"You've got a great post-baby body" is something I hear quite often. Even saying it, that whole sentence, the acknowledgement that it's actually said - believed in, bought into, vocally endorsed - makes me cringe. Admitting that a) it's something people say to me, and b) it bothers me, feels ridiculous, ungrateful, narcissistic even. Because we're told that the post-baby body and commentary thereupon is of paramount importance in a woman's life.
Even without the employment of the horrid phrase (fuuuuuuck), the procedure is consistently thus - you get a look up and down and then out spills some variation of...*for someone with children, you look alright, better than expected, you've fared well, you're really admirable, I admire you, I wish I had your body, you must work hard to keep your figure, wow your figure is amazing, your waist is tiny - how did you keep that after having babies?*. But this isn't about just me, it's about two issues, really.
One is the glorification of the 'great' post-baby body project itself, our need to not only worship at the altar of a female slender/toned outline, but to point out when someone has 'managed' it, like they've broken some long-standing world record or summoned the virgin Mary in their sleep or something magic and impossible like that.
The fact is that pregnancy and surgical birth are by far not the most exciting or transformative things my body has been through - and that, actually, despite the cultural narrative that pregnancy and birth change a woman's body irreversibly (but make them more virtuous and wholesome and sensible and modest...uhhh), nothing much has really changed superficially for me from 'before'(the glory days, youth, nubile recklessness!) to after (the retreating into maternal retirement from actual life). Actually, I do have some stretch marks that have now faded to white and weirdly (because I like to criticise myself for good measure, in case anyone thinks I like myself) they mostly appear on my back. I'm telling you because that's important to people, stretch marks are important if you read tabloid magazines and assume that as your cultural baseline, which so many women are told to do.
But I cannot emphasise enough that the body,the shell, the frame and tissue of which I'm comprised has been through so many more critical states than c-section and making two babies.
Like emergency surgery to create an artery patch, for example (when a piece of a vein is used to patch an artery that has - for whatever reason - split), the reason for which being a glitch in some other surgery - yah, my body's been through that. Two rounds of minor heart surgery to correct a congenital heart defect (the first round of surgery didn't work and almost killed me, by the way, so there's that too, at the risk of sounding extremely dramatic - which it was, but I was 19 with a drink problem and didn't really appreciate the potential severity of the situation til much later. Actually the cool thing about this was that my heart is actually stronger than average, rather than weaker - which you'd expect for a heart with a structural abnormality, I actually have the 'blood pressure of an athlete' according to official notes, but I digress in taking the opportunity to show off).
Then there were the years of self abuse - substance abuse and eating disorders - weeks and months and years of taking photos of progress on the protrusion of hip bones and concavacity of abdomen. Months and years of recording weights, food consumed, calories expended, short term goal weight, medium term goal weight, long term goal weight...the poetry of self-hate.
And my body has sprung some shit on me too - albeit with me and various faces of self-abusive insanity as the supporting cast - like when in active addiction I suddenly lost half of my visual field; instantly, there and gone in less than a second (in case you've never experienced this, it's quite unsettling), and while it returned over the next years and months and is almost completely imperceptible now, the time spent registering as partially sighted, having to stop driving, not being able to read or write properly, being scared to open my eyes in case it had got worse, forgive me if that whole crazy experience is another contributing factor in why I don't give a flapping fuck whether or not someone thinks I've done well to survive pregnancy and still be able to pass for someone who has never been pregnant.
So it's not really a case of having an 'amazing' post baby body, it's just that I still have a body, it still respires, moves, eats, sleeps, functions. It's enough. Those are enough. That has to be enough.
And - I get it, I get it! - I get that the 'post-baby body' remarks are designed as compliments with the nicest and most loving of intentions, but really in delivering such judgement, one is asserting the idea that other women's bodies aren't working as well as they should, aren't conforming like they must in order to be accepted. And really, when I had just had both of my babies and no one was telling me how great my post-baby figure was looking, I can only assume it was because the consensus was that I wasn't looking so great...and that sucks, because I'd just given birth and it's nobody's business anyway! Right?
And - because there's no other way to do this than to cover it comprehensively - by commenting on a woman's post-baby shape you're also perpetuating the idea that it's everyone's right to comment on a woman's body, that a woman's body is public property - up for speculation, critique, constructive criticism and praise. And it's not. It's not your job - be free, sweet humans, and live your own lives, taking up as much space as you like while not commenting on other people's.
The second is the glorification and simultaneous horror at a woman's body-acceptance. We're encouraged to accept ourselves but to always be working toward a better (or 'new') 'you'.
And yes, my body acceptance levels have changed - but not due to any superficial change in the body itself. I've always striven to be thinner, and I've been way thinner than I am now, but it doesn't really matter. it's not a case of trying to accept this version of 'myself' in some kind of resignation, it's a case of what's the choice?! It's not a case of being 'brave' ("I could never do that!") for wearing swimwear in a swimwear-wearing situation, it's as simple as I like to feel the air on my skin an get in the water - the best feeling in the world, surely, when you've been in the sea or a lake and you come out and your whole body feels suddenly glowing with warmth? I mean, it must be! Who wants to miss that? After two heart surgeries, c-section, artery patch, visual field trauma (not in that order at all), I sure as fuck am not missing that in the name of maternal shame or a desire to appear modest.
I'm fucking *in the two-piece and in the sea*, as naked and free as is permissible by law, because the universe gave me skin and I want it to breathe!
So today I lay there on my son's bed, twitchingly trying to finish a piece of work that's desperately frustrating me and bringing out all of my worst defects, exacerbated by hormones and the raging waves of PMS, and I look down at the skin-gap between shorts and sweater. I notice my old faithful hip bones, and how they're not as bony as I once wanted them to be, and how I don't care because I actually do love them like this. And I reach for my camera and take a photo for old time's sake. And I think, god I love that crotch-shot. And I put it on my blog. Because shame is so tiresome, so bleak and restricting and unnecessary and complicated. And I have so little time to just enjoy my body.
And I like to look at myself, and I like to be looked at on my own terms, and that's fine because while time is infinite, my time isn't and I just want to chill and breathe from the deepest inside out.
Follow Chrissy's blog at www.chrissychittenden.com
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