A few days ago, I pulled out a romper from the back of my closet. The black fabric was slightly wrinkled, a few beads on the neckline coming loose on the thread. I hadn’t worn it since the summer of 2016, almost two years ago at this point, months before I got pregnant. I stumbled upon it on the first hot day of the year, and, out of curiosity, I put it on, hoping it would fit.
I’m not sure if I was surprise or relieved — or maybe both — to find that it did still fit. The cinched waistband slipped up over my hips easily, the buttons closing behind my shoulders without a fight. But when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t feel like the 2016 girl who wore that same romper. Something felt off, out of place, unfamiliar.
Pregnancy does a lot of strange things to your body — and I’m not just talking about the obvious. It makes it so your body feels unrecognizable and foreign, like it doesn’t really belong to you. And those feelings don’t go away immediately after giving birth; they linger, like a guest at a party who overstays their welcome.
2016 and 2018. Same romper, different everything else.
There’s no shortage of body positivity on the internet relating to pregnancy and postpartum physicality. Everywhere you look, there’s Instagram posts filled with pride, women sharing photos of battle scars and tiger stripes, claiming they love their bodies. And maybe they really do. (I hope they really do.)
It’s important to normalize postpartum bodies, to prove that most women don’t “bounce back” like celebrities (those of whom have the help of professional chefs, personal trainers, and nannies of course). And it’s important that women feel empowered to post photos of themselves, to embrace what their bodies have been through, and come out on the other side feeling proud of what they look like.
And this is a big, bolded, underlined, italicized but.
Some women don’t ever get to a place where they love their bodies. For some of us, it’s impossible. Personally speaking, I know body positivity is an unattainable goal, which is why I’m striving for body neutrality instead. To get to a place where I look in the mirror and don’t think anything bad or anything good. To get to a place where I put on clothes and don’t think about how they fit, a place where I get weighed at the doctor’s office and don’t consider the number for the rest of the day.
As an eating disorder survivor, I have a torrid history with my body. I can remember setting “goal weights” in college, doodling digits in my journal and thinking that if I reached that number, I’d be happy with my body forever. I can also remember getting to those numbers and seeing no difference when I looked in the mirror, thinking that I still had dozens of pounds to lose. There was never a point when I observed my reflection and thought: I did it. I like how I look now. There was never a point when I was satisfied.
The message behind loving your body is a well-intended one, but it’s not for everyone. And sometimes I feel like there’s this overwhelming pressure on social media, a heavy voice booming over a loudspeaker, yelling: “YOU MUST LOVE YOURSELF! YOU MUST REALIZE EVERY BODY IS BEAUTIFUL! YOU MUST YOU MUST YOU MUST.” In a way, this pressure is just as bad as the pressure to “bounce back” after birth because for some people, it feels so far away, a destination that’s too distant to ever reach.
The truth is, some of us will never truly believe these things about ourselves. And that’s why the next wave of body image that needs to be normalized is the idea that it’s actually OK not to love your body, that it’s OK to be “just fine” with it instead of overcome with pride.
For some of us, that’s the end goal. Because it’s the best that we can do.