We are already normal (a very pregnant post)

This guest post makes me want to stand up and cheer. Which looks awkward when you’re alone in your apartment. But is worth it anyway. Thank you so much, Anna!

Hello, everyone!  My name is Anna.  I’m a post-liberal arts degree part-time pregnant nanny.  Normally I blog over at www.icyviolets.com, where I usually restrict my writing to the beautiful processes of making and consuming food.  But my interests run from food to fashion to body image to women’s issues…and of course when all of these things come together, as on Kate’s blog, I am hooked!

So I was delighted when she asked me to do a guest post on our society’s ideas of what constitutes a “normal” body.  To put it into context, her invite was prompted by this comment I left on her post of a week or two ago, Bikinis Hate Food:

“The other day I was reading about women’s struggles with their post-partum figure, and read some statistic that said that 86% of women don’t return to a ‘normal’ figure within a year of birth. And all I could think was, shouldn’t that stat, that huge majority, make a NEW normal?? why do we consider adolescent bodies the norm for adult women?”


Women’s bodies.

Women’s bodies.  When you hear that phrase, what images pop into your head?  Movie stars?  Girls at the beach?  Medical photos?  Artistic nudes?  Morgues?

Women’s bodies are defined (and designed) by change.  At 8 months pregnant, I am currently experiencing one of the most extreme variations on this.  But pregnant women are not the only women whose bodies change.  Women with periods, regular or irregular, experience changes.  Swelling and shrinking, high tides and low.  Fat pants and skinny jeans.

Women age.  Women get sick.  Women’s bodies are defined (and designed) by change.

So, what IS a normal woman’s body? What does that mean?  Is it the ideal, that something we see on all the magazines, that something we all want to be?

Or is normal the real? The lived existence of millions of women, living in their bodies, every day?

I think I mentioned that I’m pregnant.  Let me tell you about it.  It’s been awful.  Some of it’s physical – I was horribly sick through my first trimester, and the achiness and sleeplessness of the subsequent two have not been much more fun.  But you know what has been the hardest part?

The SWELLING.

Oh yeah, it’s exciting at first to see that little bulge, to see the proof that yes, you really are gestating something.  Makes you look at hens and mother kitties a little differently.  Makes you see little onesie outfits in the store and say, awwwww.

But it just keeps growing.  Soon (sooner than you thought, maybe) it pushes you out of your pants. Even your fat pants.  Then out of your baggiest, empire-waisted shirts.  It changes your shopping habits.  Cute bras and lacy undies?  A thing of the past.  The bras YOU buy now are hidden in the back of the store, near the panties that go up to your ribcage.  Now it’s all about accidentally knocking things off the counter and struggling to see your feet.

Let me mention I have been within my normal weight gain too.  I resist even mentioning this, because I resent the idea of a ‘normal’ or recommended pregnancy gain.  Like, what?  Women really need to hear that gaining extra weight is BAD for them?  You don’t say!  Stop the presses!  But just so no one is all like, “But your health baaaahh!”  According to the doctors, I am perfectly healthy.

But that’s of little comfort when my best fitting outfit is a large barrel with suspenders attached.  It’s hard to even go out.  Because people stare.*  And because I’m terribly self-conscious about my absurd belly, my enormous breasts, my waddling gait.

I started fantasizing about the diets I would undertake post-pregnancy sometime around the fifth month.  But extreme dieting is discouraged for new moms, especially if they are breastfeeding.  It’s terribly frustrating.  What am I supposed to do now?  Stay huge?  Stay in a big, flubbery heap of milky mess for months?

Here’s the thing.  The answer, in health terms, is…YES.

It’s natural.  It’s…normal.

So why does our society’s idea of what is ‘normal’ freeze somewhere around your average (well, even then not really AVERAGE) nineteen-year-old adolescent?

Anyone know?  Shall we blame men?  That’s always fun.  And I think many of them are not innocent in supporting this culture of distorted norms.  But really, men’s bodies change too.  They get old, fat, sick, and bald.  They even suffer anxiety and some social sanction for it (although not as much as women, I believe).

And the truth is, as far as women’s bodies go, many surveys suggest that most AVERAGE (normal?) men consistently prefer women who are larger and curvier than the media represents.  My man repeatedly reassures me about my body.  The fact that it doesn’t really make me feel better suggests another source for my anxiety, don’t you think?

But I think I have it figured out.  Because every time I googled ‘pregnancy stretch marks’ I had to sift through twenty websites selling me a product to get rid of them.  The first two pages of the image search were filled with absurdly lit before/after pictures, highlighting the respective ideas of repulsiveness vs beauty.  And all selling some product.

There is no reason to be down on stretch marks.  Nine out of ten women have them, and plenty of men too.  Many women develop stretch marks during puberty, long before pregnancy. Stretch marks do not symbolize disease or incapacity, they are not rotting flesh or poison.  They don’t even indicate age or infertility.  In terms of reproduction, stretch marks should in fact be preferred since they indicate both sexual maturity and fertility.  They are even sort of symmetrical – nothing inherently offensive about them at all.

Unless you are the manufacturer of stretch mark cream – then the idea of society accepting women’s bodies as they are becomes very offensive indeed.

Women’s bodies.  Want to know what normal is?  Look around you.  Working women.  Mothers.  Students.  Friends.  Teenagers.  Grandmothers.  We are normal already.

Knowing all of this doesn’t quite fix the problem.  I will still look in the mirror and wish I had a barrel handy to hide in from time to time.  But still.  I propose that when in the depths of body-image misery we should ask ourselves, who is benefiting from this?  What am I watching, reading, BUYING, to make myself feel better?

Let’s make some new norms.  And lets eat us some damn cake as we do.

* * *

*In my real life work as a nanny I sometimes take the kids to the park, and yes, I worry that, seeing me arrive with a five year old, a one year old in a stroller, and a swollen tummy, the people will gather around to poke me with a stick and chant “Breeder!  Breeder!  Breeder!”

Unroast: My protruding belly makes the curve of my back, neck, and shoulders, appear elegant.

 

27 Comments »

Kate on June 14th 2011 in beauty, body

27 Responses to “We are already normal (a very pregnant post)”

  1. Lynn responded on 14 Jun 2011 at 11:49 am #

    Lovely Post!!! I don’t have any children yet, but I do have some stretch marks and after years of hating them, I just let it go and embraced them. And honestly, I’ve basically forgotten that they are there :) I’m still working on loving my body, but reading this made me realize that I really have made some good progress, and that makes me happy :) I wish you a safe and healthy pregnancy and delivery and I hope that your baby arrives safe and sound :) Also, I’m going to pop over and take a look at your food blog!

  2. April @ The 21st Century Housewife responded on 14 Jun 2011 at 11:51 am #

    This is a wonderful, wonderful post!! You are so, so right. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, and yes, I too wanted to stand up and cheer!

  3. Sooz responded on 14 Jun 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    Super post. Lots of good and interesting points. I myself have been trying to accept all the things about my body that make me human. It is hard because everyone else seems intent on erasing all marks and blemishes. Good luck with your pregnancy and birth!!!!

  4. Jennifer Jo responded on 14 Jun 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    When I get down and out about my body, it sometimes helps to focus on all the good that my body can DO. It can hug people. It can grow food. It can run. It can make people (and has! four times over!). It can make things FOR other people. It can smile. It can deliver enormous belly laughs. etc.

  5. Cindy responded on 14 Jun 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    as always…I walk away from ETDC feeling better!

    GREAT GUEST POST
    we do need to make a NEW NORM

    I always wonder who invented “normal” anyways?

    xo

  6. Nancy responded on 14 Jun 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    If I stare at pregnant women (and I do), it’s because I’m thinking – oh how miraculous! oh how beautiful! how I wish I could touch their belly but of course that would be so rude, so I’ll just look on in amazement…. I hope you can interpret people’s stares to be just that.

  7. Taryn responded on 14 Jun 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    Bravo. I love this post so much, but it’s the general rule that I love everything posted on this website, period.

    Though I don’t want to have children for many other reasons (I have little to no maternal instinct, I have a very short fuse with small uneducated people, I like the idea of living my life selfishly for as long as possible, I hate cleaning and, for the most part, cooking, etc.), I feel guilty and pathetic for one of those reasons being that I don’t like the idea of my body changing in the way that pregnancy will change it.

    Women are made to feel that these changes are something to be ashamed of, changes that make them ugly or less than. I don’t believe that. When I see a pregnant woman, or a woman with stretch marks or a ceserean section scar, I find that woman to have otherworldly beauty for fulfilling her biological duty and using her body to form a totally new person… I mean, that’s amazing. Yet somehow I hold myself to different standards. The standards set forth by the media. And, yes, maybe it’s too simple of an explanation, but I do by & large blame the media.

    Anyway, I’m all for this new normal. But how do we get there?

  8. Mme Wong responded on 14 Jun 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    Great guest post!

    I’m actually appalled by the statistic mentioned at the beginning. So, what, 86% of women have an “abnormal” figure then?

    And yes, adjusting to a “new you” is always easier said than done (because I believe we all deal with body issues, but choose the importance we want to give to those issues), but the concept that it means “not normal” is simply baffling.

    Do I miss the body I had before children? Yes. But not because it was thinner/younger/fill in the blank. Simply because it was more familiar. It was the body I grew up into, and I was used to it. Now my body’s just different. Not bigger/older/whatever – it’s not, really – but it’s just not the same, and since I haven’t had years and years to get used to it, I know it’ll take a while. But it sure doesn’t mean I’m not normal!!! (Or maybe I’m not, but it’s certainly not because of my body!)

    On another cake-eating note, I made a kick-ass chocolate-cardamom-cayenne cake yesterday for my colleagues, and everyone partook joyously. Everyone but one, actually, a woman so pent-up in her obsessive dieting she announced in an almost hostile tone that “fitting into her clothes was more important”. I think we should all send a thought her way…

  9. Kate responded on 14 Jun 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    @Mme Wong
    I’m sending a thought her way! Your cake sounds amazing. Any photos? (I can always dream…)

  10. Kate responded on 14 Jun 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    @Taryn
    Maybe this is cheesy and naive, but I think every conversation like this one is a tiny step in the right direction.

  11. bethany actually responded on 14 Jun 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    First of all, congratulations to Anna! Babies are life-changing and time-consuming and demanding and wonderful. (Full disclosure: I’ve had two of them.)

    Second, I feel I would be remiss if I did not point Anna and anyone else who cares to find an alternate, positive point of view about the wide variety and beauty of mothers’ bodies to my friend Bonnie’s site, The Shape of a Mother.

    http://theshapeofamother.com/

  12. Anna responded on 14 Jun 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    oo, it’s up! thank you all for reading, and thank you kate for posting it! i appreciate all the positive comments here too – it’s always uplifting to read about how others have come to terms with their body, or are working on it (a i am).

    @Nancy – i will start assuming the staring people are thinking these wonderful positive things! also, while it’s probably wise to not touch pregnant women you don’t know, i have never minded it if someone wanted to touch my belly. i like to tell them they get a wish.

    oh except once someone who knew i was pregnant rubbed my 3 months pregnant belly and said ‘you’re showing!’ when i knew i wasn’t…hmm no…it’s just like that all the time. sigh.

    anyway, very much appreciate the comments, and so glad to contribute to kate’s lovely blog! she helps so many of us.

  13. Jenna Lovell responded on 15 Jun 2011 at 12:00 am #

    Anna, what a great article. I loved it! Thanks so much for announcing it on facebook so I could find it. I am so very interested in this subject…for a few reasons. Mainly, because even though I have been blessed to return to my pre-babies weight (due to many many many hours of sweat and exercise), I still honestly struggle daily with loving my body. I, too, would like to blame someone–including the media–but believe that in the end, it’s my own choice to accept myself or not. I wish I could find a way to just MAKE the choice to accept myself, but it’s HARD! Just one of those human weaknesses I’ve been blessed with in this life, I guess. So…I think I’ll be re-visiting this blog often! I’ll take encouragement and positive perspectives wherever and whenever I can get them; I’m excited to read more!

    @Jennifer Jo, I really loved your list of “what my beautiful body can do”, and feel inspired to go count my blessings again, so thanks!

    Lastly, Anna, what a great writer you are! Again, I loved reading your post. Thanks!

  14. Jen responded on 15 Jun 2011 at 7:59 am #

    I don’t think men have put us in this body conundrum. We women have adopted a more masculine approach, and that has made us perpetually dissatisfied.

    In the book “It’s a Guy Thing,” David Deida writes about the polarity of male/female energies. He says that “masculine energy” is that of perfection, of striving, of conquering life, of craving independence. That how women in the West have become; we want it all, we work ourselves silly for it, and we have anxiety about losing “it.”

    Feminine energy, according to Deida, is about enjoyment, about love and bodily pleasure, going with the flow, and accepting change. Feminine energy doesn’t fight the come and go of life; she rolls with it. It IS life. The feminine does not fight what is; whereas the masculine energy is all about the fight.

    Deida says we all have both energies (some men are more feminine, some women more masculine). The key is recognizing which you’re in and which is serving you or keeping you stuck.

    When I get body anxious, I see how it is the masculine, controlling side taking over. If I ask “how do I feel?” that helps bring on more feminine energy. It feels strange, though. In this post-women’s movement, feminine energy is perceived as weakness, as unambitious.

  15. Jeanne Pack responded on 15 Jun 2011 at 9:08 am #

    Anna, I loved your article. You really are a nice writer. What an interesting read for me as a person one generation back, to see how people approach things, and to compare this to 30 years ago. The media really has not helped you out. But, with this kind of post and these comments, you are finding some liberating truths and I wish you all the best! Keep up the good work.

  16. Anna responded on 15 Jun 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    jen – fascinating thoughts. especially in terms of attitudes of control vs enjoyment. seems like it would do us all good to get away from trying to control things so much. that is a great point.

    i do get nervous calling them inherently ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ since all people, men and women, seem to be divided by these same drives in different degrees. i also don’t think it’s the womens’ movement that first perceived the feminine as weak and unambitious – rather the women’s movement was a reaction AGAINST those perceptions, which are centuries old.

    i do agree that feminism (a large generalization) has perhaps made a mistake in disregarding some of the earlier ‘feminine’ virtues such as patience and service in favor of the status-earning ‘masculine’ virtues of power and success. hard to blame women when these things were denied to women for so long. but i do think our entire society could use more of those ‘feminine’ virtues again. that would be good.

  17. Anna responded on 15 Jun 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    jenna it’s so nice to see you here! i’m happy for you that you’ve regained your pre-baby figure, but isn’t it too bad that you still struggle? what would fix this ‘lack’ we all seem to feel, whatever our weight? i wish i knew. i do think kate is right, conversations like this go a long way in that direction, but maybe it’s just a life long fight.

  18. Anna responded on 15 Jun 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    jeanne – i would be very interested to some time hear your experiences growing up a generation ago. what has changed in how womens’ bodies are regarded? what is the same? are things better or worse? you don’t have to answer these questions here, but i would sure like to know!

  19. Emily Olson responded on 15 Jun 2011 at 11:39 pm #

    A feeling of failure comes to me every time I wish I could unbutton my pants at work because they are feeling too tight (every few minutes). But thanks to what you said, there a lot more positive things that deserve my attention. I got those pants when I was in college, anyways!

  20. Mandy responded on 16 Jun 2011 at 10:54 pm #

    Anna;
    My first reaction on seeing your picture of your belly (i’m assuming that is you) was to think you had some sort of cool and funky tribal tattoo!
    Maybe we should start thinking of stretch marks as beauty marks…

    Unroast: Today, I love my eyebrows. They are a little thicker than is fashionable, a little dramatic, and the perfect frame for my eyes.

  21. Anna responded on 17 Jun 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    haha oh and em you are like the skinniest person i know! i used to be jealous of people skinnier than me, until i found out they’re all pretty much miserable too! :)

    mandy – thanks!! right? i don’t think they’re that bad! i think they kind of look like cool flames or something…

  22. Caitlin responded on 20 Jun 2011 at 7:38 am #

    I loved this post! I am 26 and have 3 small children. (Translation: I have a belly, stretch marks, and a changed body!) I was lamenting these changes to a wise friend who reminded me that these are my battle scars, that this is the body that gave my husband and myself children.

    Advertisers prey on our insecurities and guilt so we hand over our cash. Forget them- what makes us beautiful has nothing to do with products.

  23. SL responded on 22 Jun 2011 at 9:26 am #

    Thanks so much for this post. I have a handful of kids and have had a few miscarriages, and my body has been different after each one. After my youngest was born, I kept more weight on than usual for longer, partly because the pregnancy had been more difficult, but also because I was depressed and comfort eating and staying in the house more than usual. I was frustrated whenever I tried to dress up and look spiffy to go out; I had this belly to work around. And when I was pregnant, I loved my belly. I never end up showing very much and I love it when I do start to show. But now that there wasn’t a baby in there, suddenly I’m supposed to hate that belly? It was difficult. It doesn’t help that otherwise, I kind of have a boyish figure — small breasts, narrow hips, flat bum — and my arms & legs are slim, so I felt like I was all tummy.

    Anyway, I’ve been working on coming to terms with it. I’ve also started exercising, as a way to help lift my mood actually, and it has been helping. I’m feeling stronger and happier, and I’m eating better, too. My belly isn’t flat, it hasn’t disappeared, but I’m feeling better about it, too. I think exercising has helped me appreciate my body for all of its other functions. How it looks is just one aspect of what my body is and what it does.

  24. Eat the Damn Cake » We owe it to little girls responded on 21 Jul 2011 at 9:46 am #

    [...] She wrote about being pregnant and what the hell does “normal” look like anyway– here. And she’s back for more! And the more is [...]

  25. Courtney responded on 03 Aug 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    Thank you for this!! I was just having my first pregnancy bout of vanity – I’m 12 weeks and the waistbands on my pants got smaller all of a sudden. I keep reminding myself this is supposed to happen, but this article did the trick. Thanks for reminding me to enjoy this whole experience. I have to go eat some ice cream now.

  26. Emily responded on 03 Aug 2011 at 9:46 pm #

    Late comment, I know, but I love this post! Very inspiring.

  27. Eat the Damn Cake » getting pregnant killed the skinny voices responded on 24 Feb 2012 at 10:27 am #

    [...] Kate here– here’s another guest post, from a while ago, about pregnancy. It’s about already being normal. It’s also fabulous. God, I love it when women talk [...]