There is a beautiful dress hanging in my wardrobe. Heavenly pale pink cotton, loose bishop sleeves, gathered under the bust and falling into a glorious full skirt. A dress just asking to be worn with frivolous rose gold sandals and round Lennon sunglasses for a summer outing; a dress to sling on when there are no plans, but it’s nice to feel special while reading detective novels in the garden. Boy was I ever excited about this dress. Just you wait, I said to myself, once my body has “bounced back” after pregnancy I am going to rock this frock.
Bounced back. Hah. Can we all just take a moment to appreciate the toxicity of that phrase? Those two words, so deeply embedded in our culture, have become an explicit statement that a postpartum body is somehow lacking, that it needs to be changed. Ten and a half months postpartum and my body hasn’t come close to being the shape it was before. Instead it has taken on a whole new shape, one that tells the story of growing and sustaining a human life. Slightly larger, a little softer, but no less healthy and certainly no less strong. But in spite of everything we have been through together over the past eighteen months, I was (and sometimes still am) struggling to accept my body in its new form.
Coming to terms with my new physical landscape is an ongoing process, one that involves pushing against a lot of ingrained social conditioning. How many times since he was born have I avoided looking at myself in the mirror as I get dressed, or sit in the bath? Or averted my eyes from the Christmas photographs, refusing to recognise the “large” woman who has stolen my face (she looks bloody happy FYI, having a super time with her new baby, but somehow this doesn’t always register).
Over the years I have internalised a culture that rejects the way my stomach now gently rolls when I sit down, is even repelled by this soft reminder of the space where my baby once rested safe below my rib cage. This strange hierarchy of bodies demands that I change myself to fit my dress, because that is the way of things. My beautiful dress, my treat for getting “my” body back, represents a level of self-loathing that I didn’t realise I was capable of.
You know what? I refuse. I will not play this silly game any longer. I will celebrate my body as it is now, as it will be tomorrow, and as it continues to change with age and exercise and apple crumble. I love that my vocal chords can soothe my baby to sleep by singing bawdy Irish drinking songs. I love that my arms, soft but strong, are the place above all others where he feels safe. My fingers, stubby and nail-bitten, can still remember how to play all the piano pieces I was ever examined on, even if my brain takes a while to catch up. My muscles can still bust out a really nice cartwheel, and I vow to still be turning handsprings when I am in my eighties. Rolls and all. My body right now is as worthy of my love and appreciation as it was when I was rock climbing twice a week in my twenties.
So last week I took my beautiful, self-loathing dress to a tailor in town. I know, as a fairly competent dressmaker I could have done something to it myself, but honestly turning this gown frown upside down was going to take professional help. We had a good chat about the different options, the places where we could win back an inch or two of fabric, and finally agreed on a plan.
There is a beautiful dress hanging in my wardrobe. Heavenly pale pink cotton, loose bishop sleeves, with two discrete panels under each arm adding just a little extra give to the waistband. Falling to a modest mid-calf skirt, shortened to give the tailor an extra few inches to play with. A dress that will be worn with frivolous rose gold sandals and my favourite sunglasses. A dress that will be worn now, not hoarded in self-hatred for a day that may never come.
Because my body is beautiful and amazing just the way it is, and it (and I) deserve a dress that fits.
P.S. In closing, I should stress that getting to this point in beginning to accept my body (and I still have a lot of work to do) has taken both time and help. I’ve been deeply absorbed in reading Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe (aka BodyPosiPanda), which has given me some of the tools and enough of a push to start questioning the culture of self-loathing directed at postpartum, and indeed all, bodies. Megan recently appeared on one of my favourite podcasts, A Playful Day, and if you are struggling with any kind of body acceptance I would highly recommend this conversation as a safe, welcoming place to start engaging with these issues.