Staring into my wardrobe I am overcome with familiar feelings of self- loathing and despair. The kind of indulgent, all-consuming bullshit despair that you can let yourself fall into when you don’t have any big problems to deal with. I see two vacuum packed bags full of ‘skinny’ clothes from a previous life, sitting in the bottom of my wardrobe like a beacon of failure. These aren’t for you chub, keep looking, they taunt. It has been a year since giving birth and I have lost nothing. In fact I have gained.
My daughter crawls around my feet, picking up the entrails of my closet that have spilled out onto the floor and stuffing them into her mouth; chewable? Not chewable? These are the thoughts that occupy her mind. A roll of tummy spills out below her too small top, and sits comfortably upon her low lying pants. “She’ll lose it,” people reassure, “once she starts walking.”
My daughter at age one has giggled and gurgled, as strangers in supermarkets make cooing noises, playfully poking her belly button, and offering comments like, ”She’s a chunky little thing isn’t she?”
She doesn’t know what she looks like yet, she doesn’t care about her stomach and her thighs. Her body is for moving and playing and discovering new things. Not looking at.
And what the strangers don’t know is that one day when she’s waiting restlessly for her mother to stop talking to them, using her flowing skirt as a cape and then a mask, she will tune into a conversation at just the wrong moment. She will look up when she sees the stranger’s gaze move down towards her, and feel her mother’s hand as it finds a soothing place upon her head. “She’s quite big isn’t she? Still got her baby fat? She’ll grow out of that when she gets taller”
Staring into my wardrobe, I find myself tugging at my top. I feel it itch as it clings to my stomach. My ‘skinny clothes’, now wrapped in plastic, used to hug my figure. I’d feel the material against my skin and feel comfort in its touch. It would flatter my curves as much as the people did – “You’ve lost weight” they’d say. “You look lovely.”
When I became pregnant for the second time, I was determined that I wouldn’t gain too much weight. When my body was doing things like multiplying atoms and forming fingernails, I was chewing on carrot sticks. Only 1200 calories today, I’d think with pride. What an accomplishment!
And throughout the year since my daughter’s birth, I’ve lost and gained the weight. People offer opinions: “You’ll lose it when you’re beast-feeding/running around after the kids/your period starts again.”
I look at photos of us grinning at the camera; her smile completely unaffected, mine less so. I assess them based on things like clavicles: Oh this is a good one, I see bone! Must have been when I lost those kilos in October, I think with regret. My clavicles are disappearing you see – such regret.
My baby girl is chewing on a beaded necklace that has fallen out of the wardrobe. How long I wonder, before she begins to chew on society’s entrails? How long before she learns that the body is not just for moving and playing and discovering new things, it is also for looking at? How long before she hears comments from well-meaning idiots about her body? When she feels the heat of shame in her cheeks for the first time because she realises she isn’t supposed to look that way?
But don’t worry, ‘You’ll lose it.’
She stares up at me from the floor and gives me a perfect little smile, full of spit and teeth and crinkled nose. She doesn’t give a shit about my skinny clothes, or my disappearing clavicles or my self-indulgent, bullshit despair. Because the body she sees before her gave her life, fed her milk, plays with her and offers her love, warmth and comfort.
I close the door of my wardrobe and decide to give my body a break.
Because this year I haven’t lost a bloody thing.
By Brooke Klaassen