When I was pregnant, I finally got thin. I don’t mean I stopped eating, lost weight, or made it into some perfect-size jeans. I’m talking about the kind of thin I used to dream about—a mythical thinness in which doors open, permission is granted, you are seen, you are appreciated. For some people, feeling entitled to one’s own body is not an issue. They do not question their right to exist as they are. This is a great privilege. It is sometimes called “thin privilege,” although that term is quite sticky (and this post really isn’t about unsticking it).
For myriad and often incomprehensible reasons, being comfortable in my own skin has been a problem. As a young person I struggled with an eating disorder and various body-image issues. I believed—deeply, superficially, subconsciously, and consciously—that thin people had better lives. I believed I was fat. And I believed fat was bad and fat was the source of all my problems. I dreamed of a thin future. In that future, I imagined people appreciating my body. I imagined walking into a store and fitting into lots of stylish clothes. I imagined feeling physically and emotionally comfortable in my body. In an effort to feel that kind of freedom, I tortured my body and psyche—depriving (“dieting”), bingeing, working out based on what I’d eaten, punishing myself when I didn’t live up to impossible expectations, being terrified of myself, not trusting myself.
When I was pregnant, I finally got a taste of freedom from these issues. Here are some things I experienced with a huge belly that I used to think could only come with a really small one:
- People (strangers and friends) complimented my appearance and/or smiled when they saw me.
- I got compared to famous people (who were pregnant). “OMG, you look just like [someone beautiful and respected]!”
- I walked into (maternity) stores and could find almost all of the styles in my size. And they were “flattering” to my shape. They were made for me!
- I loved the shape of my body.
- I loved to touch my belly and show it off. I thought it looked really cool and beautiful.
- People encouraged me to eat whatever I wanted.
- I practiced gentle nutrition (eating a variety of whole foods that felt good to me) without feeling guilty for exploring odd cravings.
- Food felt like an exciting adventure, rather than a tortured game of self-deprivation, self-discipline, and arithmetic.
- People (health care professionals, strangers, and friends) encouraged me to move my body in ways that felt good to me and to stop before overdoing it. They encouraged me to respect how I was feeling more than respecting a number on the scale.
- I felt confident that my body—especially my middle—was beautiful and worth celebrating.
- I was curious about myself and enjoyed taking care of me.
- I felt just right.
- Most importantly, I trusted my own decisions about my body. I felt a deep respect for what it was doing, and I knew that I was the expert on what it was feeling. I listened to advice from others (books, midwives, doulas, friends, family, the internet), and took some, but not all, of it. I made informed decisions about my body that were right for me.
I know this is not the experience all pregnant women have, but I think there are aspects of this experience we can all strive for.
I’m not talking so much about giving and receiving compliments, which are, in fact, judgments (albeit positive ones). I’m talking about respecting ourselves and each other. Even if you don’t believe human bodies are miraculous, you must grant that they are amazingly complex. This perfectly choreographed dance of molecules that gives us consciousness deserves better than simplistic advice and harsh judgments (from external or internal sources). We all deserve “thin privilege.” We all deserve to be treated as if we are entitled to the bodies we inhabit. I’m trying to treat my body (and others’ bodies) with this kind of respect. I don’t always succeed, but this is what radical (self-)love looks like to me.
I welcome comments, but not judgments—about me, my body, fatness, thinness, or really, anything. If you think your comment might be interpreted as judgy, keep it to yourself. This post is not a request for help; it is an invitation to embrace radical self-love and radical love for others. If trolls arrive, they’ll be sent back to their bridges.