It’s the way my skin pools into my clothing like a McFlurry oozing out of its nozzle. The way my bloated baked potato face blinks back at me. The way my thighs rub together like Bear Grylls starting a friction fire in the wild. Putty-soft upper arms that jingle like pockets heavy with loose change.
I hate my postpartum body, and it is destroying my marriage, one outfit at a time.
My lack of confidence is a lethal injection to my relationship. Whenever my husband wants to leave the house, I change twenty times, but always end up in my maternity t-shirts and pregnancy jeans again.
Not because I’m still pregnancy-big, but because I take comfort in knowing my body is hidden away under duvet folds of material. So you can’t tell where cloth-me ends and skin-me begins.
My husband looks at me, not quite sure what to say, and knowing that whatever he does say, will set off an explosive argument of exhausting proportions.
My madness is not up for debate.
We argue about my obsession with my body, and he tells me again how beautiful I am.
Why are you lying to me?
I keep pulling at my skin, completely engrossed by how gross I am. I stand in front of the mirror and pick myself apart, feature by feature. My eyes rove my newly soft body with relentless criticism.
I am living my worst nightmare.
And I’m not the only one.
babycenter surveyed 7000 women, and 64% of survey takers confessed that their body image had worsened since they became mothers. But here’s the thread that I’ve only just begun to unravel; I don’t think my pregnancy was really the problem.
The secret truth?
I’ve always had a body image problem.
And that’s not to say that I was overweight. On the contrary, I was fit, active, and monitored my food intake with a careful system of punishment and reward painstakingly tracked in the ledger of my mind. I would eat nothing but vegetables all week long, but I would binge on whatever I liked on the weekend.
Input, output, input, output, forever balanced, forever thin.
My real problem was the fear of an unrealised weight issue that I was always terrified would catch up with me one day.
And I think the body changes associated with my pregnancy made my fear feel true, and more real than it had ever felt in my early 20s when I’d push myself to go to the gym every single night after work.
In developmental psychology, we talk about modelling behaviour, and how, as a child, you attend to, retain, and reproduce certain things that you witness. Most of our early modelling comes from our parents, and in my case, I have reason to believe that a lot of my body image issues come from my mum.
I spent my childhood watching my mum plough through every single diet plan ever created.
Atkins, Weight Watchers, SlimFast, low-fat, low-carb, high-protein, no-fat, no-sugar, you name the combination, and my mum had tried it.
In fact, when my mum was on Weight Watchers, I used to carry around her points book for her, and flip through it, counting how many points she had left for the day, marking down how many points she’d eaten away.
Like a game. A game where I decided what my mum was allowed to eat.
I wasn’t just modelling behaviour; I was part of the behaviour. I would listen to my mum talking to her friends about her struggles, and every single problem she had was eventually quantifiable in kilos and grams.
My mother’s value was relative to the number on the bathroom scale on any given day.
Then there was her gym schedule. A punishing routine of weight lifting and swimming and boot camp and whatever else she could sweat into her already packed daily routine.
Watching my mother chasing her ideal body was exhausting and sad because she would reach her goal and relax, then promptly put the weight back on again. The endless diets and the pursuit of an active lifestyle were my mother’s hamster wheel, and she ran on that wheel until she was old and had nothing left to give. Now my mother is in her 60s, hobbling on a knee-replacement, struggling with obesity, and will cuss you out if you tell her she can’t have cake for breakfast again.
And who can blame her?
I was never so conscious of my body until I became an adult, and realised so much of my value was a derivative of my size. I was small, and people appreciated my smallness. People complimented how thin I was all the time. And I think that was part of the problem.
If I’d modelled healthier behaviour around body image in my childhood, perhaps those compliments would have had a lighter touch and impact on me. But the reality was, those compliments fueled a very dark part of me and reaffirmed that I was outrunning my mother’s past, and winning the race to be thin, thin, thin.
I know my mum never meant to hurt me or change how I saw myself, but I do know that the niggling voice in my head that has constantly berated my food choices and workout schedule over the years is born of an unconscious response to my mother’s body.
In the same way that my mum rejected her body over and over again, I too rejected my mum’s body, and came to associate her shape and size with the sort of monster that hides in your cupboard, or stands in the suggestive shadows of a dark bedroom at night.
Flash forward to present day
I began writing this post almost a year ago now, and since then, I’ve lost most of the weight that I so graphically described at the start of this piece.
Despite this fact, I still think there is something vitally important to be learnt from the person I became when I was twenty-five kilos heavier than I am now.
I’m still afraid of that woman. The fat me. The not-who-I-want-to-see me.
And that’s not a good thing.
I’m deeply affected by the person I became when I was big-Nadia, and I’m deeply concerned about the dormant fear of bigger me. I’m now 8-weeks into therapy that I should have started two years ago. In the year I gave birth to my son.
I don’t want to be a prisoner to numbers on a scale, and I don’t want to define myself in gains and losses and plateaus. I think they call this an eating disorder, and I’m at the start of a very long road to undo mine.