My Postpartum Body : a journey towards a safe body positive space.

PC : Mommy Shots By Amrita
 shot when I was 38 weeks pregnant.

The relationship between a woman and her body is very complex. As women, we are, from a very young age, subjected to an almost constant scrutiny of our bodies and conditioned to view and ‘evaluate’ them through the eyes of others.

Most of our stories begin with a body description and the experiences that went with it. I was a really thin child and got bullied for it. I was a fat child and got bullied for it. I had a great body when I was in college but put on lots of weight after. I want to get back to my college size. What about the enriching world experiences your body has gone through between your childhood size, your college size and your current size? 
When was the last time we took a minute off to be grateful to our bodies? On the other hand, when was the last time we said ‘uuggghh, that makes me looks so fat’ or very casually told a friend that ‘clothes look so much better on you because you are thinner than me’. We may not be thinking much when we say it but maybe, we should stop and think about how easily self-deprecating statements comes to us. It has almost become second nature to us to casually comment on our bodies.
I have been hesitating to write this post because I am sure I will get a lot of ‘you 26 inch waisted jeans wearers are not qualified to talk about the body’. Truth is, just as bodies comes in all sizes and shapes, so does body hatred. Finding a safe and positive space for our bodies, away from the opinions and suggestions of society is a battle we are fight almost every day. 
Let me start with my story. I was always a tall and muscular child who was ‘bigger and stronger’ than most people and so grew up thinking I was unattractive in the ‘typical’ way. It however did not matter much to me because I had other avenues where I found myself and a family that helped me see what mattered most in myself. The insecurity about my body worth was always there in the background. I swam, I danced and I ate heartily. I was a happy child for most part.
I have been dancing from when I was very young and in college that part of me also came into its own. I suddenly started seeing my body in a different way with a more heightened consciousness of how it was being perceived by others. I started hearing about how I looked ‘fit and athletic ‘ and that I had a ‘non Indian’ body (whatever that means). The wide shoulders that I had barely noticed till then suddenly became significant but I was far from making peace with it. I still felt like a large giraffe in a room full of delicate little people on many days. I am just about 5 ft 8 inches tall and wore a size S, for the records. Hardly a remarkable height. Just taller and muscular than average. But on those days I felt like a giant in all the wrong ways,
Then came my choice to take up dance as a profession. I started training in contemporary dance and began to, for the first time, pay attention to every little detail of my body. I spent the next decade training hard and coming to terms with my body to a point where it was so dependable that I could set my clock by it. Was I at peace with being a taller than average dancer? No. Did I really make friends with my muscular and strong swimmers upper body? Not really. I understood and valued the immense advantage that it gave me but I always secretly would have traded them in for a pair of slender arms and a hollow back which, popular culture told me is more beautiful. I never would have admitted it, even to myself. Instead, I focused on my great flat abs and general fitness. I came quite close to liking my body and that I did by focusing on what other people told me they envied about my body. I even successfully hid my my insecurity about the parts of my body I didn’t quite like. Not exactly clever, in retrospect.
At this point, pregnancy happened. For the first time in forever, I loved my body. It had never felt stronger or fitter or looked better. That is, everyday except on those when I had to go to the doctors and would be weighed. I danced, trained, swam and ate right all through but still ended up gaining 15 kgs. Every time the nurse loudly exclaimed ‘you gave gained so much weight!’ I would feel a piece of me shrivel up in shame. The worst part is, I had no clue where the damn weight went! Every time someone told me that I look barely pregnant or that I haven’t gained any weight I would want to scream in frustration. I woke up in panic and manically weighed myself, obsessing over a half kg weight gain on many days. I probably used the scale more times in those six months than I had in the 27 years gone by. 
Somewhere around halfway through the third trimester, my amazing Gynecologist figured this weight gain was eating my head up and helped me deal with it. This just meant that my muscular and lean body needed to gain some fat to help it grow the baby. This was not my ‘fault’. This is what my body needed. My partner and family helped immensely and never brushed my anxiety aside and that really helped too.
The next time I weighed myself, I was 15 days postpartum. I had lost every kg of the weight I gained. I fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans. I was given the go ahead to start gentle training again. Crisis averted and all is well with the world, right? No. My body did not feel anything like my pre-pregnancy body. I was very upset. I spent the next year trying to battle my body into thinking it never birthed a child. For instance, I spent weeks trying to ignore my new pelvic alignment and insisting that things would go back to exactly what they were. They never did and they never will. 
Some time after my child turned one, I came to my senses and realized that I am being an ungrateful idiot. my body had just made an entire new person, nourished it and continued giving me so much in return for my dissatisfaction with it. I realized that the only way forward was to start listening to it again. It taught me many things. It made me understand that the years had made it stronger, quieter and more conscious. I went back on stage to perform feeling better than ever. I still went through patches of hatred when an old favourite top fit differently from what it used to or when I had to buy something in a different size from the old usual. This was the beginning of my new normal. 
On the morning of my 31st birthday, a few weeks ago, I woke up feeling at peace. I had never felt or looked better (to myself), I was dancing better and with more thought than I ever have before, my body was strong and prepared…. I, for the first time, did not have anything bad to say about it! It was a wonderfully liberating morning. I did not care what my body looked like but focused on what it felt like instead and on what it was telling me. Most importantly, I did not care what other people thought of it. I am sure I will continue having patches of anxiety about my body as I grow older but now that I know delicious that feeling of body love, I hope to be able to constantly try and go back to that state. 
When people tell me that I have ‘maintained’ myself well or that I don’t look like I had a baby, I almost feel like retorting that I am not an engine. I don’t need to be ‘maintained’. My body is my space and mine alone. Considering that my body made a new human begin from scratch, I am jolly well going to take pride in the fact that it looks like it made a baby!
As somebody that has worked with bodies (as a dancer and teaching fitness classes) this is something I tell every woman I work with, myself included. Be kind to your body. Be grateful to it. Stand in front of the mirror and for once see it for what it is. Not in terms of what you like or dislike about it but with clarity and detachment. It is alive and fighting. How much better can things get? 
Now, prioritize. For me, being a dancer, keeping my body functioning at a higher than normal level of fitness is necessary. I need to invest time and effort into it. I also need to be conscious of my body and its form. These are my professional requirements. What is your priority? To fit into your decade old jeans in a hurry or to make small changes to your everyday life? You may not ever make you fit into those old jeans this way but it help you get healthy and stay in a body positive space. Do ourselves a favour and cut those size tags out of our clothes, shall we? 
Fitness goals are great but true fitness begins in the head. Can you get through your day happy and high on energy or do you feel like taking a nap halfway? Does running make you feel wonderful or do you do it because you have to? You don’t have to do anything. You run because it makes you happy. You don’t have to run because you think that society sees you as someone that needs to lose weight.
Let go of size tags and how the world sees you and look at yourself from inside out. Write a little thank you note to your body. Start a new fitness routine that makes your body and mind happy because you owe it to yourself to be happy. Don’t do it because everyone thinks you should or you think you ‘should’. Do it because you ‘want’ to.
The next time you give someone a compliment, skip the ‘How have you lost so much weight? Tell me also!’ or the ‘You have put on some weight? You still look good though.’ for a ‘You look wonderful and happy today!’ 
Do yourself the same favour. When someone tell’s you that you look good today don’t come back with a ‘thanks but I need to lose 10 kgs’ or a ‘I was so much thinner in college/before a baby/when I was younger’. Don forget that you are much wiser and are probably making better decisions now that you were capable of at 20. We are so used to being judged on our bodies that it becomes second nature for us to judge ourselves. 
Get fit or not but do it on your own terms. Never let anybody define your worth our your body’s worth by their idea of perfection. Stop evaluating your body by their standards too. Do not compare. Not somebody else old body with their new, yours with theirs or your new normal with your old.

I have not tried on my ‘college clothes’ in a very long time. Some will fit. Some will be loose. Some will be snug. My body has changed in more ways than one after the decade of training, performing, hating, loving, baby growing and searching for wisdom. I like my new clothes better. 

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12 thoughts on “My Postpartum Body : a journey towards a safe body positive space.

  1. A read that makes me think, make me want to love & respect my body more. I have (& still do) gone through severe body issues. It messes my mind severely. Touching 40 in a couple of years, I hope to be kinder, more loving & more accepting of myself and my body. Hugs to Azhagi and N.

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  2. Thanks Aarabi,I feel wonderful, after reading this. I'm all that stereotypical women your blog.
    But after reading, I'm changing. Love my body. I'm going to nurture it and I know now the reason to stay fit is not to fit into old pre preggy clothes.

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  3. A thoughtfully written piece, Aarabi, which more and more women should read! I've seen absolutely stunning women pick out a million issues they have with their bodies. It goes out to talk about the centuries of mental conditioning women have undergone when it comes to their bodies. I've always been a big woman, and got bigger with the two children that I had. I eat moderately, I work out regularly, and have been super healthy all my life…touch wood! My family has been full of big women who've had very healthy, long lives (almost all the women in my family lived to their 80s and 90s). In spite of knowing all this, I would feel the need to explain myself to people who would want to see me smaller for matters that would never involve health or fitness, or have any bearing to their lives in any way. I would cringe while accepting a compliment. I would joke about my own body before any one else could, to escape the hurt. I would see thin women, in the conquest to get thinner, go through diet regimes, fall sick, have skin and hair problems…and I would so want to tell them to stop…but I would rather stop myself, because I would think that, me, with a 37-inch waist was by no standard the right person to talk about health and fitness. But somewhere along the way, I started believing in the beauty of my body! From being the bookworm and couch potato that I was as a child, I've come a long way in what my body is capable of doing today in terms of physical exercise…and this gives me immense happiness. I dress myself to my liking, however old or out-of-fashion I may look according to the world. I finally seem to have accepted my body as it is, jelly-bellied, stretchmarked, and thunder-thighed that it is! Don't know if it's because of this that I receive more compliments today than I ever have in my life. I've always wished that we could live in a world where people of all colour, size, shape and height were celebrated for the people they are rather than how they looked. But I've realised that such a world can only exist if there is self acceptance and self love. So women, own your bodies, your size, and every mark on it, because only your body stands witness to all that you have gone through in life…and hell, it's worth being proud of! You've brought out a very relevant thought very articulately. Thanks Aarabi!

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  4. Wonderful write-up Aarabi. Reminded us of the magic that we have created. Growing life within is no joke and we have more reasons to be grateful than to be cringing about. Woke up to my very own 'Liberating day' recently and you echoed my thoughts.

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  5. This was a great read, and I hope to cultivate a similarly loving, understanding relationship with my own body. What you said about our complex approaches to our bodies also reminded me of something from an Arundhathi Subramaniam poem:
    “A home, like this body,
    so alien when I try to belong,
    so hospitable
    when I decide I’m just visiting.”

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