As I sat, yet again, trying to put my 5 month old down for a nap that was at least two hours overdue, she asked me the question I’d been dreading for years:
“Mama, why don’t you ever go swimming?”
My 9 year old has been looking forward to her first swim of the season with an excitement one might reserve for a visit to DisneyWorld. Her dad is taking her tomorrow afternoon and she’s been counting down the days.
I will be going, too… but only to act as chaperone for LP as she uses the women’s change rooms, and to get the baby read for her first swim ever. I won’t be joining them in the water.
It’s not the first time I’ve gracefully declined a swim. I have a lovely friend with a backyard pool and an open invitation. Instead I sit on the sidelines and watch the kids have fun. This may also be the case during our first family resort vacay in November.
We shall see…
I pondered her question, hyper aware that my response could have implications on her own body image, especially now that she is starting to lose her little girl shape.
“I never learned to swim, babe.”
“So why don’t you just come have fun?” she asked.
“I don’t have a bathing suit.”
“You can get one!” she replied, with typical tween sass.
I stopped there, with a half-muttered excuse about how long it can take to find the right one, and quickly ushered her out of the room because Tator wasn’t falling asleep.
The real reason, I thought to myself, is because I’m fat.
There I said it.
Oh Lord. Here we go. All the “stuff” came rushing into my brain as if the long-closed floodgates had been suddenly re-opened. Body issues, body positive movements, wear what you want supporters, no one cares advocates, feeling inadequate, knowing I’m being judged, surreptitious videos that get posted on YouTube by fat shamers…
All of this is going through my head.
Because let’s face it. I’m a big girl. I’m also in my 40s when everything is infinitely harder. I have autoimmune disease, which makes weight loss an epic battle. I have a new baby and I am too freaking tired. I also love food. There, I said it. I fucking love food. I refuse to live a deprivation existence. My body, my choice.
There’s also a lifetime of emotional baggage I will never completely unload from being part of a culture (South Asian) that absolutely excels at body shaming. We are talking level: expert. Fuck, some of those aunties are fat shaming ninjas.
But you know what? 99% of the time I’m perfectly happy with how I look. It’s the dreaded 1% of the time that I can’t reconcile in my own head. Usually in hot weather, around female counterparts who are slimmer and more comfortable wearing sleeveless tops.
I mean, I have, for the most part, managed to keep my weight pretty steady my whole life (I’m not a complete glutton), but the thought of wearing a swimsuit, especially now with my postpartum body, is anxiety-inducing.
Even yesterday at brunch I refused to take off my sweater and bare my arms, even though I was absolutely scorching.
And even now as I write this, a large part of my brain tells me “who cares!” I’m a beautiful person, inside and out. I am blessed with a very strong body. I have performed miracles. I carried and birthed babies. I have nourished and protected my girls. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I’m a strong advocate for confidence and being true to yourself.
And yet here we are.
Before I got pregnant with Tator, I had finally come to terms with my body. Truly. I was the size I always was but I rocked the hell out of it. I finally stepped away from wearing dark and dowdy clothes to wearing things that enhanced and accentuated my assets. I felt more confident than I had in years.
I dunno if it was turning 40 (that magical number) or what. But I felt comfortable in my skin for the first time ever. And I rocked that ish.
I even felt beautiful during pregnancy.
It’s only now, 5 months postpartum, tired, with a c-section incision that still hasn’t healed, a baby that won’t sleep… now I feel like I did before. Crumpled. Untidy. Dowdy. (What a great word!)
My mother would be disappointed.
I’ll write about her one day in detail but man… she always looked the business. Always. Even while fighting leukemia.
I’ve turned into someone who struggles to get out of her pyjamas most days. Makeup is a chore. Why shower when I don’t have to go to work every day?
You can chalk it up to having an infant (it’s certainly the excuse I use) but c’mon. We are 5 months in. And women older than me have had babies.
So that can’t be it anymore. Certainly not for much longer, anyway.
There are two lessons here, one is obviously learning to love your body and yourself. That’s a struggle too many of us have no matter what size we are. It’s a deeply ingrained part of our cultural psyche that we are never, ever perfect enough. And even if we are, we have to kill ourselves to maintain it.
LP’s 9 years old. She’s now firmly in her tween-age years, and I know body image is going to become a big issue. So how do I instill a quiet confidence in her without allowing any of my own issues to taint the swimming waters?
I have been thinking about it all day.
Before I fell pregnant with Tator, I had suffered several losses. After some fertility appointments we were told that it wasn’t ever going to happen. We were infertile, the clock had run out, time was up. Get on with your life. So we did.
And my girl was growing up, requiring less of me than she had, and I had started to find my feet again. I had started taking time out for me. I’d go out occasionally, I was meeting friends for coffee again, I was getting back into skin care routines, doing my nails, reading, drawing, painting…all things that made me feel like me. Things that brought me joy outside of raising my beautiful girl.
So when I got the news I was pregnant, believe me, it was a shock to the system. A pleasant and welcome one, but a complete shock nonetheless.
A difficult pregnancy, a traumatic birth and now a 5 month old later, and maybe on some levels I’m struggling with this new version of me. An old mom, starting over. LP will be in high school when Tator goes into KG. Retirement isn’t far off after that. All of my mom friends are moving on with life, and I feel like I’m starting over.
So maybe on some level there’s a little wallowing. Certainly there’s a lot of fear…can I do this again? ALL OVER again? I mean, I don’t have much choice. But can I?
Of course I can.
So that brings us to today, and the realization that in my feelings of overwhelm at new motherhood all over again, I have neglected myself. I don’t draw or paint anymore. My new mom brain is making it REALLY hard to read and retain info (even my writing is incoherent more often than not). Everything I own is covered in drool or vomit. My body doesn’t feel like mine anymore. I feel like it’s on rent and it actually belongs to a beautiful little 5 month old who needs it to survive.
And like most moms out there, and certainly the mom I was 9 years ago, I am sacrificing everything about myself for my girl.
And the realization dawned on me today, that maybe my body image issues have little to do with my weight anymore… because I had gotten over that. I am convinced that they have more to do (now, anyway) with my complete lack of self-care.
Does that mean I’ll rock a bathing suit and not feel even a hint of anxiety?
Hell, no. I’m not there yet, not mentally anyway. But I do know that self-worth, self-confidence, self-anything is tied to how well we care for ourselves. And I have neglected myself for about 14 months now.
So it’s time to slowly get back into that skin care routine, no matter how much baby is crying. 5 minutes won’t hurt either of us.
It’s time to slowly get back into doodling and painting. I can move my canvas outside and paint while she plays in the sun.
It’s time to put on that lipstick simply because I can. Who cares if her little face is covered in red kisses?
It’s time to get my signature red back in my hair. Because I am fire.
And maybe once I remember I’m worthy of love and attention, too… just maybe I’ll learn to swim.