it was many months ago. we were just finishing a walk in cherokee park, when lauren, ever my confidante and digger of souls, asked something to the effect of, what information were you given about your body as a child? the question was tangential, while still relevant to the conversation at hand, and yet it stopped me in my tracks as strange question. initially, i felt certain i was given all the same information other children received about their bodies, but, as i thought, i found my brain completely empty.
i thought and i thought and then all i could summon was, nothing.
we didn't talk about our bodies. i don't remember talking about them at all. they were neither good nor bad. we didn't name body parts. we didn't ever go to the doctor and have check ups. we never had the talk. we didn't take sex ed. even when my period began, one early morning before zoo camp of all things, i remember that it was a sort of soundless, solitary experience. i locked myself in the bathroom, shoving tampon after tampon inside of me, still with the applicator piece in place, certain that i was doing something wrong, but totally uncertain why any of this was happening in the first place. it was not that my mother didn't offer help, but more so that i wouldn't have known how to accept it. we were not a body shy family, but we were also not a body expressive family. there wasn't a lot of language surrounding bodies. as you may be able to tell, i learn and interpret through language. it's not intuitive. i need the words. and when it came to bodies, my childhood was mostly quiet.
i think fully describing the why of that would involve huge conversations on religion and family dynamics that i am, of course, not shy about talking about, but have too much to say to dive that far into things, so suffice it to say, there just wasn't a lot of groundwork laid there. i don't blame my parents for that in any regard. as an adult, it makes sense to me, but i also operate with a totally inverted paradigm with the children i teach. we talk about our bodies regularly, always taking time to notice how our actions impact how our bodies feel, what we can do to control or change those feelings, and which feelings we enjoy most and why. we talk about our bodies' differences and similarities, what fuels them, how they work, how they grow and change.
i distinctly remember being at some awkward adolescent juncture and secretly looking at one of those "what's happening to my body?" books at the library, because, i was curious. i really didn't know. and even if i'd felt comfortable asking questions, i wouldn't have known what to ask in the first place.
as i grew older, that sort of fumbling turned into a definitive decision that i hated my body. i wrote about it endlessly. i called myself horrible things. in the absence of a literal, constructive language about my body, i developed my own language of self-hatred that permeated everything i did. it became casual. it was part of me. it was what i stuffed into the place of that gaping hole of information.
not long after that conversation with lauren, i was watching an educational video on raising self-reliant children. the speaker said, "nature hates a vacuum. it fills it with whatever filth it can find." (that shouldn't be in quotes because it's an approximate quote from the depths of my shitty memory. but that was the jist.)
that quote sums up what i believe happened to my brain in regards to my body. i read that one little book at the library. i read some small factual, age-appropriate thing about a woman's body. that was my kernel of truth that anchored me in reality. and other than that, i read magazines. i watched tv. that's where i got my information. i filled the hole with filth. i read that if i wore a satin choker or used noxema acne-fighting cleansing pads, i'd be beautiful. i looked at katie holmes on dawson's creek, parading around in her perfect matte lipstick and every item of abercrombie and fitch clothing, touting awkward, subdued, bed-sharing sexuality and figured that was the life of a "normal" teenager. i flipped through delia's and saw that all bodies were a certain shape and size that was perfectly accented by slip-on platform black sandals. (if you're a 90's baby, i know i just blew your mind by reminding you of delia's. also it apparently still exists which sort of makes my head want to explode.)
it was all nonsense. it was all garbage. my entire framework for understanding my body literally came from the media. and i know (oh i know) all children can be heavily influenced by it, but i had nothing to counterbalance it. and i was also sensitive. and i also had horrible acne. and i also was slightly overweight. i was sort of predisposed to have a hard time, and a hard time it was.
i was so horrifically uncomfortable in my body for so long. so i said i hated it. but i only recently realized, i don't think i even knew it was there. not MY body. not beth loster's body. i didn't look at it. i just blindly hated it. all i saw is that i was not katie holmes or a delia's model, and it broke my heart. i was no one. so i convinced myself i hated that absence of a human. my body became a dumpster full of shoulds, a vessel for all the unrealistic expectations created by the media. i dragged it around, heavy with disappointment.
it sounds so terribly trite. it sounds so silly.
but i have literally carried that with my some 20 plus years. and that critical teenage voice still roars in my head. she is, in many ways, my oldest friend.
i have been doing work to quiet her. i have been doing work to figure out what this body is, how it feels, what it needs. i move regularly. i try to not move in the exact same ways, so i have to pay attention. sometimes i am still and that is the hardest. i pay attention to what goes in, how it comes out, what i feed myself physically and emotionally. i talk about it endlessly, because i feel like i'm learning it for the first time. it's like learning a new language. as a child, it's easy. but now it's slow. my body resists it. it reverts. it wants to do what's easy, what it knows. but i am working hard on creating new habits.
despite my best efforts, my relationship with my health, and thus my body, has all still been very calculated and controlled. i struggle with my tendency to allow something that otherwise ostensibly seems healthy (ie. eating well, exercising regularly, etc.) become very unhealthy in practice and attitude (ie. weighing myself obsessively, panicking about eating things i see as unhealthy). so when i became pregnant, i mentally prepared myself to kind of be thrown for a loop. there's no controlling what happens now or the rapidness with which it happens.
early on, my therapist asked me how i envisioned my pregnancy. i immediately knew that i wanted to wonder at it. at the body's power, its intuition, its ease. it just grows the damn baby. we go to the doctor to monitor or have some semblance of control, but the body really does it all itself. i said to myself, maybe this is the time i can let go of how i look and focus on how i feel. i figured i could keep that in mind and let go of the concern about my body.
i was wrong.
i think i also envisioned looking like the pregnant woman in my mind's eye. i'm sure she's the adult version of a delia's model. (clearly i really liked delia's since i can't let it go.) which is to say, she's a model. she's the ideal.
and up until recently, i have just felt... fat. i gained 11 pounds in the first sixteen weeks. "recommended" is 5. my pants stopped fitting pretty much immediately, but maternity wear was unflattering too. i felt like sausage. inflated. stuffed full into this tight skin and puckered up in all the wrong places. it didn't help that i was beyond exhausted and perpetually nauseous. that roaring voice came back full force. she was telling me i was doing something wrong, that i was ugly, i was going to gain too much weight and hurt the baby, that my body would never be the same, that nic wouldn't be attracted to me anymore, that people would judge me, that i was doing it wrong. she was rattling around in my head with her tin cans banging negative thoughts into my skull.
i had to tell her to shut the fuck up.
i made lauren take away my scale.
and then i asked myself, am i healthy?
is this body healthy? am i moving and sleeping enough and nourishing myself and creating balance and exercising and taking time to be still?
and the answer was yes.
that was it. that was all it took. i had to ask my real, authentic self if i was doing everything i knew how to be healthy for my baby and the answer was yes.
it seems like women are worthy of congratulation when they are small during pregnancy. like showing late or having a small, perfectly round belly means you are the healthiest. you are superior. i am so so tired of that as the paradigm. there is no should in pregnancy. there is no way i should look or should feel. because the only person that has ever been pregnant with this baby in my body is me, right now. and i look how i look. i am doing the work and i will let go of the rest.
this is not a beauty competition.
my biggest issue with the entire world of social media, consumerism, exercise, and diet (which i say in its literal terms, meaning the kinds of food one habitually eats, and not restricting oneself to eating certain foods to lose weight) is that nearly every iota of it focuses on how you look and NOT how you feel. but looking good, or the thinnest as society has taught us to believe, isn't always the healthiest for everyone. plenty of skinny people have fatty organs or exhausted nervous systems or terrible sleep.
we're taught to want a prescription. an easy answer. something someone else hands down to us and it makes us better. it makes us look how we want. we want a single solution. we want to try it on and make it work or give up entirely. we want someone else to tell us how to be fixed. but there's no right answer. i vehemently believe that whole 30 is not the answer and yoga is not the answer and crossfit is not the answer and neither is veganism or the blood type diet or excessive cardio or meditation or anything else. because our bodies are all incredibly different. and yes, certain things are proven to have certain effects on one's physical body. but there is a whole elixir of other components that go into it, that are hard to track or quantify. so your body will react differently than my body. and, on a day to day level, the real assessment of how i'm doing is not how i look, but how i feel.
how do i feel?
and the truth is, i feel damn good. i wake up happy. i move easily. i have energy. i recover quickly. i see joy in small things. my body feels alive. it doesn't mean i don't want to pull my hair out when the kids are bouncing off the walls and chicken-pecking me to death with whiny questions. but it does mean it doesn't ruin my day. i can unpack it. i can laugh at how absurd it is to swim around a room of fumbling 3 year olds every day. i can rest when i'm tired. i can bounce back.
i know people will say things. today, for the first time, someone commented on my size. she asked when i was due and then made a small gasp and said, "oh, i thought you were much farther along."
which, to the perpetual roarer, meant, you're too big.
i withered for a moment and then i puffed back up. i bounced back.
the critic, the roarer, told me to feel bad about it, but the girl who's done the work knew it was okay. i could let it go. that, to me, is health. encountering life's bumps but still being able to go.
this is my body that i've only recently begun to know. but i've learned enough to know i am doing everything in the way that feels best, most genuine, and safest for my baby. and that is all i can. and my body's expression of that is whatever it will be. i'm not angry at her. i'm not angry at whatever future people make weird comments about my body. i do not exist in other people's perception of me.
i don't think i've solved the mystery of this body, of my relationship to it. i don't think i've figured out society or how to be a part of this particular world without absorbing all of its strange and stressful standards. i don't think i'll ever stop working. but i have figured out i'm here. this body's here.
i paused for a moment as i wrote that.
this body is here.
this body is mine, it's here, and i will love it, because it carries me. and now it is doing the amazing work of creating and carrying a human.
as i settle into it, wherever, however it is at any given moment, i stop thinking as much and start feeling a little more. there's nothing to think about, nothing to figure out. my body is just doing it. it's about feeling now. unfolding, growing, expanding, breathing, embracing, evolving, marveling.
i am marveling at my body that has been around almost 33 years, but which i really feel like i've just now met. i am marveling at our meeting. i am growing a human. i feel good.
nic and i were facetiming the other night, as we many many times over the past 7 weeks of absence. he keeps telling me how pretty i am, not shocked (because i'd give him too much shit for that), but in awe. like i was different somehow. he says, you're so beautiful. and i say, because nic has always admired a pregnant woman, it's because i'm pregnant. and then he responds by saying the thing that will, forever and always, make me feel most beautiful, because it digs inside me, because it's mine, because it cannot be compared or evaluated or taken away, because it's the deepest compliment, because it's ultimately about how i feel, not how i look, because it's about effortlessly radiating that feeling outward,
"no, it's not that. you look... happy."