Hello, masses, here’s my pregnant body

My father has a habit of saying, “Fat is a feminist issue,” whenever I mention weight, mine or anyone else’s.

I’m convinced that he’s quoting the title of a book he’s not read because he never goes on to explain what he means.

He probably just likes how it sounds.

Or maybe he’s been vaguely trying to help me see that my body isn’t valued based on what others think of it.

It’s even possible that he’s arguing that women talk about “fat” far more than is necessary or interesting. I have no idea. I must ask him some day.

Last night I went swimming with a friend at a public indoor swimming pool. It was my first swim in almost a year, which also made it the first time I’d displayed my pregnant body in all its glory to the masses.

Now, even when I had significantly less body fat as a teenager, I felt uncomfortable stripping to go swimming in public. My breasts were new and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them and I felt like everyone was watching me.

I never wore a bikini even though I had an enviably flat stomach. This was partly because I felt self-conscious and didn’t want to draw more ‘attention’ to myself and partly because the Christian community I grew up in wasn’t too keen on women not wearing one-pieces (at least that was the message I got quite early on).

I had a pretty nervous take on my body.

It wasn’t until university, when I cut off all my hair (the hair on my head) and occasionally shaved it, that I came to be at relative peace with my body.

I’d chopped it all off myself while plunged in what I later recognised as a bout of depression but the outcome of having little hair was quite useful.

I stopped trying so hard.

Since I realised my hair didn’t matter in terms of building relationships, because it wasn’t such an essential part of my identity – that I was, in fact, the same person – I felt freedom to recognise that my body’s size and shape also existed outside of my innate value.

Of course, I still had insecurities but they didn’t predominate quite as much.

Actually, I didn’t start interrogating my body again until pregnancy began to make itself apparent.
My breasts, already uncomfortably large decided to multiply in size overnight and, almost as suddenly, my waist disappeared. My clothes, suited to an hourglass, didn’t fit well any more.

I felt frumpy. But I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want to appear shallow or ungrateful for the baby.

From the day my bump flopped out one weekend, I began to look at my naked body in the mirror with fascination, awe and horror. I obsessed over the possibility of stretch marks and my rapidly expanding thighs.

I also wondered if I’d be able to lose the weight quickly after giving birth.

I was shocked at my own sexualised response to my pregnant body. I had inwardly criticised other women for their vanity, for buying so deeply into celebrity culture that they began to view their own bodies as objects to be manipulated for the observer’s pleasure rather than fully claiming them as their own.

It was difficult to reconcile myself to a body that no longer obeyed me but instead did whatever was necessary to nurture the creature, with caring about side effects.

I won’t pretend that these thoughts and feelings have magically disappeared as if I’m somehow immune to the trappings of western culture. But feeling the creature kick, noticing the hardness of her home and seeing her on screen are going a long way in transforming some of my horror to wonder.

I marvel at my body’s ability to do this, to do this beautiful thing; to provide for someone else in such a complete way.

When I was getting ready for swimming last night, I discovered that I’d already outgrown the modest maternity one-piece I’d bought so would have to wear a bikini I’d accidentally bought years go two sizes too big. Looking at all my bulges in the mirror, I wasn’t sure whether I’d feel self-conscious when out in public or not.

To my surprise, heavy breasts, extended belly, meaty thighs and all, it was the first time in my life that I didn’t care whether anyone was watching me or what they thought of the state of my body.

I casually slipped into the water and enjoyed the feeling of weightlessness, of freedom.

Image: Mary Thompson


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