My pregnancy body and why I’m learning to love it.

Before I got pregnant, I used to find it hard imagining that I would be able to accept what my body would be like when pregnant, let alone like it.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t in awe of how a body can grow a whole, beautiful little baby from scratch, because that is incredibly amazing! But more so that I was worried how I would feel about my body with regards to my past experiences with body image. I was worried about how I would cope with a body that is growing in size, and that is out of my control, and not being able to deal with all of the thoughts that go along with that.

However, I am so pleasantly surprised! Since becoming pregnant, what my body is doing has truly left me in awe. And that’s so weird! That I am accepting my body and all it’s doing to grow this beautiful little bean! It feels strange to be so at peace with my appearance. I am so happy to watch my bump grow every week. This is such a massive shift in mindset, coming from years of absolutely loathing my physical self with every cell I had, and destroying it at every chance I got, to admiring what my body can do for me.

And growing babies it just one thing that makes bodies incredible. We have arms and legs and eyes and ears and noses and digestive systems and veins and hearts and brains, and oh my goodness each of these parts of us do such an incredible job! They keep us going, and they keep us fighting, in every moment of every day. And most of the time we don’t even acknowledge the amazing work that our bodies do, without us even consciously knowing what to do or how to do it. Every system, pathway, and stimulus in our body functions to keep us alive. What an incredible gift to have.

Taking care of both our bodies and souls is of upmost importance. After all, they give us the world, and most of the time we struggle to even think a positive thought about them. I feel so grateful for all that my body does, and I am so happy that it kept going despite all that it’s been through.

Here’s to our bodies, and the remarkable work they do every second of every day for us.

Why I am rejecting dieting – forever.

When do you first remember food having a negative connotation?

For as long as I can remember, the way I fuel my body has been controlled by unspoken rules about food. From a young age, I knew instinctively that some foods were classified as “good”, and others as “bad”. Sugar was the enemy, alongside fats, carbs, and the horrors of sodium. The food I consumed, and how my body looked, was a direct equation to calculate my worth. Multiplication wasn’t limited to maths class in primary school; the sum of weight, popularity, and the ratio of “good” to “bad” food eaten was also significant. This passage of girlhood is rife. It comes as naturally as learning to tie our shoelaces, and to ride a two-wheeler down the bank.

It all didn’t particularly bother me at a young age. In fact, I didn’t think much of it, as diet culture is so normalised – this is simply the way things are. It is no longer shocking or new that you hear of six, seven and eight year olds experimenting with dieting. Our acceptance of this status quo is terrifying.

However, I don’t blame diet culture solely for the rage of an eating disorder than hit like a storm during my teen years and early twenties. Yet, it certainly didn’t help. Diet culture whispered in every breath, folded in every page and haunting through every message – it was toxic and deadly when in combination with my predisposition, personality traits, genetics, and life experiences.

mountain grass nature plant lake water sky clouds landscape sunset people man alone thinking

Diet culture is based upon the belief that women are not enough, and are too much, all at once. That our appearances, personalities and achievements are not good enough, while our flaws and imperfections are all-consuming, and too much. In conjunction, our bodies are deemed to pay the price of being a woman; an ugly price set by a society which does not value women. This price is paid by being less; by wearing the smallest size, by occupying less space, by quieting our voices and smothering out our roar.

The women around me growing up – strong, kind, beautiful women – were all subjected to this treatment of never being good enough, and their bodies and minds carry the toll. Do you know how heartbreaking it is for your mother to criticize and dislike her body? The body that grew you, that gave you heart and soul, to be swept and shredded down. Her body really is the most wonderful miracle.

And as for my future children – I am so afraid for them. To enter this world where eating is viewed as bad, and as a weakness. To be taught to recoil from their lifeblood, and to be taught to despise the most precious gift they will ever own. And so, I am vowing to reject diet culture. I will never again take part in this cruel, harmful and toxic industry, which only serves to tear people down. May tomorrow build our children up, rather than break them down.

I will reject diet culture by not labelling foods as “good” or “bad”. Foods are not fairytale characters, nor classroom behaviours. Some foods have more of particular nutrients than others. Some foods give us more energy to live than others. Regardless, I will eat in a way that makes both my body and soul feel loved.

I will reject diet culture by refusing to run on empty. It is no longer an achievement to do everything, and to be everything, on nothing. I now fuel my life properly; nourishment to be the best I can be.

I will reject diet culture by not basing my worth on food. Eating a cookie does not turn me into a Oreo, just as eating an apple does not mean I’m a Granny Smith. I am a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister-in-law. All of these identities make up who I am, who we are, rather than our breakfast, or lack of, this morning.

I will reject diet culture by eating a wide range of foods, to ensure my body gets all the nutrients it needs, and by not restricting foods. Avoiding or being afraid of particular food groups, or joining latest diet trend, is not whole. Medical, religious and ethical reasons are acceptable, as they are based on more than inadequacies and perceived flaws.

I will reject diet culture by not basing what I fuel my entire life on from social media. There is so much “dieting advice” thrown around online from people who have no qualifications or expertise in nutrition and dietetics. Doing your own research to understand your body, and what it needs to thrive is great, but if you need help with food, the only people who can actually help you are those within the field.

I will reject diet culture by eating foods that make both my physical body and mental body happy. Foods that make me feel good. I will eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables, alongside other carbohydrates, fats and proteins, because my body thrives on including all food groups. I will also eat pizza watching Netflix with my husband, ice cream with my friends, and cookies with my parents, because these experiences make me happy. These experiences, consisting of far more than food, are good for us.

I will reject diet culture by not basing my worth off my weight or clothing size. My body is happy and healthy, and therefore I am too. I am not going to spend weeks in a tailspin because I wear jeans a size bigger from one store compared to another. My weight is also irrelevant, I am healthy, and I have not weighed myself in months.

Food is fuel. It is necessary, giving and empowering. Let’s grant it the opportunity to see how it can enrich us. This is where thriving begins.

Please note that although I talk specifically about women in this piece, as this is my own experience, diet culture and eating disorders effect and are harmful to all genders.

Summer & bodies; not “summer bodies”. 

Summer. It’s my favourite season of the year. There’s something about the constant hum of cicadas clicking, saltwater in your hair, and the thick layers of sunblock to protect against the ozone hole. Here in New Zealand, summer means Christmas, a beautiful phenomenon that seems just as magical as a snowy Christmas. The majority of us grow up swimming in the sea, as our islands are long and thin, making the coastlines generally easily accessible.

Summer as children was carefree and wild. You throw on your togs without a second thought, and head straight for the sand and ocean. But once we grow up, and our insecurities and fears grow up alongside us, summer isn’t as simple as it once was. Although we still love the beach and frockling in the sea, we become clouded by fear.

I can’t remember the last time I wore togs to go swimming. I am usually far too conscious and ashamed of my body to be seen in less that shorts and a tank top. Even then, I feel so ashamed and disgusted with myself.

Silhouette Photography of People Swimming on the Beach during Golden Hour

However, this is changing. Therapy and recovery has given me the courage and confidence to tackle this head on. I am now determined that my insecurities about my body cannot stop me from living life anymore. I cannot keep putting life off until I feel completely safe in my own skin. Because I will only feel confident through faking it till I make it.

I am afraid of wearing togs because I believe my body is too big or too fat or too flawed. However, I am learning that these thoughts are distortions, and that they do not serve me. As my husband and I were discussing when we were leaving the beach yesterday, when I was in the depths of the eating disorder and very sick, by my standards I was far closer to a body that was deemed “good enough”. However, in retrospect that body looked terrible; frail and poorly. That body didn’t have the time or energy for anything beyond the eating disorder, let alone swimming, and wouldn’t have been able to cope with the ocean’s drop in temperature anyway. At the time, I was still absolutely convinced I was grossly huge and unworthy, and couldn’t see reality.

Orange and White Koi Fish Near Yellow Koi Fish

Therefore, we are working on the facts to tackle these distortions. My body is now a healthy one. I see it differently to how it actually is. I am allowed and good enough to wear togs to go swimming. I deserve to have self confidence to build myself up, rather than tear everything down.

As mentioned, we were at the beach yesterday, and the day was truly magical. We went for a friend’s birthday, and we played soccer, danced, and waded in the cool water. It was an incredible day, with some of the most beautiful people I know. And guess what? They also happen to be a group of body confident, beautiful souls, whose hard work on creating a positive body image is rubbing off on those around them.

As we waded into the water, I admired their absolutely gorgeous and stunning bodies. I admired the differences between us all. I admired how this made humans interesting and beautiful. Most of all, I admired that they could just do that; that they could do something as simple as wearing togs. This is because as women, it is drilled into us from every angle, that to be good enough, our bodies must be perfect. It sounds stupid writing it out, and in fact it is. That to wear togs at the beach, your body must be perfect. And the reality is, nobody’s is. The perfect beach body doesn’t exist. This is what I loved and admired most about them in this moment. That they were far too full, of confidence and love, regardless of it’s faked till it’s made or not, to be held back by something as petty and ridiculous as an impossible beauty standard.

Recovery is healing me. The beautiful, wise people around me, and their confidence, is healing me. I will no longer be held back by something destructive, limiting, and ultimately false. One of my goals for this summer is to wear a bikini at the beach. I can do it.

(The images of animals in this piece are inspired by remingtonandmargot.tumblr.com. If you check out their blog, Remington and Margot are two Golden Retrievers who love the beach, and also who obviously don’t care what their fur looks like or how their tails wag in the process. Let’s take a leaf out of Remington and Margot’s book, let’s enjoy summer and the beach for the fun and magic that it is, and celebrate our bodies for enabling us to enjoy it.)

Tigers & Lightning: Stretch Marks & Shame.

At fifteen, I sobbed in the changing room at the sight of purple indents curling their way across my newfound curves. This cry echoes across the world. Just traipse the internet, magazines, conversations and strategic swimwear. The bounty of insecurity and shame is immense.

All these years later, I still see these silly little lines on my skin every day, and they still make me feel ashamed. And ugly, and unworthy. I think of them as a flaw that must be hidden.

My stretch marks began during puberty, but increased significantly throughout my experience with an eating disorder. The rapid weight loss and gain took it’s toll on my body; these etched slivers remain to this day.

They dictate what I wear, how I sit, and how uncomfortable I feel in particular situations.

But what is actually going on with our skin? Stretch marks are harmless, and arise when your skin cannot stretch enough to keep up with growth. The dermis tears, and skin scars as a result. There is no known treatment that is actually effective, although many products jump at the opportunity to claim to be.

Puberty, rapid weight loss or gain, pregnancy and traumatic injuries can all lead to stretch marks. Given how common these experiences are, it is unsurprising that the majority of people share these scars.

I’m not going to proclaim that “all stretch marks are beautiful and I love them,” simply because this is not my reality. When I look in the mirror and I see the silvery lines snaking across my hips, and rippling through my thighs, I don’t feel beautiful. I feel flawed and ashamed.

To those who genuinely do appreciate and love their stretch marks; I admire you. Not because I believe stretch marks are inherently unworthy of love, (for the record, I don’t), but because we are taught from every side that they should be.

And the thing is, we don’t have to feel beautiful in our stretch marks if we aren’t ready to just yet. But we can try and just let them be, both for what they are, and for what they are not.

While researching for this piece, I was hard-pressed to find information that didn’t conclude with “stretch marks are beautiful and okay! But here are ten top products that will get rid of them . . .”

And my question now is, why? Why are they viewed as bad, as disgusting, as something to hide, when your skin is merely just working to accommodate your changing body. And why are they viewed as a flaw unique to insecure women, when most humans experience them. They are a harmless, human experience, yet we are taught that to have them is to bear shame.

This is because from a young age, we are we are bombarded with the message that to have stretch marks is to not be good enough. That we did something wrong. That they are a flaw that is shameful to have. That we gained too much weight, or lost too much weight, or didn’t have the perfect pregnancy body. This is why there are so many products, all competing to make money from our learnt idea that we should not have stretch marks.

In reality, stretch marks are neither good nor bad. And they don’t have to be either. They just simply are. To love them is a mighty feat, not because they are unlovable, but because this is a blatant rebellion to what we are taught. Stretch marks are part of you. They are not ugly, nor defining of character. They are not worthy of hate.

We don’t necessarily have to think stretch marks are beautiful, or of ourselves as fierce tigers who have earned our stripes. But we can learn to accept them, and to remember that being good and worthy doesn’t mean being perfect.

Let’s end with this. Go out and be a force of nature. If thinking about them this way helps, then as Jordan Molineux says, you have the lightning strikes to prove it.