“Fat is a bad word,” my five-year-old says. “My teacher says we can’t call other people fat.”
“Hmmmm,” I pause, not wanting to say the wrong thing. Bottom line: I think his teacher is wrong. Saying that fat is a bad word makes it seem like having a fat body is bad, and assigns more worth to thin bodies. It makes me so upset for all the five-year-olds in my son’s class, who might have started to look at their bodies more critically after that.
“Fat is not a bad word. We all have fat on our bodies. It’s part of us.”
“So we can call people fat?”
“Well, no. We don’t need to comment on other people’s bodies at all, because how people’s bodies look isn’t important. Every person’s body has the same worth. No body is better than another body.”
And although I’m teaching my son this lesson at just five-years-old, here’s my truth: it took me more than 30 years to learn it.
New Baby, New Body
I grew up in a thin body, taking for granted that it looked the way I thought it “should.” But after having my first child, it changed forever. I brought my newborn son home, along with a stomach that looked like a deflated balloon. And I was hard on myself about it, at a time when I should have been able to marvel at what my body went through and what I was capable of.
Then, I had two more kids and my body changed some more. It doesn’t look like it did before kids, or even after having my first one.
But how my body does—or doesn’t—look isn’t the point.
“But how my body does—or doesn’t—look isn’t the point.”
The point is exactly that it’s not about looks at all. There has been a trend lately towards body positivity, in loving our bodies no matter their size and shape, and challenging the societal pressure and “ideal body” that is often represented in the media. But I think body positivity and negativity are two sides of the same coin because both put the emphasis on how our bodies look.
What I prefer instead is body neutrality.
Meeting in the Middle
To me, body neutrality means meeting somewhere in the middle. I respect my body, but I also don’t want to constantly think about it. I feel grateful to have a healthy body that steers me through life, but I don’t want to spend a ton of my time or energy focused on how it looks.
I exercise every single day, but it’s never with the goal to change the way my body looks. I don’t follow a weight-loss program or aim to “get rid” of fat or “flatten my stomach.” It’s all about how I want to feel. I aim to stand tall, feel strong, be able to pick up my kids and run around with them. I aim to take care of my health because I deserve it. I deserve to start every day feeling energetic and ready to take on the world.
When my pelvic floor felt sore and weak after childbirth, I did pelvic floor physiotherapy to strengthen it. When my shoulders and hips ache from carrying around my babies, I do hip exercises and lift weights. I run because I want to feel free and untethered. I work with my body, not against it. This body is the one that will carry me through life. My goal is to always respect it and help it feel the best that it can.
When we talk about postpartum bodies, the conversation is usually in relation to the months immediately following childbirth. But guess what? My body has given birth, and so, it’s always going to be a postpartum body.
“Guess what? My body has given birth, and so, it’s always going to be a postpartum body.”
There was a time, after having my first son, that I read several body-positive books and articles in an attempt to feel more positive about the changes my body had gone through. And I noticed a trend: The focus is often on how our kids don’t care how we look, or that our kids will love us no matter the size and shape of our bodies.
But here’s the thing: I don’t need to justify the way I look by talking about how my kids love my cozy, squishy belly. I’m sure they do. But the truth is? I don’t care whether they like it or not. I don’t care whether anyone does. I’m the one who gets to live in my body.
The only opinion that matters when it comes to my body is my own. And I happen to feel pretty grateful to live here. My body can bike to the park, swim in the ocean, eat delicious dinners, curl up in bed with a good book, feel the sunshine on it at the beach, feel the cool winter air and the warmth of a fire. My body can move its way through yoga poses and snuggle with my kids.
My body is where I live, and I hope to live here for a very long time. Being able to observe my body without judgment is the greatest gift. And it’s a gift that I hope all moms are able to give themselves too.
Because we all have postpartum bods—and that’s never going to change.