struggle for me is between the desire to be healthy, to live a healthful lifestyle and my ability to cave so easily to that instant gratification (as in cupcake, yum). Add that to all the other daily struggles of mother/wife/parent/womanhood and sometimes it’s SO overwhelming.

    Thanks for posting your pic. You look beautiful.

    Gotta go my non sleeper is awake from his 20 minute nap. ARGH!

    Ps. Sorry for spelling errors … ack!

    Kristin DeLoach, Graco March 3, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    This is such a fantastic post and so timely for me. I’m 8 months post partum with my second, and find I’ve been in an ongoing struggle balancing the “where you were, where you are now and where you want to be”. The idealist in me thinks I should be able to have it all – two beautiful girls AND a beautiful, well-toned body. But in actuality, I need to re-define what a beautiful is…beautiful should be about the lives my body created and nurtured; not about the toned legs I yearn for!

    stormrider March 3, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    I loved this post; I am 8.5 months post partum from my firstborn beautiful baby girl. Your post has hit some chords with me.

    I have been going to the gym for the last 2 months, 3 or 4 times a week to try and improve my health, strength and most of all lift my spirits and beat the back pain resulting from totally trashed core muscles. Despite all the benefits I am still not liking the way my body looks, I am not seeing the results I had hoped for. Perhaps I tried too soon (patience was never my strong point).

    We’ve had cold and damp weather these last few days in the UK and my joint and bone pain has returned despite my physical efforts and my spirits have crashed; I’ve also been prescribed some anti-depressants and I’m very conflicted about this. I’m sort of pissed because I was all about self-responsibility and being proactive…

    BTW; you look awesome and …sassy!!

    Karen Sugarpants March 3, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    I’m 4.5 YEARS post partum and you look much much better than I do. Good luck with the shreddage. I think I’m the first one out of the running since I wrenched my back. Waiting for chiropractor to return from somewhere sunny. :)
    Strong and soft rocks!

    Norm March 3, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Looks like a gorgeous woman to me. And exercise, in general, boosts your emotional well-being well before it starts affecting your shape. Good reason to do it in any case.

    Minnie March 3, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    I think you look amazingly beautiful.

    Karen MEG March 3, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    I’m eating a cupcake as we speak…my bad…sigh.
    You look amazing Catherine.
    I’m feeling really flabby lately, more so because my latest health issues have forced me to put my gym membership on hold. I signed up (or rather, my husband got me a membership) when the girlie was 8 months old, the boy 5. More for my health and stress relief than anything else. I felt better (and probably looked better) at 40 than I did at 30. She’s now just 4 – and being away from the gym only for 8 weeks, when I need it the most, has me in such a emotional and physical funk. I’m thinking I need to revisit yoga/pilates myself.
    You’ve got the perfect attitude – it has to be for you and on your own terms.

    Incognito March 3, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    I am nine YEARS postpartum and I would not even share a photo of myself with myself at this point. Struggling with being 50 and having everything on the body beginning to defy gravity.

    My son calls my belly my third breast (he thinks he’s hilarious!).

    I have gone so far as to sign up with a trainer for twice-a-week workouts on a team. I am eating potato chips as I write this . . . . but anyway, you look great and I hope you keep the upbeat, loving attitude towards your body.

    Amo March 3, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    I know you aren’t fishing for compliments, but you really do look good for so little time out of the gates. Good on you!

    I struggle with the same thing and even put it in my first shred post. I think the issue is just as much wanting to feel attractive as I do strong. I remember my mother going through a ‘heavy stage’ when I was in my early teens. She still looked beautiful to me regardless!

    Ms. Thomas March 3, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    I’m so glad you said these things. My grandma is a 4’10″ lumpy, imperfect egg of a woman, and I still remember stretching out on her soft rolls while she rocked me in her recliner. My mom is a 5’2″ post-menopausal woman who just last year got all of her kids out of the house and finally had time to exercise, but no matter what she does, her stomach will always be a wad of stretched flesh… one that me and my three sisters will lay our heads on for the rest of her life. Those comforts that an imperfect body can provide are way more important than the naked confidence of a perfect one. I’m so glad my mom and grandma spent more time offering me a soft bosom than they did trying to firm it up. Thanks for reminding me of that and for making me turn off the self loathing.

    Mary the Eleventh March 3, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    I loved loved LOVED this post. I remember my mother the same way you do yours, as soft and comforting and smelling of powder and soap. Beautiful.

    Another Suburban Mom March 3, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    You are delicious and milfy. You have these wild ass things called curves.

    Buy yourself a low cut blouse and show off that hot tush of yours in a pencil skirt.

    Embrace your inner faboo!

    Amy March 3, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Good lord, you think that qualifies as a muffin top? You look fabulous! I’m 31 and getting ready to have my first child any day now (please pop out soon, baby!) and it gives me hope to see that it’s possible to bounce back and look so good in under a year.

    pkzcass March 3, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    I so long for the days when the Rubinesque figure is celebrated again!

    Rebekah March 3, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Are you freakin’ kidding?! You look great.

    Re March 3, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    But your mirror? Yeah, that could use a little Windex – I thought you had schmutz all over your pants. I’d take your body and a schmutzy mirror any day though.

    Corinne March 3, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    I think you look like a hot mama!! :)

    I also think most of us deal with the same issues that you write about. We want to celebrate our bodies for what they’ve done, and are doing (giving birth, nursing, etc…) but at the same time we’ve got the societal pressures to be thin and trim that always linger. Or just pressures to look hot in certain dresses and jeans that used to fit so easily…

    So yes, I hear you. And I sympathize! Enjoy the cupcake :)

    carrie March 3, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Your my hero.

    Rebecca March 3, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    I think you look great. For real.

    Marty, a.k.a. canape March 3, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Although slightly off topic, you just poked at some strong memories for me.

    I remember my mother and how it felt to lay on her chest. How it felt to wrap my arms around her and hide from all the bad days. I was 7 when she lost one of her breasts, and I remember how she felt with the prosthetic breast and how she felt without. I far preferred without.

    I thought she was perfect. She thought she needed to lose 20 pounds and wouldn’t wear a swimsuit because you could see the gap between the fake breast and the concave dip in her chest.

    She could have loved her body just for surviving, but instead she still saw what she thought were the flaws. It makes me so sad for her.

    nic March 3, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    and ps- you are beautiful.

    that’s all.

    Haley-O March 3, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    This post totally hit the spot for me — like a yummy vegan chocolate cupcake…! Totally. I feel all the same things — the conflicting attitudes about my body, the guilt but self-satisfaction. All of it. So thanks for articulating what I haven’t been able to for myself….

    And, come to think about it, I don’t remember soft anything about my mother. I love her dearly! But, no soft body. She was always teeny. I just remember the smell of her hair — she was, still is, a horseback rider. Her hair always smelled like her helmet…. ;) And it was soft.

    My son loves POUNCING me on my belly……. Wouldn’t want to take that away from him, would I…. ;)

    Meli March 3, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    You look amazing.

    This post hit me really hard. You said all the things that I have been feeling. I am 21 months post partum and haven’t been able to say the things that have been running through my head.

    And you said them so eloquently, thank you so much.

    Fairly Odd Mother March 3, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    You look awesome! And, I think any child would rather hug a mama with a little softness.

    Please pass the cupcake.

    Haley-O March 3, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    And, I forgot to tell you how beautiful you look. Seriously. Keep up those sun salutations…. :)

    kittenpie March 3, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Gee, adn I was thinking my stomach had had all the shredding it could handle from being ripped apart by pregnancy and c-sections… That’s what the stretch marks are, after all.

    Me, I am happy with the preogress I’ve made so far, but can’t wait until spring, when I can get out for longer walks and be more active overall. Partly for benefits to my body, which can use all the help it can get, and partly for the activity and something more to put some structure in my day besides the morning dropoff and coffee run and then Ellen at 2 pm. Plus, I can’t wait to intro the Bun to the wonders of the grass and the sandbox and the swings. He’s going to love it.

    Musings of a Housewife March 3, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    You nailed it. I feel the same exact way. And you DO look great, although I know how you feel. Only YOU know how you looked BEFORE. And it’s just not the same. Sigh… I’m 3.5 years post partom and I’m still waiting for the chutzpah to get back to the gym. :-)

    Merrily Down the Stream March 3, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    my eternal internal conversation with myself…

    SurvivalFloat March 3, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    You look great. I like being soft for my kids, but do not like it when they squish my belly with their little hands. I will never be 20 again, I know that, but I would like to feel better about myself while I still have the possibility of being a bit of a milf.

    Chicky Chicky Baby March 3, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    I’ve been celebrating my postpartum body a little too much. With cookies. But I’m breastfeeding so I need the calories, right?


    Pearmama March 3, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    I loved your post, especially the description about your mother’s body. That is how my grandmother’s body was…it’s been over twelve years since she passed away, but I can remember exactly how her hands looked, how her arms felt, how her belly was so soft and squishy to cuddle with. My kids are like that with me. They divebomb into my butt, my stomach. One of my sons call my behind his “butt heater” and he loves to cuddle against it. And don’t get me started on the arms. I’ve asked them, “What if mama was all skinny?” and they were like, “Ugh! No way! We like you soft and squishy!”

    But I digress. I’d like a little less squishiness. Thanks for posting this. And you have giant balls for posting a pic of yourself in a sports bra. Go on with your bad self.

    Her Bad Mother March 3, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    Dudes, there is SO a muffin top in that picture. Soft focus and blurry dirty mirrors do wonders ;)

    Nicole March 3, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    I think you look fantastic!
    I know women who have never had children that don’t look as good as you do.. lol

    I think we all go through this back and forth battle with ourselves — I know first hand.
    I’ve posted about loving my body — stretch marks, flabby skin and all and then the next day ripped my SO’s head off when he tried complimenting how I looked and I, of course, twisted it into him finding someone else attractive (hormones?) and then feeling great enough to post photos of my belly on The Belly Project ( http://thebellyproject.wordpress.com/2009/02/04/22-years-old-1-pregnancy-1-baby/ )later that night.

    I went from working on my dance team 9+ hours a day 6 days a week for 4 years to being gigantically pregnant and a walk around the block as the entirety of my daily(ish) workout.

    Other women – or men- can always tell us how fabulous we look but there are always going to be days when we just aren’t feeling it.
    We just have to love our bodies a little bit extra on the days that we do to make up for the days when we can’t.

    We can’t always look like the woman in the belly post below mine (I totally hate her *ahem*) but we can appreciate our bodies and the things they’ve done for us.

    (Easy to say and easy for me to believe until my 2 year old tries to get my attention and get me to pick him up by pulling himself up on me by grabbing hold of the extra skin on my belly, right?)

    I think this is such a wonderful post!

    Nicole March 3, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    Now that I’ve gone back and read all of your comments.. I’m thinking it’s time for a cupcake..

    chermonblie March 4, 2009 at 12:10 am

    “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.” A mantra all moms should carry with them!

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