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My age: 30
I have two children, aged 5 years, and 22 months.
“The camera adds 15 pounds, you know.”
“What a stupid thing to say,” I always thought. “You look exactly the same in a picture as you do in person. So do I. It must just be something insecure people say so they don’t have to be in photos.”
Then I saw a picture of myself at 176 pounds.
176 pounds. That’s how much I weighed the day my first baby was born, according to the hospital scale. One day shy of 37 weeks pregnant, carrying 6.5 pounds of baby, and flooded with fluid from the IV that had been running into my arm and the water I’d been guzzling by mouth for three days straight. Only I wasn’t pregnant in the picture. Nor was I newly postpartum, like the weeks following my second birth. I was holding my 21-month-old and smiling at the camera. And I saw the picture and thought, “holy shit, I look fat.”
Fat. It’s a new concept to me. In my younger days I was tall, thin, and buxom. I was a size 5 without even trying. A 32F. Two dance classes a week were all the exercise I did and I never watched what I ate. My first pregnancy was the first time I ever broke 150. With my second pregnancy, starting with that extra 15 pounds from #1 that I never lost, I passed the 190 mark and was horrified when I looked at the scale.
For the first time in my life, I’m worried about my weight. For the first time in my adult life, I’m GAINING weight outside of pregnancy—rapidly, not just a pound here or there–and I don’t know why. After both births I shed about 20 pounds right away. With #1, that’s as far as I got. With #2, I was pleasantly surprised when another 10 pounds or so melted off in her first year. I’d like to take credit for it but I can’t; I’m pretty sure it was just because she nursed A LOT. Then around a year it stopped coming off and stayed, stubbornly, at 165. I started considering exercise. (Oh, who am I kidding? I’d been considering exercise since my first was born but was always too lazy to do it.)
A lot has happened in the last year. When my youngest was about seven months old my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. A bad one. And in the wake of that earth shattering news, I was finally able to put a label on a habit I’ve always had but never really thought about: I stress eat. I comfort with food. I bake ridiculous cakes and cookies and all kinds of tasty treats when I’m upset or when I think somebody else is upset. I’m bad at expressing my emotions and comforting others so I make them cookies instead. And then eat the cookies with them. Solace by sugar.
Fortunately the bad news quickly turned not-as-bad: it might be beatable. He had the best chance possible in his circumstances. With hope went away the desire to eat all the things. But hope wasn’t enough and seven months later, he was gone. Right before Thanksgiving. The baby was 14 months old—almost exactly the age I was when I lost my first grandfather. Cue the stress eating. Cue the holidays. Cue my mother-in-law passing onto us all of the high-calorie snack foods that she’d gotten to try to get him to eat something, anything, during his treatment. Cue my mother giving us all of the leftover soda from their Christmas party—a treat that I love, but don’t keep in the house to discourage me from consuming so much. And suddenly I wasn’t 165 anymore, I was gaining.
Then in February, I turned 30. Two months later, I weaned my youngest. And somewhere in all of this, my metabolism lay down and brazenly gave me the finger as it died. One day I stepped on the scale and it said 176, and I realized that I was going to have to DO something unless I wanted it to keep going up.
My thoughts on my body are divided. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I see my fat thighs—oh, my thighs. Where I gain all of my weight, where reside almost all of my stretch marks. When I was pregnant, and up 40 pounds, people said, “well you’re all belly, you haven’t gained any weight at all!” I’d smile and think, “That’s because I’m wearing a skirt and you can’t see my thighs.” I had to buy all new maternity pants at 9 months pregnant, not because of my belly, but because of my thighs. They chafe horribly in the summer, so I catch myself waddling whenever I wear a skirt, to try to relieve the pain. And I see my chin and neck, which gained a roll when I was pregnant that had never been there before. And I see my belly, growing now because I’m pretty sure my thighs are running out of room to hold the fat. I have a roll. In a public restroom the other day I unzipped my pants so I could sit down after my five-year-old was finished, and she said, “mommy, we’re having a baby, next month!” I looked at my belly and wanted to cry. It hasn’t been flat in a while but damnit, my five-year-old thinks I look pregnant.
Other times I look in the mirror and smile. I see my curves, I see my thin waist, I see my rather large breasts (usually, for these smiling sessions, I’m in a bra so they look nice and perky and I can’t see how far they sag after nearly three years of cumulative breastfeeding). I see a woman who doesn’t LOOK like she weighs nearly 180 pounds. I like that lady. I like those days.
One day I was getting ready to run errands, and in the process of doing so dancing around my room in a bra and underwear to the music playing on my iPod speaker. I boogied into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and smiled. Smiled at that sexy lady in her underthings breaking it down to some good music. And in that smile, I noticed my toddler standing behind me, smiling and dancing as well.
Those are the days I want my daughters to remember. I want them to know a mom who thinks she’s beautiful whether she’s 140 or 180 pounds. I want them to remember a mom who didn’t complain about dieting all the time or how she looked or criticized her body in front of them. I want them to love their own bodies and be able to look in the mirror and smile.
It’s hard sometimes. Some days I just don’t feel it. I can’t look at pictures of myself without grimacing, at least on the inside. But I figure the best I can do is try to hide the occasional loathing from them, while trying to eat better and exercise more.
I was going to post last year at one year post-partum, like I did with my first. Then I got vain. I thought, well, I haven’t exercised much so why don’t I wait until 18 months to see if I can “improve”? And then at 18 months I was gaining, so I figured I’d wait until she was two. But you know what? Screw that. Here I am at 22 months post-partum, struggling with weight gain and so far unsuccessful with carrying an exercise plan past day two. But now I know it’s not the camera that adds 15 pounds. It’s LIFE. It’s excuses and exhaustion and chocolate (delicious, delicious chocolate) and laziness. But knowing is half the battle, right? Right?
These pictures are 22 months post partum. I included one to show the improvement I see when wearing a properly fitting bra—this was shortly after my post-weaning fitting, my first underwire bra in nearly two years. It’s a 32FF.