Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Shape of a Person

When this site started making the rounds on the Internets a week or so ago, I had to check it out. It's kind of become an obsession for me, to look at the pictures and read the stories of women who have been pregnant and had children. The purpose of the site is to show people what real women's bodies look like, whether or not they look like the photoshopped, airbrushed "ideal" that we see in magazines and on TV. I've always found it kind of amazing that the celebrity mommies we see paraded before us seem to look the same within only a few weeks after giving birth (except maybe with bigger boobs, if they're breastfeeding). And within a few months we're seeing them in bikinis - with no scars or stretch marks in sight.

Intellectually, before this site, I understood that women's bodies change, oftentimes permanently, due to pregnancy. My mom has complained my whole life about how I "stole her body" and I have always interpreted that in more ways than one. Before she got pregnant with me, she looked a lot like me (though much shorter) - but her boobs, her waist, her butt were very much like mine were as a teenager. I'm sure it must have been difficult to see me in my bikinis in the summer, looking exactly as she had 30 years before. Also, her pregnancy with me changed her body permanently, both externally ("You kicked out my ribs two inches, you were such a long skinny baby!") and internally. I know that her organs got kind of rearranged and that permanently changed the kinds of physical activity she could do. She had two babies after me but I was the one who did the most damage, so to speak. She lost the baby weight after me and middle sis but has spent the last 20 years battling the weight she gained with the youngest.

Intellectually, I understand, but emotionally, it's very difficult to look at the pictures of women's bodies, so different from how we normally see them. I see bodies in the gym of all shapes and sizes but they're fleeting glances as everyone averts their eyes. Plus, the bodies are disproportionately more athletic and toned since they're gym bodies, of course. I look at those pictures and have so many reactions - sadness, horror, fascination, pride in those women for the willingness to share with the world that their bodies are perfectly normal even if they don't look like the pictures in the magazines, the movies, and on TV. My brain understands that stretch marks are pretty much genetically predetermined (and, as far as I can remember, my mom doesn't have them, so maybe I'll get lucky) and c-section scars are often hidden right near pubic hair. I know what causes these marks, and I know that some women's bodies look pretty much like they did after pregnancy as they did before. But not most. Most women carry permanent marks on their bodies in some way - and we never, ever see it. And I am scared, sad, and, in a way, even more reluctant to turn my body and its future over to what is essentially a parasite for 9-10 months before my life is turned over to the product of that relinquishment permanently.

It's only been within the last year or so that I really started thinking about whether I wanted to have kids - I mean, really the process of pregnancy and childbirth. Until I started reading the blogs of women who were pregnant and had children, I hadn't really thought about it other than in the abstract, this kind of amorphous idea of how cool it would be to see what a kid of mine what look like or might be capable of doing. And I've always had kind of an ambivalent reaction to the process of spawning, the whole concept of having something in me that was both a part of me and something completely different. Now, in thinking about it, I am simultaneously amazed at what my body is designed to do - I mean, it (theoretically) is capable of feeding a small human for at least a year if not more, in addition to the whole growing said small human - and dismayed at the thought of losing control over the only thing I've really been able to control.

I got a taste of what "body out of control" was like three years ago during the birth control pill switch fiasco - gaining weight uncontrollably while training for a marathon was kind of a sobering and scary experience. It's taken me two years to get back to where I was before I went on that pill, and it's been a bitch to get there. A few days ago I tried on an outfit that I'm wearing in the last pictures taken of me before I started the Bad BCP, pretty much exactly 3 years ago. It fit exactly as it had in the pictures - actually, maybe a bit better, because now I'm a bit more toned. And this evening, I took my measurements for the first time in about a year: 36.5, 26.5, 38. Most of my size 8 clothes are getting pretty loose, and my size 6s (what few I have left) are actually wearable. The shorts from three years ago (the ones from the pictures) fit me - perhaps not SUPER comfortably, but they fit and I don't spill out above or below. And then the evil, never happy with her body side has to go and look at the pictures from my trip to Europe in 2000 in which I'm wearing the very same shorts, and remembering that in those pictures the shorts would have fallen off had I not had them tied on with a bandana (I didn't have a belt). And I remember my measurements taken my senior year of high school: 35, 24.5, 36. Today I'm wearing a tshirt that fits well (finally), the same shirt I'm wearing in pictures taken when I first met the Hulk 5 years ago - in those pictures, my collar bone is sticking out and the shirt hangs on me. I wasn't on any BCP then and had lost my boobs. Most of me looks at those pictures and says, wow, I look so much better now. And a small part of me thinks I should get that skinny again - because skinnier is always better, right?

I guess my question is - will I ever be happy with the way I look? Am I selfish and vain for worrying about how pregancy and childbirth might change my body? Are the 5 people who read this blog sick and tired already of me bitching about my body and body image and how I look, especially since the 4 of you that know me in real life probably think I look good and don't need to do anything else to change the way I look? Taking those measurements, wearing that outfit, wearing this t-shirt: they all feel like huge accomplishments. Looking at myself in the mirror naked, I feel like I look like me again. Me, only better, because damn, my arms are now kickass. And maybe when the time comes, if it does, I'll feel like whatever permanent marks on my body pregancy might bring will be worth the product and cause of those changes. I hope so.

3 comments:

Yank In Texas said...

I think that any woman who says she loves her body is either lying or has has a hell of a lot of surgery to get there. Most women hate at least some part of their body. So it's not just you.
I have the same issues and i'm loving the way my body is changing due to the gym. I'm not at high school weight, nor do I ever think I'll be, but I'm definitely better than in college.
As for the pregnancy thing, yeah it's a scary thought and a weird one. It's hard to imagine going through something like that, espcially with all the changes. all I can think is about the struggle I'm having to lose the weight and how that's going to work when I have a kid.
Body changes.
Oh and i already have stretch marks :( from gaining weight quickly in college. fun.

EEK! said...

"Am I selfish and vain for worrying about how pregancy and childbirth might change my body?"

Selfish? Please. It is your body and you can choose whether you want to use it for reproduction or athletics or even just for pretty. And given your family dynamics regarding bodies and pregnancy/childbirth and your own body image situation, I think you're right to question whether pregnancy is the right choice for you. If you decide not, you know, it's not the only way to create a family.

If you want kids, I think you owe it to yourself and your family to go about it in the way that will cause the least amount of trauma so you can be a functioning, supportive parent. As you well know, children can internalize their parents' issues. Growing up with your mom's body image issues have probably influenced your own. If you decide you want kids, think about how you can approach childrearing in the most positive light, if that makes sense. Hoping that you'll just stop caring about being thin after you have kid is probably not the best bet, though you might be able to get some outside help to get there if that's what you decide you want.

Leah said...

It's good to know I'm not the only one who looks at those pictures and feels more than just a little bit of fear. But I think knowing about those changes beforehand will help me deal with them when they arise, so I have to say that I'm absolutely glad I found the site. Still...what a sobering look at reality, huh? This further confirms that Denise Richards is a cyborg.