Can I love my fat body?

It’s midnight and I’m hooked up to the breast pump. I turn on the TV to keep me awake, too exhausted to load up Netflix. Three commercials in a row target my body.

Lose weight fast. Look good in a bathing suit. Feel good about yourself.

I look down at my stomach rolls, the extra heft of my thighs, the way my calves bulge with fat and I’m instantly disgusted and angry.

I should not have gained so much weight during this pregnancy.

I should not have banked on pumping to take off the weight.

I should have done better.

I grab my phone and google the Keto diet, price the latest Weight Watchers program and research what Sono Bello does to resculpt your body. I download two new food tracking apps, open a note file and make myself a workout schedule.

Time to get serious again.

No more eating carbs or sugar.

No more fruit. 

Stop being fat and lazy.

You are gross.

Maybe you need weight loss surgery so you can’t enjoy food anymore. That will teach you. 

You should punish yourself for being weak.

You’re disgusting.  

You don’t deserve anything good until you get the weight off.

I say all this to myself as I’m pumping milk for my sweet nephew who, as a surrogate, I successfully grew and birthed only a few short months ago.

I say all this to myself as I tell my daughter to love her body and to stop comparing herself to others.

I say all this to myself…and I believe it.

All of it.

For a moment, the hate for my body is so intense I wish I could rip the fleshy fat off with my bare hands. It would be worth it to not look and feel like this.

I go to sleep with all the plans and all the hate.

When I wake up the anger has faded, but the disgust lingers around me like a sunburn. I shower and step on the scale. I know the number, but it hits me like a bullet between my eyes and I stagger away from it. The towel, the one that doesn’t quite fit around me anymore, falls to the floor.

This is the heaviest I’ve been in my life.

The anger prickles, goosebumps down my arms and legs, focusing daggers at my swollen middle.

My core.

The center of my being.

The place I grew three babies.

The place of my deepest breath.

I hate it.

My daughter walks in and I focus all my energy on taking air deep inside and holding it. I stand, naked, shaking slightly, and take slow, gut-filling breaths in as she talks to me about the dream she had. She’s in her underwear and I’m keenly aware of the curves of her body and my emotions are complicated and ugly.

A vile snake built of guilt and shame slithers around me and stings my skin all over.

My daughter keeps talking. I can’t hear her, but I see the light in her eyes and the way she lounges on my bed. Her beauty is an undeniable force. I continue to stare at her until she is in focus and I can hear the words she is saying. I get lost in her dreams and her voice until everything else fades away.

It’s been several weeks and the sting of that hate still remains. To fight back, I found several body-positive Instagram accounts to follow. I look at their images daily; bikini-clad on a bicycle, doing yard work in cute shorts, eating food and kissing their spouses. I read their words and I want to believe.

Is it possible to love me at this weight? Do they believe what they are writing? Are they happy?

In two days, I leave for a trip with my husband to Paris. Instead of joy, this is what I’m thinking: “I’m the stereotypical fat American,” “what can I wear to not stand out” and “I wish I had more time to lose weight.”

I want to be excited, but this fat on my body feels like it’s holding me back.

It’s all I can see.

It’s all I can focus on.

Weight issues are complicated. It’s not simply a matter of calories in and calories out. I put on this weight because I was pregnant, yes, but also because I had anxiety about being a surrogate. I was scared because my sister and brother-in-law, the beautiful people I grew the baby for, had lost my sweet niece and we were all still grieving. I gained the weight because I had a bleed the first time I went to the gym after the embryo transfer and I convinced myself I’d lost the baby because I was vain and didn’t want to gain weight. I tried water aerobics but had a panic attack because I feared the water would suddenly be filled with blood and it would all be my fault. I ate because I wanted the baby to grow big and healthy and I was terrified all the time I’d do something wrong.

I gained this weight by eating calories, yes, but it’s more than that.

It’s all mixed up with emotions and the history of my body. It’s so much more than food.

Yes, I’m overweight. Yes, it’s not healthy.

But this is also the truth: This 42-year-old fat body grew a baby and birthed it. This 42-year-old fat body produced nearly 5,000 ounces of milk. This 42-year-old fat body cleaned up a very messy garage, took several loads to the dump, cleaned out every closet in the house, cleared a year worth of weeds away, chopped down a tree and daily drives her kids to all their activities.

Even with the extra weight, this body is doing all the things I love.

Isn’t that worth something?

Yes, I want to lose weight and be stronger. I want to feel better in my clothes and not be as winded when I run up the stairs. I want to chase after my little nephew when he starts running around. I want to do everything I can to reduce my risk of heart disease and injury.

But is it OK to love this fat body right now?

Can I?

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The mom bathing suit vs. the hipster pool

swimmingWe get off the elevator, round the corner and I see it.

No. No. No.

I want to turn around, but the kids are skipping ahead.

“Come on mom.”

Before me is the rooftop pool of the young and the hip. It is rectangular shaped with a giant mirror angled down at the end so you can watch yourself swim.

But nobody is swimming.

Oh, no. Not this bunch.

A few are in the pool, but they are only waist deep. The rest sit on couches or are standing in groups. Every girl is model thin and wearing a tiny bikini. Hair and makeup are perfect. I glance around thinking surely we stumbled onto a photo shoot.

Nope.

No cameras.

The boys are model ready too, gathered in various clusters with cut abs and perfect tans, all acting as if this is a completely normal thing to be doing.

This is not fucking normal.

I don’t know what this is.

Every hand is either holding a colorful cocktail or a tall glass of beer.

“This pool is so cool!” my kids yell and quickly take off their shoes and dive in.

All eyes are on us.

I hear a few snickers and endure a malicious stare from a girl drinking something pink from a sparkling glass. She is probably around 23 and I get it. Kids are so annoying when you are young. I smile back.

“Are you kidding?” I hear one of the pretty male peacocks in the shallow end of the pool say to his friends. He follows it up by something I can’t hear. They laugh.

A mother with kids at a hotel pool is apparently the funniest thing they have ever seen.

“What are you looking at freaks,” I want to yell. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

But I don’t.

I look around and find one empty spot left around the pool. It is a big brown couch with several large pillows. I grab a few towels and a glass of the free water. I climb into the oversize couch and find if I scoot all the way to the back with my book, I can almost disappear.

The kids are busy swimming laps back and forth. Their giggles and laughter fills the empty space.

I see my girl kick past a highly groomed beer drinker, splashing his back with a little water.

“What the fuck?” he says and shields his fluffy blond hair from any potential drips.

His friends laugh.

I don’t laugh.

I fucking don’t laugh one bit.

I sit with my black bathing suit cover over my black bathing suit dress and want to throw-up. Or maybe I want to eat. Or maybe I want a cocktail.

The insecurity and anger wrestle inside as I try and just not be here.

I never looked like these people. Never. Not when I was a teen. Not when I was 20. Never.

I hate them.

Then I’m mad for hating them.

I am judging them for youth and beauty, something they can’t help. These are someone’s children. They are just enjoying their vacation by the pool and don’t want to be reminded little human’s share the planet with them.

But they don’t have to be douchbags.

“Mom! Mom! Mom!”

My girl is calling my name. I nod her direction and all the lovely little pretties look my way.

“Mom!” she says again. “Come swim with us! You said you would swim with us. Come on mom!”

I sit there and think about all the things I want for my girl.

I never want her to see or feel what I am feeling right now.

I never want her to worry what all these assholes think about her body or mine.

I never want her to let anybody stop her from doing things she enjoys.

I love swimming and this was one of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip.

I smile at her and climb out of the big couch. I take off the bathing suit cover, put on my goggles and walk right into the pool.

The next hour or so I play a game where I am a water monster. The kids swim from one end of the pool to the other and I try and catch them. If I do, they stand on my legs and jump off while I lift them and push so they fly as far as they can.

It’s fun.

We laugh and taunt each other.

We swim until my arms ache and the sun is starting to set.

Eventually, we get out and dry off. We sit on the big couch together and talk about where we might go for dinner when daddy gets out his business meeting.

An older man with a very dark tan walks by wearing a g-string leopard print Speedo. You can see his…everything.

Both kids look at me and we burst into silent giggles.

Maybe we are assholes too.

It’s all about the confidence

My ratty sweatpants and stained tank top were covered haphazardly in paint. My hair was pulled back sloppily and I had splotches of yellow on my face and arms. I’m an incredibly messy painter who tends to get as much on myself as the walls.

Obviously, I was in no condition to go into the grocery store. But as the kids and I were starving and there was nothing to eat at home, that is exactly what I did.

“Ugh, I’m so embarrassed to walk into Trader Joes looking like this,” I said as we walked through the door. “I should not be out in public.”

“Mom,” my daughter said grabbing my hand and making me face her. “You look like you worked hard and you did. You were helping our school. You should be proud.”

Wow.

“Your right,” I said.

I wish I could report that I felt completely better and that I walked around without giving my appearance another thought.

That’s not what happened.

I was still quite embarrassed to look such a wreck in public. I felt as if everyone was looking at me with their disappointed gazes of judgment. I was sure they were making assumptions of me as a person and mother.

At the checkout stand, I felt an urgent need to apologize and explain myself.

“Sorry I look so messy,” I said. “I was just painting and had to dart out quick.”

“You look fine mom,” my daughter said in a clearly annoyed tone. “I told you that. You worked hard and it looks like it.”

“Your right,” I told her. “I did work hard.”

“You always look great mom,” she pressed.

“Thanks love,” I said blushing, embarrassed that my 7-year-old daughter was schooling me in front of the store clerk.

“I mean it mom,” she said. “You do.”

And she is right.

I have made incredible strides in my self-esteem, but there are days when I feel like an ugly witch from a Grimm’s fairytale and nothing will shake it. That’s when all the mean things I’ve been told over the years comes bubbling to the surface and I can’t quiet the voices.

I’m 37-years-old and those voices are still there, whispering when I’m most vulnerable. What they say is untrue, but it doesn’t matter. When I am weak, I believe them. I let them tear at me. I let them get me.

If I had the power to grant my daughter one wish, it would be that she never loses the voice inside that tells her how special and amazing she is. That she stays true to herself.

Ever since that exchange at the grocery store, I can’t stop thinking about protecting my girl. What can I do to combat all the negativity that is headed her way? How can I ensure her voice stays the strongest and that she gives no power to all the other voices that will be directed at her?

Then I stumbled across an interesting piece featured on A Mighty Girl called “I Like My Body Because It’s Magic.” A photographer interviewed girls between the ages of four and eight about what they liked about their bodies. The answers inspired me to talk to my girl.

I asked her to draw a picture of herself and write what she liked about her body. Here is what she did:

mightygirl

I love this so much that I hardly have words for it. It makes me happy in the deepest of ways. It gives me hope that maybe she will not struggle like me.

Just maybe.

As we were hanging her picture on the refrigerator, it occurred to me that I should have her do this every Thanksgiving as a yearly focus on what she loves about her body. We could keep them in a little book and pull it out each year to see how she has grown.

My hope is that this little act will serve as a yearly window of opportunity for us to talk about her body. It will give her a chance to focus in on her strengths and me a great opportunity to keep up with all the changes headed her way.

I also know that I need to set a good example, and I’m trying. I no longer say I hate my body and I’m learning to accept things about myself. I am growing and hopefully I can keep up with her.

Her wisdom and spirit is something I will fight to protect.

I have always tried to stay away from compliments, hoping that would help her see that she is more than her appearance. But everyone needs to hear they are beautiful, inside and out. I need to be a positive voice whispering the truths of her beauty to her, so she can combat the negativity headed her way.

I need to be louder.

So on this day of Thanksgiving, as a tribute to my daughter and to combat my own voices, I’m going to say a few nice things about my own body.

  • I love how strong my back and arms are. I can work around the house, lift my children and carry things up and down the stairs all day. My arms help me to cradle my loved ones and make them feel safe in my embrace.
  • I love how my eyes change colors. They are beautiful reflections of my mood and one of the most powerful ways I show my love for my children. When I am happy, they shine brightly and light up my entire face.
  • I love how tiny my hands, feet and head are. I can shop in the kids department for shoes, gloves and hats. It makes me feel youthful and cute.
  • I love how my brain works, always in wonder and awe of the world around me. I notice the clouds in the sky, the hummingbirds at my window and the tiny patterns in the leaves.

So I challenge everyone to take a moment today and be thankful for the beauty that is you. I know it’s cheesy, but do it.

Sarah Maren Photographers

As my beautiful girl reminds me every day, everyone is special.

Yes, even you with the gravy on your shirt, you are worth celebrating.

I love you.