Sunday, September 30, 2012

What NOT to ask a woman: a post about body image

I just returned to the U.S. from my week-long trip to Italy for a professional workshop/conference. In fact, I'm currently sitting at the airport, waiting for the last leg of my trip home. It's been a long 24 hours. When I've recovered from jet lag and uploaded and sifted through my pictures, I'll post some. Italy was a great experience on both personal and professional levels; I was expecting it to go well, but it far exceeded my expectations.

But I wanted to talk about something that happened while I was at the workshop, something that chipped away at what I thought was a solider-than-ever self-image.

The first day, I wore a dress. I've worn this dress various times in various settings, and I was under the impression that I look nice in it. I felt confident in it. But during dinner that evening, someone asked me whether I was pregnant. And then the next day, when I was wearing just my usual jeans and t-shirt combo, someone ELSE asked if I was pregnant! I'm not pregnant. At all. No chance. Awkward. I felt worse for the people who asked (both women, by the way) than for myself because I know how awful it feels to mess up like that. (Although come on. Is it not a well-known universal rule that you NEVER EVER EVER ask someone if she's pregnant?!?)

Now. Granted, I'd been eating a lot of delicious food without trying to limit myself, but a) it wasn't like I was gorging and b) even if I was, can a food baby grow THAT fast? I kept looking in the mirror to see whether I'd somehow expanded significantly within a timespan of 48 hours, but to me, I looked like... the same old me.

I have never had a flat stomach. I didn't have one before I was pregnant, and I don't have one now - especially because growing a human in my uterus resulted in some spectacular stretch marks and skin that will never re-learn how to bounce back. A good diet, lots of exercise - I see the difference when I work out and feed my body well, but I have come to the conclusion that I will never lose my curves or my soft belly. You could make me an island castaway, Tom Hanks style, and even on a diet of raw fish and coconut milk, my belly would still be there. (Maybe I could paint a little smiley face on it and make it my own personal Wilson...)

I don't resent the women who asked me (though I do question their social skills). I get that they weren't trying to insult me. After all, pregnant bodies are gorgeous. I DO resent the self-consciousness that has started to creep back in. Over the past few months I've started to feel really strong. I've started to feel more appreciative of my body, in spite of (and because of) its "flaws." And now I'm being critical of myself again. I also wonder how many other people have wondered whether I'm pregnant, thanks to my somewhat chubby middle. 

I think, too, that the incident recalls some bad memories. Like when I was 16 and a peer told me that I had "great legs and great hair," but that I "just needed to work on my stomach." Or, worse, when my (former) best friend told me that she'd always felt bad for me because I tried so hard to keep myself in shape but I couldn't lose the tummy. Or when my mom asked me, a few weeks (WEEKS) after the birth of my son whether I was pregnant again, whilst patting my middle. 


I just have to keep reminding myself that:

-people come in lots of different shapes and sizes, and that diversity is beautiful.
-a strong body doesn't have to be a skinny body.
-a healthy body doesn't have to be a skinny body.
-there are soooooooo many other things to worry about - things that are more important by multiple orders of magnitude.
-sometimes people don't think before they speak, but that doesn't make them bad or rude people. I have a muffin top; they have foot-in-mouth disease.

Anyway, I'll share a couple links to articles along these lines:

What makes you feel self-conscious about your body? And what do you like/love about it?

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