• on May 24, 2018

Pregnant with body image issues…

I’m currently pregnant.  I say that, knowing that there are many women out there who, at this moment in time, maybe would like to be pregnant but can’t be.  Or others who are pregnant and don’t want to be.  Talking about the female body, and our fertility, is a bit like stepping onto a mine field of emotions, and one of those mines could detonate at any time.  I’m trying not to set off any bombs, but that may be inevitable.  So I begin by simply recognising that within the female story, miscarriage, abortion and fertility issues are often swept beneath the carpet.  And you can see why, because these experiences are painful ones.  So, here in my currently pregnant body, I fully acknowledge the emotional charge that this carries.

So I inhabit this body, and I’m also in recovery from a long history of disordered eating and body image issues.

And since becoming pregnant, I’ve felt on very shaky territory.

Once you’re pregnant, your body ceases to be your own. You’re a community event, a host for your growing child. And you tell people – I’m pregnant. And then people comment on the size of your belly. This is how it goes…

Wow, you’re showing already! Big baby, is it?

So let me see… what are you, 16 weeks? (I was 9 weeks)

I knew you were pregnant! You’re looking much more rounded!

Or, conversely…

You aren’t showing at all yet! No one would know.

The majority of the comments did seem to focus on my growing belly.  Which does feel reasonable, right?  But despite the logic and reason of it all, these comments FREAKED ME OUT. Within me, my inner fat phobe raged. I’ve been fat. And I’ve been thin. And I’ve been somewhere in between. I know how hard it was, living on the wrong side of the tracks. As a child and teenager, I felt that my fat body marked me as an inferior human. It signalled a flaw, a weakness in my character. The amount of positive feedback I received from losing weight only deepened the wound. The message was clear. Your worth is increasing; your body ranks higher on our social acceptability scale. Come and join the cool club. You’re on the winning side now.

I’ve worked hard to unpick the societal conditioning that equates weight and size with human worth. I’ve rewired my brain, consciously challenging myself to meet my own body, and other people’s bodies, with compassion and acceptance. I’ve noticed, and then questioned, thousands, if not millions, of self-judgemental thoughts. I’ve allowed my body to find her own equilibrium. I’ve learned to listen to her, speaking to me through the language of sensations, in order to feed her, clothe her, and move her in more comforting and gentle ways. This has been an epic feat, a giant u-turn in my consciousness, which was so hooked into the modern belief that thinness meant you were winning at life.

I’ve applied myself, not only to the psychology of weight loss and gain, but also the science behind it too. I’ve learned the huge gaping holes we have in our understanding of why someone’s body might change shape over a lifetime. It’s not just calories in, calories out. It’s not as simple as eating less and moving more. Our body size is a reflection of a whole host of interweaving factors, including hormone function, stress levels, sleep patterns, and even our in-utero development (Foetuses subjected to deprivation and starvation in-utero are much more likely to become obese in later life – watch this TED talk for more information…). When we see a fat or thin body, we make massive assumptions about that person’s health and lifestyle. And these assumptions are usually wrong.

I know all of this. I know the body diversity is a reality and that we can be ‘naturally thin’ just as we might be ‘naturally fat’.  I also know that the media, on the whole, exists to drive consumption. And consumption of products increases exponentially with our dissatisfaction with ourselves. People who love and accept their bodies, as they are now, aren’t on a constant self-improvement mission. And so they consume differently. So I look at the media with a critical eye, seeing through the images that hack away at our self-worth. No, I won’t believe this bullshit. No, I won’t be buying this crap.

And I thought I had really unlearnt the internalised fat phobia that has become so normalised in our culture. I thought I had accepted HOW MY BODY FEELS as the authority on my life, not some measuring stick to tell me what I weigh, or my BMI (don’t get me started on why BMI is such crap science… we’ll be here all day…).

But then came the barrage of comments, the insinuations that my pregnant belly might be bigger than ‘normal’? And the fear set in…

Is my belly growing at the appropriate rate? I’m eating more frequently to cope with the nausea, but is it too much? I just seem to want sweet foods, is that bad? I just seem to want carbs, is that bad? And I feel fat and bloated rather than blooming and blossoming, is that bad?

I sat with my fear for a few days. I did some writing, which helped. Naming the fear is the first step. Here’s the first two verses of a poem that rattled out of me, as I named my fears, for myself, for my growing baby, for my changing life situation:

I am afraid
I am afraid of fatness
Bulging out of myself-ness
I have fought so hard
To remain within the boundaries
Of what is acceptable
I dare not return
To that place of shame
I remember the feeling too well
Existing with permission
Desiring to be desired
Yet no one would agree to my form

I am afraid
Of the pain of life
Of opening myself fully to the hurting
As you burrow into me
You will hurt me
What mother doesn’t hurt for her children?
Is this not the deepest wound of all?
The one you kept so safe
The one you made a hundred wishes for
The one you birthed
And you hope one day will bury you
In love and the rightness of the turning of the wheel of life
This transition
Into motherhood
I am afraid.

And I shared my fears. I allowed my loved ones and my community to hold me. And then I knew what was needed. And it was trust.

I trust my body.
I trust my baby.
I trust the connection between my body and my baby.
I trust my felt experience of life. I need not fear the fear. I can feel into it, explore, give it some space.
And I became grateful. Grateful to those who had commented on my belly, pushed my buttons, allowed me to dig deeper, unearthing the roots of my internalised fat phobia. They had shined a light on a dark place, a deep wounding within my psyche. And with that, I could start exploring, questioning, seeing if there was a deeper space of acceptance needed to hold my fears. And I began to relax.

I could see how I was fuelling my own mania, by believing that my body could ever truly become unacceptable. All bodies are acceptable. All bodies are constantly in flux. There is no right or wrong way to be. We are conditioned otherwise, but we don’t have to carry these untruths around with us. My belly is as my belly is. It will grow as it needs to. By listening to the sensations in my belly, I can adjust my behaviour to better meet the needs of my changing body. But listening to BMI charts, other people’s comments, and all the well-meant advice: this is where I find the seeds of my disordered eating, ready to ramp itself up again, a powerful defence mechanism against fear, uncertainty, and my own feelings on inadequacy.

So my best protection? It’s the same thing, whether you’re pregnant or not. Go inside. Listen to your gut. Feel her, notice her, give her space to communicate with you. I’m tight, tired, bloated. I need to rest. I want some liquid. I want something cold. Warm. I want nothing at all. Your belly knows.

And if her voice seems very quiet to you, then stop. Lie down. Wait. Go inside and meet her on her own terrain. You can’t know what your belly feels by asking your head. Take your awareness DOWN. Stroke her. Give her permission to just exist, without shaming her, just for a second. Then you might find her coming to meet you, offering up a feeling, a sense, a connection to the space within your digestive system.

I want to know…

Could you let all these comments and judgements about your body, and other people’s bodies, just roll off you, into the dust?

Could you question the conditioning that limits us to one socially acceptable body type? That diminishes our complex physiology and unique life situation to numbers on a chart?

Could you see yourself for who you truly are: in flux, at all times, a constant unfolding?

And could you trust your inner compass, the feelings within your body, as the most accurate map maker of all, the best form of orientation towards ease, comfort, and wellbeing?

In short, could you trust your body? And this means, could you trust your felt experience of life?

I trust my fear. You showed me the roots of my pain.
And I trust my deep sense that all is and shall be well. You show me the deeper space of acceptance that is with me, always available, when I choose to allow my life, and my changing body, to unfold.

May you learn to trust your body. May she show you the way home, to yourself.

Want to explore these issues with Emily and Jan?

We’re doing three events on Feminism and women’s issues – eating, body image, and #metoo. The next event is in Brighton, on 7th June. Tickets are available through eventbrite, or on the event page of our ‘I eat what I need’ Facebook page.

Our next online course launches on 20th June.  All the details are found here.  Are you ready to awaken the natural eater within you?

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