Not too long ago I had an awkward conversation with an older gentleman in my life who shall remain nameless. He asked point blank if I had returned at my pre-baby weight, following it up with something along the lines of “because you look like you have.” While I know he meant well, I batted his question and comment away, saying no, I haven’t, I likely won’t be at that weight again for a while (if ever) because I’m feeding her, and ended it there. Not only was I not wanting to talk about weight, I wanted to steer the conversation away from how I look.
There is so much more to life than appearances.
Admittedly, it has surprised me how often folks have commented on my appearance since having a baby three months ago. It has never been anything negative but rather the opposite: nothing but praise for how “great” I look, how I look like I did a year ago (save being a bit top heavy now for obvious reasons.) I know these are compliments and folks are happy for me, and I’d be lying if I said it’s not nice to hear.
Yes, I have returned to running and knocked out a respectable 10K time after less than a month of ‘training.’ Yes, I’ve probably shed the vast majority of pounds that were needed to support a growing life. Yes, I’ve completed 60 days of body weight-based fitness and am now ready for something higher impact. Yes, I have done all this while breastfeeding and nurturing a growing baby, eating well (for the most part, I do like sweets!,) trying to keep my household from becoming a completely disorganized mess and easing back into working a full time job.
But honestly? “You’re so thin” and “You don’t look like you had a baby” aren’t the compliments I necessarily want.
Not everyone who pays me these ‘compliments’ knows what I have been through. Eating disorder recovered – or perhaps, forever in recovery, depending on the day, – there is still a small fear in the back of my mind that the “t word” will somehow fuel any embers of disorder left in me. There was a time when “thin,” “skinny” and “tiny” were the words I craved most. Thankfully I have since changed and now prefer “fit” or “strong” to any of those. Why put such importance on size? My size is not my worth, and being “thin” and looking as though I haven’t had a baby shouldn’t be goals in my life.
The truth is I have had a baby and I am proud of what my body accomplished. This body may fit back into clothes it wore over a year ago, but the truth is it is completely different. The obvious change for those bold enough to comment is that I am suddenly somewhat busty for my stature, wearing cup sizes I never fathomed I would. Linea nigra still fading, I have tiger-striped stretch marks here and there. The skin around my navel is looser than before. In a bathing suit many folks would probably comment on my having a “flat stomach” compared to others, but who cares about flat? I want a powerful core. I want a core that is healthy and strong, one that could comfortably carry another life into this world one day. I have the markings of a woman who has become a mother and I wear these markings proudly.
Instead of comments on my size and appearance, I’d rather hear my husband tell me I’m beautiful, because I know when he says that, he says it having seen me through my best and my worst, and the beauty he sees comes from me as a whole, from what is within me. It is not “you are pretty outside,” it is “you as a whole are beautiful.” I would rather be told “You’re going to be an incredible mom,” or maybe “Your kids are going to have such amazing birthday cakes,” because it is a reflection of the caring I exude and the love I give. Instead of being told I look like I haven’t had a baby, I would like to hear “You are a great role model.” That is more powerful and transcends more than any reflection in a mirror or image in a photograph could. Comments that I really dig are “You look so healthy and happy,” “You look like you feel great” and even “She’s wonderful, you must be so proud.”
The compliment I really want is the one that is based on who I am, not on what I appear to be.
Already, at three months old, my tiny daughter hears “You’re so cute,” “Such a darling baby,” “What a sweet face,” and “Isn’t she precious?” As Mini Beastling grows up, I will be sure to make sure she knows what is important. I will encourage her to be creative and express herself, to praise her for being her own person. I picture myself saying, “You’re so smart!,” “Isn’t that clever?,” “That’s a very creative way of doing it,” or “You did a great job picking out your own clothes” instead of “You’re a cutie” and “Don’t you look lovely in that outfit?” I recall an instance when I was young, under 12, when the checker at the store said to my mother “She’s pretty” about me, to which my mother responded “She’s too young to hear that.” At first I didn’t understand and was insulted. Did my mother not think I was pretty? Now as a grown woman, I understand why she said what she did and I appreciate it. I am so much more than I appear to be. I have greater worth than my looks.
And may my daughter grow up knowing the same.