health & pregnancy · healthy mind

Body image battles

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Pregnancy is a magical and miraculous time in a woman’s life. It’s also a time when her hormones go haywire, she balloons to a previously unheard of size and her body is taken over by an alien invader.

I’ve been lucky so far, it’s been an easy ride. Apart from some headaches and heartburn – “Par for the course,” says my unsympathetic gynae, “come and tell me when you’ve got something interesting” – I’ve been largely symptom free. No nausea or ‘morning’ aka all-bloody-day sickness, no hormonal temper tantrums, no middle of the night cravings for pickles. I’m a bit scared to be honest; if it’s this easy now, I feel like the punishment must be imminent. Nobody comes away from pregnancy unscathed, saying how much they adored every moment.

There is one thing that I’m struggling with, however, and that’s the weight. It sounds shallow and silly, but hear me out.

Putting on weight during pregnancy is not only a given, it’s a good thing. It means your baby is growing as it should be, and that’s far more important than the abs you’ve spent years cultivating. But it doesn’t make it any easier to watch your body changing. I’m not at the point where I have a proper baby bump yet; it looks more like I’ve enjoyed a particularly enthusiastic sitting in a pie shop. It’s the awkward stage where I don’t look properly pregnant, I just look like a porkier version of myself. And I don’t like it.

I’m a fit and healthy person who practises a balanced lifestyle with wholefoods and exercise to maintain a weight that I’m happy with. I’ve never been super skinny – I have boobs, hips and a butt and I’m perfectly comfortable with them. At the age of 36, I’m over the worst of the self-criticism that comes with being a woman, and I’ve worked hard on my mental game to accept and love my body for what it is. It’s so important to me, especially now I’ll be having a daughter to whom I want to pass that strength of self-love and acceptance.

But it’s a strange thing, the mental game. You can be so balanced and have all your rationales laid out nicely, and then one small emotional trigger temporarily obliterates your confidence. Anyone who has ever struggled to accept their body will know what I’m talking about.

For me, it was the chocolate bar that I ate yesterday. I’m pregnant and I’m craving sweet things. I’m trying to limit them so I maintain a healthy body for both myself and my baby, but sometimes I just want something – and so I have it. Fine, right? End of story. Because if I wasn’t pregnant, I wouldn’t feel guilty over having the chocolate. I practice the 80/20 approach – 80% eating clean and healthy, 20% indulging. Life’s too short not to.

So why now that I’m pregnant, that I ate a chocolate because I was craving one – which is completely normal and isn’t going to affect me at all in the long run – did I have an episode of self-loathing and doubt yesterday? How silly does it sound on paper? Very. But to be human is to be driven, at least in part, by our emotions, and they don’t always make sense.

The fact of the matter is that I’m putting on weight in an environment where normally I wouldn’t be. I’m exercising 4 times a week and that should maintain my weight, but every week I can see myself getting bigger. I tried to prepare myself for this when I found out I was pregnant, because I knew it would bother me. But now that it’s properly happening, I’ve found my preparation doesn’t count for much. It can’t, until you’re experiencing it.

As women we are subjected to unimaginable pressures and impossible standards when it comes to our appearance. The media celebrates the smallest of baby bumps in celebrity pregnancies, and let’s not even talk about the 2 week ‘snap back’ trend once you’ve given birth. It’s become a competition to see how quickly you can get skinny again. We don’t celebrate our post-baby bodies in all their imperfect glory for the miracle of life they’ve just produced, oh no, how passé. Instead we jealously judge each other a month later on how defined our six packs are. It’s twisted and incredibly sad that even us women have reduced each other to nothing but bodies. But it’s also nearly impossible to not be affected by it.

Hence my feelings of guilt and inadequacy yesterday. I’m pregnant for God’s sake, I’m going to get big! It’s nature! And yet I’m still battling to overcome my own ridiculous fears about that one chocolate bar.

I’m over it now of course, and as is always the case, in hindsight it seems embarrassing and trivial. But it’s also real, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time that this pregnancy affects my confidence.

That’s why I want to talk about it today, because no matter how petty these feelings seem, when you’re battling them, they feel enormous. And that’s ok. We’re not robots and just because our feelings don’t make logical sense, doesn’t mean they don’t have an impact.

When I finally stopped sulking and was ready to do something about it, I stood in front of the mirror and had a chat with myself. I told myself that I am beautiful just the way I am, right now and over the next 5 months as my body changes. I reminded myself that I’m lucky to have this incredible experience and how insanely excited I am to meet my little girl. And how my inner mean girl is the one responsible for the dark thoughts, and she doesn’t deserve my time or energy. And how much I enjoy my healthy practices and how good they are for my baby. And then I put it behind me and felt like myself again.

And next time I freak out over eating chocolate or my changing body, I’ll take myself to task in front of the mirror again. Because saying it out loud makes you believe it – and I’m partial to a little crazy talk with the voices in my head anyway.

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