Fashion Friday – Strong, Not Skinny

It has been a struggle for me for these 11 months post-baby to accept my changing body and to respect it for where it is. It didn’t help that a lot of the larger blogs I follow are run by women who all got back to their pre-baby weights within the first 2-3 months after having kids.

It was difficult for me not to feel envious of those women – already back in their pre-baby jeans – while I struggled with buying clothes at all. I didn’t want to invest money in a bunch of clothes that I didn’t intend on wearing for long – but the flip side of constantly not fitting into clothes that were too small or wearing maternity clothes that were too large was just making me feel perpetually schlubby.

And I struggled a little because the difficulty I was having felt so shallow. I mean, there are people who are actually, legitimately, struggling and I’m all bummed out because I feel dumpy in my clothes? And though it might seem silly, or shallow, how you feel in your body and your fashion and your presentation to the outside world, it does matter. Feeling good in your own skin – it does matter. A lot.

Leggings and jersey mini-skirts with longer tunic-y tops were my fashion go-to for about seven months. Elastic waists – they always fit – and bless them that they do. Tunic-y/flowing tops are kind of a mixed bag. Granted they usually fit (and they allow for easy pumping/breast feeding) but they have the tendency to also make you look like you’re still pregnant – as I found out when someone asked me if I had had my baby yet – when Lu was four months old.

I started exercising about 5 weeks post-partum. I started out by walking with Baby GHM and Maple in our neighborhood and going to gentle yoga classes a couple times a week. That eased me back into my body so that at about 2 months post-partum I wanted to start working out. I wanted to connect to my body again and, even if it looked different than what my ideal was, I needed to feel my body work and sweat and connect to the strength and ability of my body again. For classes I was a little shy – I knew I wanted something cardio-esque but I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. The usual factors (“I’m going to be super uncoordinated.” “I don’t even remember the last time I did a push-up.” “Everyone there is going to be super hot-bodied.”) were all present in my head.

And then I tried Simply Core Class. I’d heard about it from my friends Sara and Chrissy and my other friend Nanae is an assistant instructor but I was still hesitant to go – I’d never really enjoyed group work-out classes before, usually I just waited for them to be over while hiding in the back. But Simply Core just got me right away. Everyone there was super positive and welcoming and often the strongest women there – the ones who could really kick my butt in the routines – were not necessarily the skinniest. I started to plan my schedules around going to class twice a week and really noticed it when I skipped a week – I would be a lot more grouchy and feel a lot more blah in general.

The unintended benefit to all of this is that I have ended up getting into pretty good shape these last few months – due to my new interest in working out – the motivator of which was (initially) wanting to lose weight which has (eventually) turned into getting strong.

See, the really messed up thing about our culture of thinness is that the goal is being thin – even if you’re totally unhealthy to do so. And since I always naturally tended towards thinness I never really worked out consistently because, in the back of my head, I was like, “I’ve already reached the goal – I’m thin – no need to work out.” Which is a totally messed up mindset for me to spend time in. Forcing myself to examine my own motivations for getting fit has really made me examine what I’m actually working towards. Am I working towards thinness or healthiness? What I’ve realized is that I want to be strong, I want to be a good role model for Baby GHM and all of this has born my new mantra for health: “Strong – Not Skinny”.

When I was looking for inspiration on Pinterest for motivational quotes (you know, to put up by the mirror or by my dresser to remind me why I work out) it was really difficult for me to find anything that wasn’t fat-shaming “Suck it up now so you don’t have to suck it in later.” or featured inspirational photos of women who already had, like, eighteen packs. I don’t jive with the self-hating, shaming mindset and I wanted photos of women who looked like me, with all the stretch marks and big breasts and jiggly thighs. And then I found this amazing video.

Did you watch it? Good. Go watch it five more times. I’ve watched this video probably fifty times since I first saw it. It has motivated me like nothing else. I love seeing women who look like me, sweating about as much as I do, and enjoying it.

While there was a month or two of feeling really out of shape and having negative body image, looking back on it with the perspective of time, I really think having a baby was one of the best things that has ever happened to my physical health. It’s motivated me to work out regularly for the first time in years and has also really mentally challenged me to reevaluate my own ingrained notions of what I think my body ‘should’ look like and why I think that way.

I want my baby to see her mother as a strong, fit woman who enjoys her body and appreciates its’ strengths, while also being respectful of its’ limits – so I’ll be out there sweating, jiggling, laughing and working – like a boss.

Cheers and Love,

Maple and Me

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2 thoughts on “Fashion Friday – Strong, Not Skinny

  1. Lovely Anna. You are so brave and beautiful. From the inside out. I’ve been thinking about body image issues lately in several ways and your this fantastic post has inspired me to write about them!

    My friend who recently went through colon cancer treatment was telling me that she essentially wore leggings and sack dresses or tunics (due to surgeries and the ileostomy bag) for over six months. Now that her treatment has concluded and they’ve “put her all back together,” she’s started wearing clothes with a waistline again. Her doctor specifically talked with her about how this can be a challenging transition for women who have gone through colon cancer treatment; the time when they start to reclaim their feminine form. There are so many ways human bodies can be altered through life experiences. After going through these huge life/body transformations it’s especially unfortunate that women have to balance so many expectations (external and internal) against the reality of our bodies.

    I went through a phase last year of increasingly negative self-criticisms of my body. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized it wasn’t actually about my body at all, but about not being acknowledged in other ways that are far more important to me; about not being seen and valued as a person. For me, this deeper problem translated into my own mental attacks, i.e., “I’m not desirable anymore… Guess I’m not beautiful. If I was in better shape would it get better?”, etc. While the disconnect I was experiencing in my personal life wasn’t necessarily rooted in the bigger problem of objectifying women, why was my brain automatically hardwired to fear that something must be wrong with my body? How do we get this voice out of our heads? We have to keep challenging it on whatever micro and macro levels we can. We watch that awesome This Girl Can video as many times as we need to! We work out because it Feels Good and makes us stronger, healthier, and happier people. And we talk out loud about our fears. Because by talking about them and acknowledging them, they just aren’t as powerful. We don’t have to do any of this alone.

    Lots of love your way.

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