Thursday, December 3, 2009

Body Image

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me. 
      From Phenomenal Woman, by Maya Angelou.

When I first read this poem, I was in college, struggling with the "freshman 20", if you will. Except I was a junior and the poem didn't inspire me to lose weight. It made me quite content with who I was (you know, phenomenal woman and all) until I went home to Malaysia for the summer and all the Maya Angelou confidence got squashed by the first thing my family said when they saw me—"wow, you’ve put on weight!" Fairly straightforward. Fairly innocuous. But definitely depressing--especially when everyone I saw that summer greeted me with this cringe-worthy opener. Cruel world.

So, as most formulaic college-girl-meets-fat story goes, my trip back to the States marked the beginning of two dark and painful years brought on by my very unhealthy relationship with food and my body. Yes, how trite. The details would make a good Life Time Network movie so seeing as I detest that channel, I’m just going to skip that altogether and fast forward 12 years. (Holy shit! Have I really been out of college for that long?!)

When I learned of my pregnancy, it was a little difficult for me to accept that all the work I’ve put into maintaining my post-junior-20 days would be nullified by this growing being inside me. However, after seven hours of labor, a miracle happened (other than the obvious of course)—I no longer cared. I was in so much awe of what my body could do and I was so proud of it that the weight issues became completely inconsequential.

It was only after I was at peace with my own body that the baby weight came off easily and stayed off (at least while I’m nursing), and I’ve never felt so happy. I don’t count calories, and I never stop myself from eating what I want, although I always try to do so in moderation. I don’t stress about how many calories I’m burning and even though I think I should work out more than I have been, I don’t beat myself up over it. It’s pretty funny considering I work for a wellness company. I am constantly surrounded by marathoners and people who weigh themselves and eat salad daily, but even then I refuse to feel bad about myself – “What?! You eat chocolate cake???!” Yes, yes I do. And I love it. Especially with vanilla ice cream...and whipped cream.

However, the reality is, I’m quite certain nursing has helped me stave off the unwanted pounds (your body burns calories as it produces milk), which means Little Miss has inadvertently been whipping me to shape. Now that it’s time to wean her, I am dreading the déjà vu of my daily diatribe with my body, mostly centered on how it wants to do one thing (get fat and lazy) and I want it to do something else (be like Heidi Klum. OK, maybe more like Kate Winslet in Titanic. More attainable and less bulimia-inducing).

But something has changed in my life. Priorities have shifted. While I don’t intend to “let myself go” just because I had a baby, I also realize that the last five pounds that I’ve been eternally agonizing over is just not worth the stress. I can learn to live with it and appreciate it for what it is – fat stores that will keep me alive longer should the canned food run out in the bomb shelter. I’m just sayin’.

Besides, with Little Miss, I have to be cognizant of the influence I will have on her. The last thing I want to pass down to her is body image issues. She has to be confident that we can be women, phenomenally, without society’s unrealistic expectations of us. I hope to teach her that it’s not about how thin, but how strong we are. Well, unless she becomes a poster child for childhood obesity. I may then have to rethink my strategy.

And come up with another poem.