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Please Stop Complimenting My Post-Baby Body

The underside of “You look so good now!” is “You looked so bad before!”

Published on: August 15, 2017

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I was at a party the other day and my friend complimented me on my recent weight loss. “Thanks,” I said. “It’s exhaustion and anxiety.” “So, being a parent?” she asked. Her son is 6. She gets it.

I didn’t plan to lose weight after my daughter was born. (My partner was the one who gave birth, so my post-baby body is the same as my pre-baby body, except with shorter hair because I got tired of her yanking on it.) I’ve been on the small side of fat (around a size 18) for my whole adult life, and I’m a firm believer in health at every size.

If I never bothered to embark on a weight-loss attempt when I had vast swathes of free time – I used to watch TV shows in the same week they aired, if you can imagine the decadence – I wasn’t going to try it with a toddler. But it turns out that running after a small child, combined with a dramatic increase in the anxiety I’ve had for years, plus literally never being allowed to sit still long enough to finish eating, is a surprisingly effective “lifestyle change.”

I’m trying not to be glib here. Talking about body size is incredibly fraught for basically everyone, especially for women and femmes, and I understand that for a lot of people hearing “I lost a bunch of weight without even trying” is infuriating. I don’t want to pretend this is as simple as “just have a kid and mental illness and the pounds will melt away.” For one thing, everyone’s body is different; no two people will process the same amount of food and movement in exactly the same way. Also, if they made a cure for anxiety that would cause me to gain back double what I’ve lost I would take it in a hot second. Please God make me fat and sane.

But this is the brain, body and life I have. What’s strange is when people compliment my current shape with the assumption that it was – that all weight loss is – desired, intentional and not at all complicated. I know no one means to be insulting, but the underside of “You look so good now!” is “You looked so bad before!” And that bothers me because the odds that I’ll look this way forever are much slimmer than I’ve ever been. Losing weight without trying is apparently possible, but keeping it off usually requires intense commitment. I am committed to nothing in this world except my partner, our daughter and the belief that the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the best one.

So when people tell me how good I look as a size 10, I have to fight the urge to reply, “Don’t get attached.” I’m probably not going to look like this forever, and I wonder who will treat me differently when I don’t.

Despite all the compliments, my self-esteem is about the lowest it’s been since high school. As a fat twentysomething, part of my journey of self-love depended on slowly building a wardrobe of clothes that made me feel gorgeous no matter what the size tag said. That took years of careful shopping and a not-insignificant investment of money. You know that bit from Fight Club (I know it’s a dumb movie but you were 16 once and so was I, and we remember), about how no matter what happens in your life, once you have a nice sofa that’s a problem you never have to worry about again? I wanted to feel like that but with pencil skirts and sweaters.

Now nothing I’ve owned for more than six months fits me anymore, except the shoes. Shoes are the constant we can depend on in a world full of chaos. But my favorite pair of cutoff shorts? My beloved jean jacket? My Lisa Frank leggings? They hang off me in folds and wrinkles. And I’m still not thin, so I can’t pull off that I’m-so-waifish-in-these-giant-clothes thing. Baggy clothes on me just look like I’m hoping no one will notice I have huge boobs, and I gave up that foolish dream more than a decade ago. I want to wear things that fit.

At the same time, I don’t want to fall in love with a dress or a pair of jeans in my new size and torture myself when it doesn’t fit anymore. Plus, having a toddler means that any garment without holes or stains is merely on loan from the universe. Trying to shore up my self-image with new clothes is a fool’s errand; all clothes, indeed all physical objects, are temporary and will soon be covered in chewed-up graham crackers and thrown behind the couch.

Sometimes I cringe when I see myself in photos, my clothes fitting strangely or hanging off in wrinkles. I cringe at the loose skin on my neck and on my upper arms. But I’m working on looking past that, on remembering that these moments with my daughter when she’s this young are precious and fleeting.

The trick with parenting, as with clothes, is to not spend so much time worrying about it being over that you don’t enjoy it while it’s here. The secret is to love each moment like it’s this summer’s bathing suit: as much as you can for the brief time you have it, and then to let it go with no regrets.

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