I am 23 years old, my daughters are 18 months and 3 1/2 months. I was very lucky to have two, as my midwife said, ‘boring’ pregnancies without any complications or issues. I gained just under 20 lbs in each pregnancy, and it was all baby-weight and I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight very quickly. I had my first daughter six weeks after I wrote my last exam in my undergrad and my second 15 months later, neither of them were planned. these girls are the center of my world – in both good and bad ways!
I always had body image issues since I hit puberty and I had just reached a point where I was beginning to feel comfortable with myself when I got pregnant. I felt better than ever in both my pregnancies, I was so proud of my belly. Baby bellies are viewed differently in this society than they used to be even one generation ago, when women felt they had to cover up their bellies and wear long circus-tent type clothing, but now the thinking is to flaunt and show off your belly, and big bellies are revered and praised. But the post-partum belly is not socially acceptable in our culture, we are taught to hide our bodies now. Going from the one extreme to the other is a big gap for any woman to jump.
After my first daughter was born I ‘bounced back’ pretty quickly and everybody was praising me on how great I looked. I didn’t feel great and I didn’t want them to praise me. When somebody said to me “oh you look great! Look how fast you bounced back to normal!” it made me fear for the other women who don’t go back to their pre-pregnancy size or shape, because the people who praised me are helping to set that unwritten standard of whats okay to look like and whats not okay to look like. I don’t want to be praised because this only helps cement this divide and illuminate the repression of other body shapes. I don’t think women need any more reason to compare themselves to one another or feel like they aren’t good enough. I feel like, in this culture, once you have stretch marks and a post-baby belly, you have suddenly become a lower class of person because you don’t have a body that looks like a La Senza ad.
Even though people praised me, I hated my stomach. I had some stretch marks on my stomach and breasts and the elasticity of my skin and muscle is gone, and I blamed my daughter for ‘ruining’ me. Before pregnancy I used to model but I couldn’t go back to this because I had become ‘undesirable’ now. I stopped swimming, I awoided mirrors, I even had a period of time, after both pregnancies, where I wouldn’t let my partner see or touch me. I tried not to see my own body. I tried not to let anybody else see my body. I felt like (and still do feel this way) nobody could find me attractive again. I don’t beleive my partner when he tells me that not only am I still attractive, but I am now more attractive than ever because my belly brought him his daughters.
We went to Florida when my first daughter was 8 months old and this was the first time that i was going to be in a swimsuit in public. I couldn’t do it – I had a bikini and I wore it under my clothes but I couldn’t bring myself to take off my shirt and expose my skin. I felt like I shouldnt put other people – strangers – through seeing my stomach, like I should follow this unwritten rule that now I had a baby, I should buy that one-piece swimsuit and never subject my ugly, ruined ‘not a La Senza ad’ body to anybody. I had never felt so ashamed of my body before as I did on that day I sat on the beach and watched everybody else swim. Later I cried about how ugly I was.
I feel like there is this game that women are taught to play which is based on ever-changing rules of opression. I am calling this the ‘one-piece swimsuit game’ because as soon as you have a baby, you are supposed to go buy that one-piece swimsuit because you are taught that you are suddenly too ugly, having lost the shape, look and elasticity of your pre-baby body. I dont know who taught us that was something we had to do, that now we needed to hide, but whoever it was needs a good kicking. I feel like every woman has followed this stupid rule so dutifully and unquestioningly that nobody has ever raised enough fuss to make us wake up and realize that we don’t need to do it at all. It shouldn’t be painful like this. I shouldn’t have been taught this hurtful game, and neither should any of you. I don’t want to watch my daughters and your daughters fall into this game either.
And in the same way that people praising me for ‘bouncing back’ is hurtful for other women who don’t ‘bounce back,’ I don’t want to contribute to teaching other women either that they need to play the one-piece swimsuit game by starting to wear the one-piece swimsuit myself. I don’t want that one-piece swimsuit, I don’t want to show other woman that I too, felt the need to hide myself cause it will teach other women and young girls how to play this game of oppression as well. I don’t want my daughters to feel like when they grow up and have their own children, they need to suddenly switch to a one-piece swimsuit, too.
So I’ll make a promise if you will too – I want out of this female oppression game so I will not play the ‘one piece swimsuit game’ anymore if you wont either. you hear that? I’m opting out, I can only loose at this stupid game and its never been fun anyway, so I’m not playing anymore.