super sexy with a big belly and body image issues

I feel a lot of different ways about my big, pregnant body. I wanted to write one simple piece, like “Reasons Why I’m Super Sexy Pregnant.” Or “I Still Have Body Image Issues While Pregnant.” But it’s not really one or the other—it’s complicated, like life. But I am super sexy pregnant, I promise. You should see me. I’m pretty much just oozing sex appeal:

me being pregnant by the door2

Right?

:-)

I think my face looks naturally sullen. It’s a thing for me. I don’t know why. I was just born that way.

And also, my pregnant body is like a shield—it hides me from other people. It disguises me.

My pregnant body is like a window—everyone can suddenly see inside, and they want to talk about my motherhood.

The waitress at The Meatball Shop, where I have now been five times because meatballs are suddenly the best food ever, tells me that she just broke up with her boyfriend of five years, and it’s really because he didn’t want a baby and she does, she wants a baby so badly. Her acting career isn’t really going anywhere, but she’s OK with that. She just wants a baby. Her cousins are all having babies. Why is it so hard to meet a decent guy in this damn city?

The woman with the headscarf in CVS has been trying for a while, but nothing so far. It’s so frustrating, she says, smiling. She says she wants eight kids. I can’t tell if she’s serious. “Do you want a lot?” she asks me.

“Yes,” I say, even though it’s hard to imagine even one, even though her foot is working up into my ribs as we speak and I have begun to refer to her as “the vicious baby” and sometimes “the evil baby.” Theoretically, I’d like to have more of them. Preferably if they could just appear on my doorstep one day, softly swaddled and fully gestated.

 

Dr. Sears said that I would get really horny during the second trimester. I’d be like a tiger in the sack. I swear, his book had the word “tiger” in it. I am not making that up, am I? I remember it really clearly.

tiger

(source)

That didn’t happen. I was looking forward to it, and so was Bear, of course, but instead I just felt like I could go outside again. That was bigger than sex.

When I went outside with my new pregnant body, not everyone gave me a seat on the subway. At first, when they did, I felt so awkward, taking it. Like I didn’t deserve it. I would be all apologetic, or downright refuse. Sometimes I accepted, but then I tried to make my expression look really tired and appreciative the whole time. Expressions, when you think about them, are actually very complex. Tired appreciation is like Meryl Streep level acting, as it turns out.

Sometimes, though, no one offered me a seat, and I was carrying things, and it was hard to stand in one place for a long time, and I felt this anger start inside me, like, “CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT I AM PREGNANT AND THEREFORE THE SAME AS A DISABLED PERSON? DO YOU GUYS NOT REMEMBER THAT SUBWAY ANNOUNCEMENT? WHY DO THEY NOT MAKE THAT ONE ANYMORE? I mean seriously. Where is it when you need it?”

Usually it was a solid row of young people, twenty and thirty-somethings, earbuds firmly wedged in, eyes downcast, pretending not to notice the world. An older woman cried from across the car, “Give that woman a seat!” And then she got up and did it herself, and I made a big show of thanking her. We smiled at each other a lot.

Mostly, people are nice to me in my pregnant body. They ask when I’m due, at intermission they ask did my baby like the music, they talk about their own kids, they laugh merrily, remembering their pregnancy, while frisking me at the airport.

And sometimes I think I could stay pregnant forever, just for the way it shields me.

It’s been ages since a stranger looked at me in a sexual way. It’s freeing, somehow. I am just waddling along, carefree, wearing whatever will stretch over my belly. I may just throw this red silk scarf on over my scrappy maternity outfit. In your face, world! It doesn’t really matter how I look at all right now.

Which, interestingly, makes me feel sort of sexy. I feel potent in my new largeness. I could knock you over with this belly. I am round and ripe and delicious. I want to be naked all the time, and my skin is taut with promise. I am a product of sex—sex made me this way. I am essentially sensual, brimming over with it, I am full and firm and shiny with reproductive realization.

But at the same time—at the same time…oy vey– I can’t transform completely. I am guilty as charged, eating a cookie late at night in the kitchen. I am a thief, stealing carbs. I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t, I think blankly, stuffing it in my mouth.

carols-cookies-sugar-cookie-money-shot

(Bear got me Carol’s cookies for Mother’s Day. They are my favorite, especially the sugar cookies. source)

I want to float free in my new buoyant roundness, but I’m tethered by these long, trailing rules in my head, all around me. Even Sheila Kitzinger, who writes these earth-mothery, sort of vague books about empowering birth says something about if your thighs are getting noticeably thicker, that’s the best indication that you’re gaining weight during your pregnancy that you won’t be able to lose easily afterwards. Permanent weight. Bad, failure weight. Weight that becomes that “ten pounds for each kid” that I’ve heard of. That phrase is stuck in my head from years ago. From when I was a kid myself, I think. I look down at my luscious thighs. They are definitely bigger. They rub together in a way they didn’t before. I am in trouble.

I am in trouble with my arms, and I still can’t stop automatically hating them for their soft helplessness. The pale, dimpling spill of flesh. They squish on the back of the couch as I recline there, always at least a little tired now.

In birthing class, we are practicing labor positions, and the instructor demonstrates on me, having me straddle a chair, rubbing my back. I fold my arms over the back of the chair and my fat squelches against its rim. Oh god, I think, everyone is looking at my arm fat. I have the most arm fat of any of the pregnant women in this room. The back rub should feel good, but I’m tense. I’m not thinking about labor. About how I will birth an entire baby at some point in the suddenly near future. I’m thinking about how my arms look. I’m wondering what possessed me– why did I wear a tanktop? What was I thinking?

I was thinking that it is hot out now, and that nothing else fits me. That’s what I was thinking. I was thinking that I should be able to wear a tanktop, shouldn’t I?

I try futilely to adjust my arms, to hide the fat. Is there a better position? I am always shifting into a better position. I have been doing this for years and I am still doing it.

Suddenly I wonder if I will try to shift into a better position, during labor, for my arms.

What if I do?

It is a terrible thought. It will say that everything is wrong with me. That I have gotten everything about life wrong.

Why can’t I completely let go, even now? Why can’t I just not care, all the time? The red scarf! Think of the red scarf! Why do I still catch myself judging myself in quick, habitual bursts: “Why don’t you have any willpower? Why are you letting yourself go? What’s wrong with you, you lame, cookie-snorting weakling??”

These are mean things to think at a pregnant woman.

Don’t I get to be special and pampered and protected right now? Isn’t that how it goes?

Well, sort of. But, really, pregnant, I am just myself. Myself, with a real, live baby inside. Myself, rounded out, full to the brim, moving unstoppably toward motherhood. Myself, made into two people, charging very slowly toward the epic, thunderous page turn that will reveal the next chapter of my little, eager life.

I am so sexy. I am just the same as always. I am hidden behind my belly. I am a symbol. I am completely normal and average. Like most women, pregnant or not, I am not so simple as to fit one headline or another. I am back and forth, always learning, always hopefully getting just a tiny bit better at living in my own body. I am super sexy and I have some body image issues and I have eaten several cookies today that I both regret and also enormously enjoyed.

I definitely need you to give me a seat on the subway. Please? My feet are killing me and I have almost mastered that expression—the one with the tiredness and the appreciation at the same time.

*   *  *

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in red.

P.S. notice how the scarf is covering my arms in the photo?

If you feel like it, check out my piece on the Frisky about how I still sometimes catch myself having to give myself permission to eat, and how obnoxious that is, but how important it might be to acknowledge that it’s still happening.

31 Comments »

Kate on June 20th 2013 in beauty, body, fear, life, pregnancy

31 Responses to “super sexy with a big belly and body image issues”

  1. SolariC responded on 20 Jun 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    This is one of the best pieces you’ve written, I think :) It’s so warm and gentle. It embraces your own complicated reality and makes it poetic. This is the first time I’ve commented in a while, so I’ll just say: Congratulations on your pregnancy!

  2. Kate responded on 20 Jun 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    @SolariC
    Thank you!! I love this comment.
    I kept going back and adding to and thinking about this post, which is why it’s so long, but I like it, too, because yes, it’s maybe OK to embrace the complicatedness :-)

  3. Melanie responded on 20 Jun 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Oh my goodness. I just LOVE this. All of my lady friends have felt this way while pregnant except one, and all felt incredibly guilty about it. I think it’s nice you put it out there so beautifully phrased and honestly. And I ALWAYS gave up my seat to anyone pregnant, or who was my elder, or who just looked plain frail. When I did, I would consciously shoot dagger looks at the men around me who failed to get up. That’s one of my lingering sexist thoughts: men should get up first dammit! haha. Anyways, I’m so happy for you. You look amazing pregnant, as does pretty much every woman I see. Pregnancy is definitely a flattering look.

  4. teegan responded on 20 Jun 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    yes! to all of it! you’re such a hot lady, pregnant or no.

    and for me, a lot of it has not gone away. i’m sexy and feral and wild because i’m curvy and can whip out a boob to feed my baby and also still got back down to the general size/shape i was before and because i birthed and carry a human!
    … except my belly skin is a little looser than it was and sometimes after thomas gorges on one boob it’s frightfully smaller than the other and i’m kind of tired of my boobs being more functional than aesthetic (even though i KNOW that’s the WHOLE POINT OF BOOBS). and any time i went anywhere without thomas in his first six months of life, i wanted a button pinned to me that said “I HAD A BABY IN SEPTEMBER, OKAY?” to explain my poochy tummy.

    as you know, i also ate a lot of cookies while pregnant. and, guess what? because i’m breastfeeding an almost-20-pound bottomless pit, i still eat more ice cream than perhaps i should. i’m so not looking forward to when he weans and i really go back to eating for one. definitely hoping pregnancy #2 happens first!

    p.s. carrying around a tiny human all of the time will make your arms stronger. and i think the fact that i am capable of carrying my baby around for extended periods is even hotter than how it makes my arms look. plus, watching my husband do ‘baby curls’ (he holds thomas over his head, lowers him down toward his back, raises him up, lowers him forward, curls him back up) also gets my blood going a little hotter… and thomas loves it.

  5. Meg responded on 20 Jun 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    I love what the picture of you does while I read this piece. I can just picture you in your sublime state of pregnant sexiness, eating meatballs or trying to ward off plantar fasciitis on the subway.

    Is it strange that this picture is exactly how I envision you all the time–pregnant or not? I guess that just speaks volumes about the personality in it.

    I’m nowhere near being pregnant, but I hope I can someday look as effortless and radiant as you. Ugh, out slips ‘radiant.’ Sorry to be cliché, but it’s too apt. You are lovely, and that shot really captures it.

  6. onebreath responded on 20 Jun 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    I wasn’t going to comment, as I have never been pregnant, but as with so many of your posts, I think the overall message can apply to many (all?) women. In particular, for me, is the notion that we can be many things all at once – I can relate to having confidence walking up the street only to feeling pathetic walking down the other side. It doesn’t mean I was only *me* one way, it just means I have nuance. And quite frankly, I much prefer that than being one dimensional.

  7. Tobasco responded on 20 Jun 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    I enjoyed this piece but I have to admit I laughed to myself when you wrote, “… Sex made me this way.” Even though I am a college educated 31 year old mother I can’t help but turn into a 13 year old when I see a pregnant woman. Especially if I know the man involved. Giggle giggle, they had sex, giggle. On the flip side when I was pregnant with my daughter I always felt awkward in public for that very reason. Like I was wearing a flashing sign on my head that said, “that’s right. I have SEX.”

    I always felt the need to make sure my wedding ring was prominently displayed, or that I said “my husband” rather than his name. Which is odd because I never care about any of those things with other people.

  8. Kate responded on 20 Jun 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    @Tobasco
    Bear LOVED this comment. He was like “she’s just like me!!” He always makes this comment and finds it really, really funny :p

  9. Gaby responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 1:16 am #

    Great piece, very thought provoking as I still can’t decide whether or not to have kids.

    I have always wondered about pregnant people who are on public transport and need to sit down, but nobody is offering a seat… why not just ask? Walk up to the area that’s ‘reserved’ for people who need seats and just ask? “Excuse me, could I please have a seat? I’m pregnant, you see, and quite sore today” or something like that. Some of the people who are seated might also need the seat – either because they’re exhausted or because they have a disability too – but at least you are taking action rather than passively hoping that someone offers you one. Would you try asking next time you’re in that position?

  10. Val responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 1:17 am #

    You look wonderful. What a great picture. love, Val

  11. Jiminy responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 7:37 am #

    Exactly so. I welled up.

  12. Lynn responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 8:02 am #

    What a beautiful piece, thank you so much! Thank you for being so real and honest about your pregnancy, sharing equally the good and the bad, and thank you for being so genuine. My husband and I are going to start trying late this year/ early next year, so I’m starting on all the *pre-conception* stuff right now, and reading about your experience has been immensely comforting and encouraging :)

  13. Lynn responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 8:03 am #

    And you look Lovely :)

  14. San D responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 9:31 am #

    My sister has three kids (in their thirties now). When she had each child I would buy her a personal piece of jewelry to wear because I knew that after the child was born, she would become the child’s accessory, and that people would run up to see the baby and not necessarily her, for awhile, and I wanted her to feel noticed, at least by me. Your arms won’t matter anymore except to the extent by which they are carrying your baby.

  15. Kim responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 10:46 am #

    I loved this piece. I felt exactly the same with my first pregnancy. (Oddly, with my second pregnancy it seemed no one offered me a seat ever. It was as if the world somehow knew I’d done this already and had used up my “special” time.) I think you look amazing and beautiful, and I hope you feel that way (even if it shouldn’t matter).

  16. Kate responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 10:48 am #

    @Gaby
    Yeah, I keep thinking about this, too. I feel so shy about asking for a seat, because honestly, I do think it should be up to other people, like it’s just a kindness thing, and it feels weird to demand kindness. But at the same time, sometimes you really need some kindness, so I’ve told myself that if I really, really need a seat and no one is offering, I’ll ask. So far, though, it hasn’t quite come to that.

  17. Kande responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    Hmmm. It was a good point about the seat the commentor above made – just because you can’t SEE a reason why someone is sitting doesn’t mean they don’t have just as valid a reason for needing a seat. And in the case of pregnancy, who trumps? What if there was a pregnant lady, a lady with a newborn, and a lady with a sleeping toddler? I mean I understand what you were alluding to – that it was just you and people who seemingly could have offered you their seat out of kindness – but then I also agree with your follow up point, that kindness is welcomed but shouldn’t be an expectation. I have a feeling pregnant women “demanding” seats are maybe what helps fuel the wars between the ” with-child / has kids” and the ” childless / child-free”. In the end, I don’t think it has anything to do with pregnant vs. non-pregnant but more people being more in tune with the world, kinder, and by habit when seated looking to see on occassion if there is someone – anyone – with a greater need. And people who are standing being in tune with the world and knowing they can’t assume to know the invisible reasons why those sitting are choosing to do so, and it must be tiring to have to keep justifying a behaviour or feel like an invisible judgement is being made.

    Re: when will you not care how you look? (1) if you are going through natural labour – you will not care one iota how you look, how many people are in the room, or what is coming out of which orifice of your body a you will be 100% concentrated on just getting the damn thing over with already! lol! ;) (2) immediately after the baby is born, when you are 100% immersed in your miracle. As someone who gained a lot during pregnancy, does not have an attractive face, and had photos taken at unflattering angles to boot ( post-delivery I mean! haha, no labour/delivery pictures for me, please, ten years later and I can relive every second, don’t need photographic evidence of that!) I would never in a million years get rid of those photos as the pure love and joy beaming off my face completely eradicates all my flaws – both imagined and real!

  18. Para responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    This whole thing is interesting, though I don’t have much to say as pregnancy is kind of outside my plans and definitely outside my experience. One thought I did have though….

    What is it with the arms thing? I do that too; I’m constantly worried that my (upper) arms will look fat. Which is incredibly stupid; I’m 22 and a runner and tiny in every possible way (except maybe my thighs but those don’t bother me anyway unless I’m being leered at, and that’s a different kind of bother) and I know there is absolutely no fat in my arms anywhere, but I’m still always worried that they’re fat. Maybe because arms are never really admired? Legs are sexy, stomachs are sexy, lips are sexy, so all of those have at least the chance of being admired if you show them off, but arms are just… not there. They’re unattractive, or they’re invisible.

    Of course, then I also have moments when I refuse to not wear a tank top, and will roll up the sleeves of tee shirts to make one if I can’t find one, because I think that makes muscles visible, and I have muscles and therefore I am a badass. (Muscles which specifically are trained to be really good at running away, but I just daydream about throwing fireballs around so there, reality.) Even that’s not really feeling attractive though, so much as liking something else so that attractiveness becomes irrelevant/overwhelmed.

    Seriously though, why are arms such a thing? I don’t know any women who like their arms. It’s not like arms are criticized more than womens’ bodies in general, so where did that come from?

  19. Kate responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    @Para
    This is a great question. And it annoys me that we end up feeling bad about something that makes so little sense to even feel bad about. But maybe that’s often how it is, with things that we feel bad about concerning our appearances.

    I often find myself thinking that if my arms have to be thick, at LEAST I could make sure they’re muscular, too. But then I don’t do anything about it.

  20. Jessica responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    YES! This. All of this. Down to the arms! I seriously consider wearing a sweater to hide them. It is so silly.

    And when people tell me “congratulations!” for being pregnant I want to say “for what?? having sex?”

    Pregnancy is a weird thing. It brings so many changes and emotions that I didn’t expect. It is so beautiful and reassuring to read this and realize I am not alone in my struggles with it.

  21. Hunter responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    You’re a good writer and it will be exciting to watch you age, since you’ll just get that much more rocking and insightful. This is you at twenty-something…imagine your writing in ten years, twenty years! Yessss!!!

    Personally, I find aging to be a blessing because it feels like I become somehow more “real” and certainly less afraid. Also gloriously less tolerant of bullshit.

    Though I DO love that you said you’re worrying about the placement of your arms in labour. That made me grin.

    Your daughter will be formidable!

  22. RJ responded on 22 Jun 2013 at 8:07 am #

    GREAT POST!

  23. Jasmine responded on 25 Jun 2013 at 5:05 am #

    I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Jade Beall’s A Beautiful Body project, but I just read a Huffington Post article on it (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/24/a-beautiful-body-book-project-jade-beall-photos_n_3467178.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular) and it immediately made me think of you. An excerpt:

    “We are facing an epidemic of women who feel unworthy of being called beautiful (….) shaming mothers for not ‘bouncing back’ after childbirth can cause feelings of failure when being a mother is challenging enough and when a big number of us have already lived a life of feeling un-beautiful prior to giving birth.”

  24. Kate responded on 25 Jun 2013 at 11:55 am #

    @Jasmine
    Thank you for sharing this!! How awesome

  25. Cari Ellen responded on 26 Jun 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    omigosh how fun to read this!!! it was so poetic and exhilarating like a roller coaster with all it’s highs and lows. it’s amazing how you can write, with such dead-on words and laugh out loud humor, exact thoughts that have gone through my mind…
    ANYWAY you ARE so sexy!!! wooo-hooo!!! and i should know cause i have seen you in all your gorgeous ripeness!!! enjoy that feeling of pregnant-sexy, i agree there’s nothing quite like it!
    xoxo

  26. Vicky responded on 27 Jun 2013 at 3:35 am #

    Beautifully written :)

  27. Neeva responded on 27 Jun 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    That’s really interesting. I’m eight months pregnant and I recognize a lot of my feelings in your post.
    By the way in Germany we’re told that the fat on thighs and arms is the special reserve for breastfeeding and will melt away on its own after the pregnancy.
    I guess I’ll find out, as my little one got himself a respectably sized store on my thighs. Well, they were always much bigger than fashionable so it’s not like I’m not used to that. And its a good thing to have my muscles hidden. Menfolk might be afraid of me if I wasn’t cushioned.

  28. Shannon responded on 28 Jun 2013 at 10:26 am #

    I absolutely ADORE this post as well as your writing style (and your style in the picture – woohoo!). I found myself laughing in my cube and getting curious looks from my coworkers.

    Personally, I find pregnant women to be beautiful! When my aunts and cousins were pregnant with their little ones, I was so excited when I was younger. Now I see pregnancy as love taking full form. I know that sounds corny and cliche, but oh well! Therefore, cliche aside, you are absolutely beautiful! Huzzah for the love taking shape! (And enjoy the cookies – they’re my weakness, too!)

    I hear a lot of my own thoughts in your post. I’m not pregnant, but I do plan on being a mommy sometime in the (hopefully) near future. This post makes me realize that I’m not alone in the struggle over body image/love. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and insight!

  29. Kristen responded on 30 Jun 2013 at 3:14 am #

    Oh, that author was speaking nonsense. Really. In the thighs is where I gained most of my pregnancy pounds. They were massive. I was amazed how big they could get. Then I had my babies, two of them, and lost all the weight, twice. The second time around, I lost TOO much weight, going down to an alarming 108 pounds, because I was nursing two kids and running all around with them, walks, playgrounds, errands, etc. I know it’s really hard for some people to lose the weight, but I don’t think it has anything to do with whether or not your thighs gain weight.

  30. natasha responded on 02 Jul 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    It was really cool to read about what strangers say to you. Quite interesting!

  31. Lisa responded on 10 Jul 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    Not sullen- pouty. There’s a difference.