Romper

Pregnancy Helped Me Overcome My Body Image Issues

Courtesy of Kim Zapata

My stomach has been the center of my self-hatred for 14 years. It’s the one thing I wish I could fix, and the one thing I feel like, if fixed, would make everything OK. It’s my own battle, and it’s incredibly personal. It’s the place where I dump all my pain, sadness, loneliness, anguish, hate, anger, disappointment, and failure. My stomach isn’t the stomach I want it to be. It’s not slim or taut or svelte. It isn’t fat either, at least not in any of the stereotypically conventional ways society tells us “fatness” looks and feels like. I don’t have stretch marks or a muffin top, and my highest weight was just 139 pounds. (And that was when I was nearly 40 weeks pregnant.) But just because I was small then, and am small now, doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to be incredibly unhappy with my body and my belly. Not loving my body may not be very body positive of me, but it is my truth, and it’s one I share with many other women. But pregnancy helped me overcome my body image issues

I grew up in a post-Twiggy world: a world where “skinny” is beautiful, so long as your stomach is flat, your breasts are large, and your legs are lean. I came of age around the same time as computers; I came of age when the “perfect body” was born, not just an ideal — which has been around forever — but a body that only exists after hours of posing, tweaking, cropping, and Photoshopping. And I still live in a world where our very lexicon is part of the problem: we refer to varicose veins and crows feet as “imperfections” and “flaws,” confuse “skinny” with “healthy,” and vilify those who are “fat” as “disgusting” and “unhealthy.”

Courtesy of Kim Zapata

Most of us want to be slimmer, smaller, taller, and tanner. We're taught to want something else in order to be happy. If only I had leaner legs, I’d be happy. If I only had lost that extra 10 pounds, I’d be happy. If only I wasn’t me, if only I didn’t have this body, I’d be alright.

I was so sick, in fact, that it almost kept me from having a child.

Before I was pregnant, I worried about every pound. I counted calories, I exercised obsessively, and there was even a point when I weighed myself four, five, and six times a day. I’d go to bed hungry, wake up hungry, live hungry. I pulled at the skin around my stomach, the fat that encased my hips; I poked at my thighs. They were too thick, too flabby. They were ugly — and that meant I was too. Hindsight is always 20/20, and now I know better. I wasn’t ever be too thick or too flabby. I look at pictures now and see a healthy and a normal-looking young woman, but I was anything but healthy. I was sick, my life was dictated by numbers and the metal cold of a scale.

I was so sick, in fact, that it almost kept me from having a child.

Courtesy of Kim Zapata

I’ve tried to trace my disordered thinking back to its source and recall the first time I poked, pulled, or prodded my skin and decided it was bad, wrong, and something to be ashamed of. And while distant memories emerge — eating dry, packaged stuffing in our dark pantry, crouching on the kitchen floor and shoveling handfuls of dry cereal in my mouth, pouring packet after packet of dry oatmeal down my throat (fruit varieties were my favorite though, and in a pinch, maple and brown sugar would do) — there is no one light-switch moment to tie my eating disorder back to.

I had to decide what really mattered: my beach-ready bod or a baby? A flat stomach or a family?

When I did get pregnant, the very idea of putting on weight, and the fear of not being able to lose it, made me ill. I wasted years worrying about my weight gain and weight loss. And at one point, I even refused to entertain the idea of children because of it. But as I ebbed ever closer to 30 and I saw my husband’s cousin’s running and playing together, and their parents sharing in a type of love I'd yet to know, I had to decide what really mattered: my beach-ready bod or a baby? A flat stomach or a family?

Courtesy of Kim Zapata

The early weeks of pregnancy were the worst — the ones where I looked like a swollen version of myself, not quite “heavy," but not quite “pregnant.” But when my pants stopped fitting, I started panicking. I can’t do this, I thought. I’m ugly. I’m gross. I’m falling apart.

I knew I was pregnant, and I knew it meant I would gain weight, but I wasn’t prepared for this in-between stage. I wasn’t prepared for the awkward transition from me to mom-to-be. But as baby and my bump grew, I began to grow out of my feelings of inadequacy. I stopped caring about my stomach and started caring about the life within me, and I learned to love and appreciate my body for what it was: not a bunch of skin deserving to be tucked and trimmed and shoved into shapewear, but a vessel for life, and reflection of a life well-lived.

I didn’t miss monitoring my meals, and I didn’t miss the feeling of running on empty. Instead I was full, finally full, and I embraced it.
Courtesy of Kim Zapata
When I got pregnant with my daughter, instead of hiding I showed off. Here was this amazing, amazing thing my body had done.

Despite my newfound feelings for my body, I still struggled with how I viewed it. There were days I yearned for my skinny jeans, days I missed running marathons, days I missed being able to get in and out of the car in a semi-normal fashion. But I didn’t miss my insecurities. I didn’t miss monitoring my meals, and I didn’t miss the feeling of running on empty. Instead I was full, finally full, and I embraced it. I My unborn daughter, my basketball-sized belly, each and every part of my petite-yet-powerful frame — they were new parts of me, parts grown out of love and hope and faith. Things a taut tummy couldn't give me.

Looking back, it’s a shame I spent so much time working to fix my body, trying to lose weight here or gain weight there. It's a shame I let society dictate how I should feel about the powerful machine I was in charge of, and that I wasted so much time trying to hide. When I got pregnant with my daughter, instead of hiding I showed off. Here was this amazing, amazing thing my body had done. I wore my "loading bar" pregnancy t-shirt like a badge of honor and I sported tight tops and even a bikini at 37 weeks. Instead of trying to fix my body, I learned to trust it.

It’s ironic that it took me gaining 20 pounds and losing my my B-cup boobs to love myself, but even in the days and months postpartum, I've never felt more confident, more strong, or more amazing in my life. Despite the ways I punished and mistreated my body, it was capable of something amazing. It was proof that even on my lowest days, I capable of doing something amazing.