Let me just start by saying that I actually had no idea that my belly had gotten so black. This makes me laugh every time I say it, but it's true. I simply hadn't noticed or maybe I was in denial about it. That tends to happen a lot, me not realizing how dark I am. Constantly comparing myself to other really dark skinned people only to find out I am in fact, darker.
It was one of those California winter days where it'd be a sin not to end up either poolside or beachside. The sun was beaming and my body was itching for a staycation moment. Earlier in my pregnancy I was so unhappy with my body, but as my growing ass leveled out with my growing belly, and I began to feel that balance was being restored, I felt pride in my body and the fact that I felt it had held up. So why not put on the only bikini I had that would cover my entire breasts and jump on this obvious Instagram moment?
I remember putting the white sun block on my belly and my mom saying that it looked silver. And I remember trying to patting it down with my towel. Directing my husband to shoot the photo from my best angle and then hating all the pics. Finding one where my belly looked cool and my thighs slim enough at the same time. But my face, ugh. Whatever, I was way too lazy to try to edit it. It wasn't even a close up. It was fine. And up it went.
I expected people to respond to the size of my belly. I mean, it was huge! That's definitely how it started, but very quickly I started getting way more likes than I had ever before. Followed by more and more compliments about how beautiful my belly looked. Then, some slightly ruder comments accompanied by likes on more of my other photos, indicating that new people were discovering my page. Then it went left. After several hours, I realized that I had made the Instagram explore page and the trolls were alive and well. Someone said my belly looked like a blister. Another said it looked as if someone had defecated on a lawn chair. Their language wasn't nearly as nice as the way I'm paraphrasing it. People who had explored other parts of my profile began to comment about how I must not love myself because I was having babies with my white husband. I told myself I would not delete any of the comments. Then someone commented on another photo of my husband and I calling him an idiot and me a gorilla. I deleted that one. I wish that I hadn't though, and I like to think that the white female that posted it may have eventually felt guilt and deleted it herself. I like to believe that.
Other comments that weren't so hateful were still shaming, expressing that it was classless and unnecessary to show my bump, and that I didn't need to show so much skin. That "no one wants to see all of that". Somehow, my bump had offended a bunch of people. Those comments actually frustrated me more than anything.
In the following days, arguments in the comments continued to grow, but it was Christmas (my first with my husband) and I was blessed to have been able to spend it with my new growing family. Then New Years rolled around. I enjoyed my family. Occasionally, my mother, husband and I would revisit the comments and laugh at how creative some of the insults were. If I have nothing, I have an amazing sense of humor. I did five years of stand-up comedy, and I grew up in a West Indian family, so I could always handle a good roasting. You can't be Peter Thomas' daughter and not have a thick skin. And no bully could ever compete with my mom. Tough love was the name of the game in my childhood.
Once the holiday weekend was over, I finally had the urge to respond, if for no other reason than to let the trolls know that I was un-phased, and also, yet another IG photo opp (we all do it for the gram). That's when all the media outlets began to reach out.
While some of y'all been in my comments criticizing the blackness that is my belly and me during what shoulda been your holiday cheer, I been over here enjoying life, growing tiny humans, performing miracles and hopefully getting even blacker 👊🏿#justsaying #melaninpoppin #twins #babybump #noairbrushneeded #love and be #loved 💕💙💕💙 🌚🌚🌚🌚
Everyone was curious how it felt for me to be bump shamed. I answered that question so many times in the coming weeks and I felt I always had difficulty with it. Particularly after the birth of my twin sons (which occurred less than two weeks after the now infamous photo went up!). I became detached from the feeling of being bump-shamed and only recently realized why. While everyone had viewed the Instagram attack (and subsequent defense from way more of my now doubled followers) as a bump-shaming, I viewed it as a black-shaming. And I had no deep impacting feelings about it because it obviously was not the first time it had occurred.
All of the comments were related to my belly, but not it's mere existence. It was more of a focus on the color of it. Then I realized, I hadn't seen many representations of black bumps. When I would search pregnancy hashtags, not many black women would come up. When I followed all my favorite pregnancy and bump related IG pages, there weren't a ton of black women being represented... and certainly not many (if any) darker women and their bumps. There were endless white women showing off their beautiful bumps and being called beautiful for it.
When I would post my bumpies, I'd tag those same favorite pages, some of which, in turn, would repost my photos. While my photos would get some positive comments, it would also get those same comments asking why I felt the need to bare so much skin, why I had to degrade myself by showing my bump? When I would scroll and read the comments of some of the other photos of white women and their bumps, there were only comments of adoration and envy. I wondered, why then, was my dark melanated twin bump considered to be so vulgar and offensive?
Nonetheless, a discussion has been sparked and my boys have been born. They are almost four months old and beautiful and healthy and I love them more than anything in this whole world. My belly has snapped back and the skin, which was questioned for getting too dark has begun to fade back to its original chocolaty color. My biggest worry now is making enough breastmilk for my growing boys and whether or not my left boob will shrink back to a non-scary size and free of stretchmarks (like my post baby belly, FYI).
I've put this whole belly-gate situation behind me, but I'm so grateful that it happened. It empowered me to love this body and this skin more, which I never knew I could love any more. It educated me that that bubble that I live in is just that, that there are still small thinking ignorant people out there. It opened up talk during time that we really need to talk more. It created an awareness in my recently immigrated German husband who couldn't quite understand the magnitude in which racism and colorism existed in America, a country he was about bring two little black boys into, who'd eventually become black men, during a time when we have to constantly remind some that Black Lives Matter.
So sure, 2016 ended with my black belly being shamed. But, so what? 2017 began with me performing a double miracle. What did my haters do?
HuffPost UK Parents is running a week-long focus on 'Mumbod' to empower mums and mums-to-be to feel confident about their bodies pre- and post-baby. We are launching a section on the site that focuses on all aspects of mums' bodies and highlights the amazing things they are capable of. We'd also love to hear your stories. To blog for Mumbod, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To keep up to date with features, blogs and videos on the topic, follow the hashtag #MyMumbod.