Last Christmas is unlikely to go down as one of the greats (unless of course, the idea of spending less time with family members, colleagues and mates made you feel giddy with introverted festive cheer). Personally, I felt the shared sense of national mourning at what could – and should – have been, had there not been a global pandemic raging through our communities. But there was a part of me that felt almost flooded with relief when news hit that we’d be in a partial lockdown for the majority of December.
You see, I was three months post-baby and treading that uncertain world as you attempt to gracefully move from fourth trimester, to, well…a newish kind of normal. I was getting some sleep (but not enough), my boobs had stopped spraying milk like a water fountain (although breast pads were still as compulsory as dry shampoo) and my body had started to slowly pull itself back into a more familiar shape (although with no real sense of urgency).
And I felt at peace with all of the above. I was OK with savouring everything else a little more slowly the second time, knowing how quickly each stage would pass and knowing that I might not experience it again. With my first post-partum episode I spent months avoiding looking at myself naked for fear of despising what I saw. This time round I’d gone the other way; documenting my body in all its baby-carrying glory via underwear selfies in the mirror just two days after my baby had been delivered.
I felt strong and confident and in awe of what my body had been through in bringing him into the world and I wanted to be able to remember that feeling. I felt in no rush to start berating my body for daring to look as though it’d been through pregnancy and birth.
But, and there is a big but coming. Well, two, if you count my actual butt (because it’s round and squishy and tight in jeans and I love it). Because whilst I felt at peace with how I looked when standing in just my biggest black maternity pants in the mirror, stretched-out milky boobs hanging low, I wasn’t at peace with how other people in my life might view me. I wanted to be able to show off my new baby to relatives whilst framed by the glow of fairy lights and tinsel and December’s unshakeable joy, but I didn’t want to have to show off myself and my post-baby limbo body in the same way.
Our generation has done a lot to shake off the ingrained fat phobia and toxic diet culture we were brought up entangled in. We’ve come a long way in the past decade in the way we view ourselves and others, and the way in which we treat food and exercise. And collectively, I’m proud of us. I wish our 16-year-old selves could see us now and could have access the images we do on social media from role models of all shapes, sizes and colour who remind us every day how un-alone we are in the way we look. I adore that size inclusivity is becoming more and more the norm across everything from fashion brand advertising to magazine shoots and catwalks.
But there are generations out there, who can’t see the world through the lens we now have access to. They see things through outdated glasses that have warped their sense of how people should look and behave and and think. And I struggle with that – this idea that people are viewing me through those same outdated glasses.
My body not fitting in with the Daily Mail’s standard of beauty doesn’t make me less beautiful or intelligent or worthy, but I know that there are still people out there who believe it does. I am proud of who I am and what I look like, and you will never find me berating my body or my appearance in front of my kids because I want them to grow up seeing me strong and confident and accepting. But I harbor a secret sadness, or perhaps an insecurity, that there are people – like the kind you find at family Christmas get-togethers – who will associate my body and its softness with negativity. That makes me feel anxious and fragile and vulnerable. It makes me want to hide myself away, dress to feel smaller, and it makes my mind revert back to being a teenager who desperately believed she needed to lose weight to mean anything to anyone.
I know that it is not for me to change other people’s outlook – that it can be up to them to want to adapt or alter their view, and that can be a hard pill to swallow. Instead, it is up to me to trust myself and what I stand for and to continue to push for a better, more accepting, more equal, kinder world in which we are not doubted or judged for how we look. It is up to me to play my part in making a safer and sweeter world for my generation and those who follow. Because we are wonderful and delicious and undeniably beautiful, whatever package we come in – no matter who else believes otherwise.