Wherein Kate Harding tells my story for me

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”.

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3 thoughts on “Wherein Kate Harding tells my story for me

  1. okay. so i have a plan for you. it combines body acceptance and knitting for oneself. the pattern will be from a book that has sweaters sized to fit actual breasts. and bellies. and butts. with amazing yarn with wonderful drape. unlike the fairisle across where?! cable over what?! versions of sweaters-not-designed-for-curvy-women.

    p.s. the hat is lovely.
    p.p.s. since tanglethis had the good idea to introduce us, i have been very curious to meet your baby. i might just grab her and (calling ahead, of course, i am no monster) descend on you with knitting and writing projects in hand to while away pleasant ‘meet tobit’ time.

    • That sounds lovely! I’ve discovered that the Free Library has a copy of Big Girl Knits (must check this out!) and I’m determined to make my first big project for myself — a sweater of some kind — by or for my birthday (Sept.)

      And please, please do grab her and come by! I’m almost always up for company, even though my house may or may not be, but I’m not going to let a little thing like that turn people away. I can trust in Tobit to provide all the distraction any reasonable adult would need to completely ignore the state of our apartment, even if I worried about that. 😉

  2. I completely hear you about all this stuff, re:fat acceptance. I struggle with it all the time.

    Before I got pregnant, about 5 1/2 years ago, I lost some weight and while still not “thin” and I never will be, I was in better physical shape and feeling better. While pregnant I only gained back about 12 lbs. After the baby was born, I lost those immediately. But my appetite went into overdrive with breastfeeding and I gained it all back. I feel because I became very sedentary again. I would like to get back down to where I was when I got pregnant, no matter what I look like. I felt better and think it would be easier on my heart. The problem now is inability to do much exercise before my chest is rebelling the activity. But I’m trying to not eat past my hunger and hope that will help.

    I think I have good intentions.

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