A fellow kiwi blogger, Meagan of This is Meagan Kerr, had a feature in the Sunday Star Times last Sunday on plus-sized fashion and body acceptance. You might have seen my picture of the magazine cover on my Instagram but the articles are also circulated on local news site Stuff. Checking this out yesterday, it was unfortunate to see quite a few negative comments that (in my opinion) actually missed the point entirely. It got me thinking, however, about my own body journey and how that affects me as a mum.
I too am fat. Not in a “carrying a couple of extra pounds” or a “just need to lose the baby weight” sort of way. I’m fat in the way that I have been since age 19, when I injured myself in an accident and then ate my feelings when my grandmother died and we had additional family drama. I’m fat in the way that my hormones did loopy things and my cycles went crazy – I’m not completely sold on my PCOS diagnosis and so I don’t want to blame that. I’m fat in the way that my spine and pelvis were sprained for years and it was uncomfortable to exercise and so I didn’t really bother.
I also don’t love what pregnancy has done to my body. While I used to be able to “hide” my fat on my ample bosom and behind, being the “right” kind of fat person, I have fat on my tummy now that makes me look similar to how I did at about 16 weeks pregnant. My hair is falling out and I can no longer use it to frame my face else my son ends up with handfuls of it as he pulls it out of my head. My “tiger stripes” don’t remind me of the miracle of bringing my son into the world – they just depress me when I look in the mirror.
So why don’t you do something about it, I hear you say. And the answer is that I am. No more “But I’m breast-feeding…” binges; while I do need extra calories I’m not going to kid myself that getting them from a king-sized bar of chocolate is a sensible idea. I walk every day that I can with my son. We can’t really afford a gym membership and additional creche fees right now – my husband works long hours outside of the home – so the walking and other incidental exercise I get when playing with my son will have to do for now. I hope to lose the weight that I want to lose and get back to a happier, healthier size for me.
But that really is the crux of the matter. For me. Not for my husband, not for my family or friends or the stranger that feels the need to yell out the car window about my “fat ass” as I walk down the street.
As an aside: seriously, car-caller, what the actual eff?
Women are already under so much pressure in society to conform to a body ideal. I will never have the tiny bust for a string bikini – these breasts need industrial strength scaffolding to look their best. I will never be the girl wearing skinny jeans and showing off her little thigh gap. I could be anorexic and my giant pelvis will never fit into a pair of Size 10 jeans. I’m never going to be the media world’s idea of slender, never going to be slim enough for that stranger that called me names. My body and its shape is my business, not yours and certainly not some random weirdo who thinks he has the right to judge me.
As a mum, this concerns me. I know that parents of girls have it so much worse; my ass put me out of contention in the world of professional ballet and my gymnastics career was over when I grew what’s referred to in my family as the “Jones Boobs” or a rather sizable bust. As a mother of a boy, I’m not going to have to deal with explaining to my daughter why she’s being marketed push-up bras and makeup as a tween. But my body image affects him none the less.
If I’m continually spouting off about how uncomfortable I feel in this body, if I keep labeling my fat as negative (as those commenters on that article insisted on doing), if I’m continually telling CJ that my body is “less than”, what is to stop him from having the perception that all people with those bodies are less than? What if instead he learnt to respect all bodies – fat, thin, with bulky muscle or with lean – for what those people can do with their bodies? What if he learnt that it was fine to be happy in his own skin, however that skin was shaped? What if he grew up with a healthy relationship with food – that it was neither “good” nor “bad” but about finding the best fuel for his body? What if he respected a girl like me for getting out there and improving her health rather than cowardly berate her for not fitting an impossible ideal? What if he realized that the way that other people liked their body shape was none of his damn business?
In this battle of body image, we need to build up our young women – that is a fact. But teaching young men that the way someone looks is one of the least important parts of the package is important too. I really hope that CJ grows up to admire both men and women for more than just the way they look; the “outer packaging” should never be the part of the wonderful gift of people that you love the most.