I’ve never been…the skinniest.
I like to joke that I peaked at fifteen when my face emerged from its awkward phase (we’re talking scraggle hair and snaggle teeth) coupled with me finally figuring out how to do normal makeup (although retiring my silver lipstick was a tragic day). There was a rare five minutes of my adolescence where I was not only normal-looking, but downright cute.
Then came puberty.
One day before my sixteenth birthday these hips arrived in the mail with no return address or refund option. I’d always been a scrawny early teen and quite suddenly I was handed the body of a woman—with no idea what to do with it.
I didn’t know how to dress the additional square footage or relate to my peers who could still shop at 5-7-9. That was the biggest adjustment. By high school my awkward peers had grown into their limbs, decided their image, and become those average-sized girls high school is supposed to be full of.
And I stuck out. I’m not saying I was huge or anything. But I’d become, in a land of skinnies, resolutely curvy.
Enter my low self-esteem. I know, I know—most people aren’t super confident in high school; not even those average-sized girls I was so envious of. But I wondered if they grappled with such an ever-present sense of self-loathing. If they watched their friends constantly choose more slenderly inclined girls time and again while I wondered if I possessed the willpower to stop eating (I didn’t. Just couldn’t quit the frosting).
It’s a common enough story. I’m sure there are countless ladies out there who relate.
Eventually I was found, wooed, and married by a man who declared my curves beautiful. And (warning: cheesiness forthcoming) in the foreign landscape of his unconditional love, I learned to see more value in myself.
Enter now, the cutie: our baby. Of my many worries at forthcoming motherhood (affording the baby, birthing the baby, keeping the baby alive once it was birthed), getting larger wasn’t a huge concern. I was going to be one of those adorable pregnant ladies with the perfect bump. And even if I did gain some weight, I’d probably lose it during breastfeeding like all those celebrities, right?
You’re probably laughing right now. Present day Kari would be laughing at back-then Kari if I didn’t so want to smack her.
Pregnancy brought a lot of surprises. Perks: 1. Finally, a time when having your belly stick out is actually cute! 2. You’re growing a tiny miracle in your own body; feeling it move and be alive inside you, connecting with and loving it before you’ve even seen its face.
Drawbacks: Morning sickness, acne, exhaustion, weird cravings, swelling in the feet (I kid you not when I say they were twice their normal size. Twice). Oh, and the fact that at some point in the third trimester, you start to feel not so much like a person but more like a great sailing vessel. Like one of those aircraft carriers that are so big, they can land planes on them.
Our little angel finally arrived and let me clarify right now that she’s worth everything—all those pregnancy snags, all the exhaustion and insanity of parenthood. Being a mom was and is the best thing I’ve ever done and my very greatest honor.
But I did not lose weight during breastfeeding like all those celebrities (are we sure they don’t have some kind of magic potion? I’m suspicious). No, I gained weight while nursing my daughter and the day she was weaned I had arrived at the heaviest of my life.
Enter the second cutie, and I’m sure you can all guess. I’m currently pregnant with our third and while the numbers on the scale have increased, the confidence has plummeted to an alarming, all-time low.
And the longer I’ve been a mom, the more I’ve noticed something.
There is something very wrong with how we view what I now call the “Mom Bod” in society. My whole life I’ve heard jokes about “mom jeans”, having a “mom butt” and the general disparity on the physical image of mothers. It seems like there’s generally the two extremes when it comes to maternal archetypes—the cougar and the frump. A mom is either acceptable because she’s attractive enough to still be considered female. Or she’s that female-ish creature who now wears high-waisted jeans and has become somewhat un-gendered.
Not until I experienced it myself did I fully appreciate the tragedy of the mom body evolution (what follows is a generalization of the experience, not common to everyone). Women start out all shapes and sizes, but pregnancy causes inevitable weight gain. Even if the pant size doesn’t greatly increase, the shape and instincts of the body shift drastically. Most women discover, after pregnancy, bulges in places they had no idea could bulge and an excess of skin that—by the laws of rubber bands—should snap back into place once its no longer needed. Sadly, it does not.
Quite often that new mom doesn’t manage to “bounce back” before having the next baby. And many find themselves, several kids later, bigger than they’ve ever been and now just old enough that their body doesn’t quite remember how to easily lose weight anymore. So many never have the chance to return from that place. Especially because, unlike actresses who are being paid to get back in shape, now that they’ve had the baby, they’re pretty busy raising said cutie.
There have been many recent strides in a body-acceptance revolution. But for all that progress I still regularly hear comments like, “Yeah, she’s a mom but she’s still hot,” or “She could look good again if she just tried.” It hurts me to see so many women treated like they’re invisible because they traded a conventional female image to bring life into the world.
My biggest beef in this issue is with myself. I hate that when I walk into a room of people I haven’t seen in years, I subconsciously search for the opportunity to bring up the fact that I’ve expanded. I’m not looking to be contradicted or fishing for compliments. On the contrary, I’m hoping they’ll agreed and abruptly changed the subject. I only feel the compulsion to bring it up so they won’t be secretly thinking it, and wondering if I’m unaware of how far I’ve fallen.
There’s that melodrama again. I seriously doubt anyone is thinking something half so harsh when they look at me. And the genuine truth is I don’t look at any other mom the very way I fear I’m being viewed. I see in mothers a beauty that goes beyond being merely attractive. It’s what my husband lovingly called my “even greater beauty” because I sacrificed my body to have our kids.
My own mom is a rock star who, when I expressed such a sentiment, said with absolute surprise, “It’s not a sacrifice. It’s a gift.” And she’s right. I’d never trade my angel daughters for anything, including the kind of body I never had.
I’ve always half-scoffed at that saying, “Nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels” (it may very well be true, but I’ve often wondered if the skinny person who coined this phrase had ever eaten Godiva chocolate cheesecake). I would say instead, “Being skinny can never make you as happy as being a mom”–no matter what your size (and sharing Godiva cheesecake with your kids is absolute bliss).
But I wish I could see the same beauty in myself that I see in other moms. Yeah, there’s a sad inequality in how we, as a society, look at moms. But the real problem is how I look at myself.
So I’d like to propose another revolution: that of championing what I will now call with only the utmost gumption and respect, the “Mom Bod.” And if it’s only a revolution of one, it’s still long overdue.