Every morning my little one pulls up my shirt, kisses you, and says, “I came from there!” You are fleshy now, stretched. I feel warmth and softness when I touch you. Mother. You hang over my jeans a bit. My sagging muffin top. I try not to mentally airbrush you out of pictures- the little traces of shame that still linger, the empire cut shirts, even though I haven’t been pregnant for five years.
Twenty years ago disgust for you filled my world. And crushed my spirit. All the self-loathing, anger, fear and shame were stuffed into you. I’m sorry. So many apology letters written to you in those first years of eating disorder recovery. But I did grow to accept you! And fed you. And then you created an amazing child! (Ok it was my womb, but you are the flesh that stretched to accommodate). You grew and stretched beyond what I thought was possible
Belly, I’m sorry that there are so many images in the world that don’t look like you. I know those images make you feel unloved, disgusting, flabby. I’m sorry those images make you feel wrong.
Those images tell you all kinds of crazy sh*t:
“Be smaller! Be flatter! Do this to be loved! Be big and full of yourself until age seven and then be flat and hungry. But don’t feel hungry! Just look thin! Don’t get angry! Hide your intuition. Don’t listen to it. Be attractive by not being yourself! Don’t get stretched. If you get stretched, get sucked and stitched back in.”
I just want you to know, Belly, they’re wrong, those messages. Contrary to what the images tell you, there is nothing wrong with you. Let me say it again as you have received those other brutal messages so many times.
Belly, there is nothing wrong with you.
I remember attending a class postpartum in which all the moms brought their babies in strollers and exercised together. I was in that early phase of exhaustion and urinary incontinence (Who tells you about this prior to having children?!) I was just trying to get out of the house with baby and get some fresh air and exercise. Any exercise. There was this one woman who mentioned taking (__________) the name of a supplement supposedly helpful for losing weight. She desperately wanted to lose the baby weight. (I am deliberately leaving it blank the name of the supplement not give anyone’s ED any ideas. More on “ED” later). I have to admit in that moment I had a dual response. My Healthy-Self thought:
“Uh Oh! Steer clear! Eating Disorder false promise of thin-ness= absence of all discomfort! You know that no supplement is going to take away feelings or give you the nonexistent ‘perfect body’! Lovingly challenge her now! Tell her to love herself the way she is now and ask what else is going on? You know you are talking to yourself when you are talking to her.”
And my very tired postpartum self, who was subject to “ED” (aka the voice of an “Eating Disorder”ed self-critic) thought:
“Ooh a way to lose weight quickly postpartum! Woo Hoo!”
Did I get that supplement? Of course not. I was 13 years recovered! from an eating disorder at that point and knew better. Did I have a vulnerability to an ED thought during that moment? Of course! I was exhausted and in the huge, life-changing rite of passage of mommy boot-camp! My body was different, my Psyche was different, and I was walking around in a sleep-deprived fog. My Healthy-Self left that group disappointed that my usually strong Eating-Disorder-Psychologist-Feminist-Crusader had not spoken up to what I knew to be true: No supplement will change the difficulty of being and becoming a mom! No supplement will teach you how to love yourself the way you are! Losing weight is never the answer to complex life difficulties.
This is what I know to be fundamentally true for eating disorder recovery (and cultivating a foundation of love from which to live): Losing weight or trying to change your body is never the answer. The solution is never about hating, punishing, or trying to escape from your body and always about loving and accepting yourself. My clients often ask me: Always? Yes. Always. And yet it is hard to talk about this with women, in groups, where “fat chat” is so common. Andrea Wachter and Marcea Marcus, Licensed Marriage and Family therapists who also specialize in eating disorder recovery, and authors of the book The Don’t Diet, Live-it workbook (www.innersolutions.net) coined this term:
Fat chat is complaining about eating or weight, gossip about who has gained or lost weight, conversations about the latest diets, discussions about cosmetic procedures [Mummy tucks], etc…when we engage in fat chat we are missing opportunities for more meaningful conversations about our lives.
What would a meaningful discussion have been in that moment? Maybe “I feel very alone in this new mom thing. Do you ever feel that way?” Or “I wish my baby weight would go away, too, but I’m also proud I had a baby and of the baby my body grew. My body needs to rest and recover from childbirth more than lose weight right now.” Or maybe if I was being fiercely challenging “I can’t afford the luxury of fat chat right now. I am trying to find my way into who I am as a person, as a Mom, and as a strong woman who has given birth.”
The good news? I can absolutely say that now. Any of those. All of those. My warrior-self is back. Look out ED voice! Look out fat chat! Boot camp is over! And Healthy mama is in the house! Thanks to “How to be a dad” for this beautiful image: