I figured that after I had a baby my body would be like a soldier after war, with the proud, annoying battle scars that have a good story but don’t dress up well. A few things went differently than expected:
- I had a real baby, which is sort of impossible to imagine beforehand and sort of trumps everything else.
- I didn’t stop caring about the way I looked (this isn’t a story with a moral or something), but I was really busy caring a lot about other things.
- I looked surprisingly great.
No one ever talks about how you might feel sexy and beautiful after you have a baby. They talk a lot about how you might feel shitty and floppy and bad and you might have to work really hard to look good again and your belly might never ever be the same and the goal should be for everything to be the same as it was because that was so much better. It’s stressful, being pregnant and being yelled at by all of the headlines about pregnancy “YOU NEED TO START THINKING ABOUT HOW BAD YOU WILL LOOK AFTER YOU GIVE BIRTH!”
I was prepared. I went in chin up, determined not to care. I was going to focus on my baby, dammit. I was going to have my priorities stacked correctly, color coded, baby blinking red on the top. Attention! Attention! You have created a human life! Instead of checking out your ass in the mirror, you should make sure your child stays alive!
You’ll have to read my book for the birth story (I promise, it’s dramatic), but afterward, there I was, somehow still myself, somehow epically changed, clutching the counter and staring into my own eyes in the bathroom mirror. I was a horrible mess. Puffy and ghost white and trembling, with limp, sweaty hair and a ferociousness rising off me like fire. The details of my appearance seemed irrelevant—it was the brute power and triumph shining through me that counted. I didn’t look beautiful, I looked awesome.
And then I wore whatever fit and learned how to breastfeed and cried randomly and felt surprisingly competent and confident and sometimes totally overwhelmed, of course. And sometimes I was just watching episode after episode of “Gossip Girl” while my baby endlessly drank and fussed and refused to allow me to ever put her down.
And one day I got up and put jeans on and looked in the mirror and … I looked great.
I don’t want to get into objective versus subjective here. I looked great to myself. And that’s practically the only thing that matters when it comes to body image.
I will say that my husband Bear totally agrees. So there’s that. He’s like, “Did you get sexier or something?”
I am like, “Yes.”
I am sexier now.
Here’s how I did it:
I had debilitating morning sickness for four months, then I gained much more weight than is recommended, my ankles swelled up and my feet looked like those pink balloon dogs the guy twists up in the park by the carousel. Then I gave birth and immediately ate a lot of pizza and ice cream. I continued to eat these things because they are filling and quick, as I cared for my newborn. I ate everything I’d ever wanted to eat, actually, because I was celebrating. Then I wanted vegetables, too, so I ate lots of spinach along with my pizza. Sometimes I ate spinach on my pizza. I walked for miles some days, because my baby liked the motion and because it was good to be outside. Some days, I didn’t leave the apartment. I forgot about my hair completely. I bought some cheap, cool earrings from a woman who makes them and sells them by the subway entrance. I started wearing very low-cut shirts because they are easier to breastfeed in. My boobs got full and round and expressive, though they are still not particularly large. I forgot to be excited about my boobs, because I was too busy mopping up all the milk they kept happily, obscenely squirting. I appreciated the way my lighter body felt, moving up a hill or rolling over in bed. It was so nice to not have a giant pregnant belly anymore. I bounced my huge, surly baby for hours, because she screamed at me when I stopped. My arms ached, my back ached. I bounced her sitting on a yoga ball, watching TV. That was a little better.
I was weirdly happy.
I stopped caring so much about the things I thought mattered a lot, like having a glittery, impressive career. Or at least, I paused.
I was excited.
I wanted to work again, but because I like to work. It felt fun to get things done. I felt accomplished for doing them.
I was unexpectedly fulfilled during long, quiet stretches. I felt unexpectedly okay about “doing nothing.”
I felt strong.
I was proud of myself.
I caught a glimpse of myself going by the window of the wine store, in my jeans and my low-cut top, and I looked hot. Nice boobs, I thought. Nice ass. Nice hair. Nice whole woman. No one ever talks about this part. About how you might be sexy. About how you might end up sexier, for having done this crazy thing with your body. For having learned to give it a high five for everything it can do. For transforming. For not having to care as much. For wearing jeans again. For everything.
Nice, I thought.
And then I just kept walking, because my baby insists on constant motion.
Mirror, Mirror is a column written by Brooklyn-based freelance writer, new mother and bagel enthusiast Kate Fridkis, who also writes the blog Eat the Damn Cake. Her new book about being pregnant in NYC in her twenties and feeling conflicted and sometimes okay comes out on November 5th and is available for preorder now. You can also follow her on Twitter at @eatthedamncake.
[Photo from Shutterstock]