We are all still working on it. Even me, even people who have been waving the fat acceptance banner for decades longer than I have. We’re all still working on it, because the messages are relentless – the messages that tell us we should hate ourselves, starve ourselves, make dieting at least a part-time job (for our health!), the messages that tell us we will never be loved if we “let ourselves go,” the messages that tell us there is only one acceptable female body type, and you and I are both too fat for it, and you’re too black for it, and millions of women — the majority of us, actually — are too something (even too skinny) for it. Those messages never, ever let up, and rejecting them involves a conscious choice, every dingdang day. And some days, like I said, you don’t feel perfectly strong and righteous and ready for battle. — Kate Harding, “Dear Oprah”
I occasionally blog here re: fat acceptance (or “body image and self-acceptance”, for those of you who can’t see fat and acceptance in the same sentence easily) chiefly because, well, I need to. I’ve been talking a good game, especially since the pregnancy, but just the smallest word can still trip me up, and I’m back where I started again; or rather, I can see how far I haven’t come, how much I still depend on the Fantasy that I will somehow look again like I looked at 16, which will of course make me both happy and a worthwhile human being (never mind that when I actually was 16, I felt like I was neither).
So recently it was a passing comment, about how I needed to not eat enough to keep up with my appetite, because “how else would breastfeeding help me lose the pregnancy weight!”. I replied, in my dis-easiness, “don’t worry, I go to bed hungry sometimes, when I’m too tired to stay awake”, like I should be proud of starving myself even the least bit when I’ve got not one but two bodies dependent on my caloric intake. The assumption is that my body will “burn” away the fat, nourishing the kiddo and… and nothing. That’s the end of the sentence: not one mention of whether or not ignoring hunger in myself is healthy for ME. It’s assumed that as long as I’m producing breastmilk, I’m just fine, the incubator/nourisher is doing its job, all is right with the world.
I was pretty damn sick with a nasty head cold or I-won’t-admit-it-was-flu for about a week and a half, and for those of you who know me, you know that is an ungodly long time for me to be sick. I had a finicky stomach during that time, and nausea, and, well, a body’s natural response to nausea, and my body slowed milk production big time, ’cause, you know, it was fighting off infection and was trying to get me well again. All the not-eating I was doing during that time, which on most days was eating about like I would have normally, or possibly what ‘normally’ was in grad school, which is to say meals were sporadic, unbalanced and low-salt, low-fat and low-calorie.
What it was, specifically, was insufficient to my needs — both running my body and producing milk for the little one who depends on me for sustenance.
Recovery from that was slow, and is still kind of going on, even though I’m down to just blowing my nose a lot now. My milk supply only just really came back in yesterday, and my appetite has only been back for a couple days.
The rather roundabout point is this: when I eat to hunger, and that is enough to sustain my body (no matter what the demands on it) then I feel good, my body does what it needs to do, and I’m in good shape. When I don’t (or can’t) eat enough to satiate my appetite, then I am doing myself (and, now, a small child) a disservice. I know this. I know that hunger is my body’s low fuel light. I get hungry, not because I’m fat, but because my body needs fuel.
AND YET. I still fight this notion that, because I don’t fit the physical ideal, because I’m heavier than I was 15 years ago, because I gained weight during the pregnancy (like I was supposed to!) and it’s not gone 15 weeks postpartum, and I still look like, ZOMG, a breastfeeding new mom, I somehow have been Doing It Wrong, and should Starve Myself Immediately!!11eleventy!
I am 31 years old. I am not going to look 16. I am going to look 31.
I just had a baby. I am not going to look like I’ve never carried a pregnancy to term. I am going to look like I just had a baby.
I weigh more than I did in high school. I am not going to look like I did in high school. I am going to look like how I am now.
These are the thoughts I have to repeat to myself just to get those snide little comments out of my head, the concern-trolling thoughts with my mother’s voice, that say “if only you’d X, you wouldn’t be fat, and you’d be Y”.
These are the thoughts I don’t want to pass on to my child. I don’t want that sweet little one, who loves me for who I am (and the food I bring), to ever think that what you are is Bad Bad Bad if it doesn’t fall within narrowly defined parameters. I don’t want my child to grow up watching me fight my body, but rather seeing me accept myself as I am, indeed, loving myself without stint or judgment on my appearance, so much that whether or not I’m fat doesn’t even come into the question. I want that child’s perception of me to be “that’s my mama”, and not “that’s my mama; she was sure pretty when she was thin”.