Baring All

I plonked my wibbly wobbly stretch-marked belly (maybe NSFW, features underboob) on Instagram last night. It came off the back of a conversation with a gorgeous, sexy friend who mentioned that she had issues with her tummy. It’s a common one, especially for mums.

I spent a long time hung up on my stomach. I’ve had stretch marks (all over) for as long as I can remember but during pregnancy they multiplied by the dozen. I have weird bits of skin from where it was stretched to the obscene and didn’t quite recover. I have some lines that look as wide as they are long. I’d been with Gaz for close to two years before I stopped flinching every time his hand brushed past my stomach; before I stopped pushing it away, swallowing hard and holding my breath until he was out of the ‘danger zone’.

It’s so easy to look down at myself and see this ‘mess’ and then compare it to instagram models and “just bounced back” celebs and wonder where I went wrong. But comparison is the thief of joy (according to Theodore Roosevelt) and although he probably wasn’t talking about bellies, I can see his point. When we compare our untouched naked skin to the Photoshopped elite we stop seeing the things these soft, squishy, wondrous tummies have done for us. For those of us who are lucky enough to have been able to grow babies, they have protected new life, shielding it from the elements, giving it space to grow.

When I had my little self-love epiphany after my gallbladder issues, I promised myself that come what may I would not slip back into the habit of negative self-talk, of filtering out my flaws and avoiding the scars and marks that cover my skin. I told myself that I would use my platform & my confidence & my ‘fuck you’ attitude to normalise the wobbles and bulges, dips and bumps and lines. Despite this, despite finding comfort in my jiggles, I still hesitated before sharing. That familiar deep breath, hard swallow. Why is it hard? It shouldn’t be hard.

There is beauty in imperfection, in vulnerability, in accepting who we are and how we got there. If that means baring all and shouting “I LOVE MYSELF” from the rooftops so as to reiterate that and encourage other people to do the same? So be it.

Radical Self Love

I posted this picture to instagram at the end of May:

The general gist of the caption was that, while I don’t agree on everything my mum says & does, I did appreciate her “don’t give a fuck” attitude growing up and it helped me develop a similar approach to society’s pressures to look a certain way.

Of course, this wasn’t the full story (because seriously, nobody wants to read a blog post in an insta caption).

While that is mostly true, as I said on instagram, I have poked at wobbly bits with an element of self-doubt. In the depths of PMDD-fuelled anxiety I have questioned whether my own husband could truly love me with all my scars and stretch marks. I liked myself most of the time, but I’m not “perfect”, and I knew it, but I accepted who I was.

When I got sick in early May, and a week of excruciating gallbladder pain stopped me from eating, I dropped ~10lbs quite quickly. Any other time this would be cause for celebration, but I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise the person looking back at me. My skin looked pale, my stomach was shrivelled up like a weird dry prune and I felt myself shrinking: the opposite of what I want to achieve. I looked like shit, and it terrified me.

I hated it. I hated how I looked, I hated feeling weak, and I hated being less ‘me’.

As I got better, I had what can only be described as an epiphany. It hit me: when I’m not ill I can run, I can lift heavy weights, I can kick arse in the dojang, and I am strong, capable and confident. Weighing 10lbs less didn’t give me superpowers, it didn’t make me suddenly more attractive or physically fit (quite the opposite in this instance).

And so I realised that if I hated myself like that, I had no choice but to love myself when I’m 10lbs heavier, when I’ve not shaved my legs in a fortnight, when I’m bloated to all hell because I’m due on, when my brain is telling me I suck because my hormones are going haywire. Merely accepting myself wasn’t enough. I accept bills, and taxes, and having to get up at 7am to get the kids ready for school and those things all SUCK. And so that caption also said something quite radical: I think I love myself.

I gave myself permission to enjoy the comedy of the wobbly belly, to celebrate the origins of the stretch marks, to find mystery in my scars. I gave myself permission to say fuck yeah, I actually look pretty good. And I’m cool with that.