I was looking through some photos of a friend’s baby shower from about a year ago on social media recently, when I realised I didn’t recognise one of the women.
Her body shape was curvier than the rest of my friends’ bodies and she was wearing a long grey jumper that looked a bit like a sack.
I didn’t think she was unattractive; she had a warm smile, a twinkle in her eye and she looked happy. But I simply didn’t recognise her.
I recoiled when I suddenly realized: the woman was me.
I have to be honest. It was a shock.
What’s in a size?
I was a clothes-size 10 when I fell pregnant with my first child back in 2011. After he was born, I had to move up to a size 12. After my second, I stayed in a similar place. But after my third, I was pulling size 14 clothes off the rails and telling myself I’d do something about it soon.
Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with any clothes size, and I knew I could still be bigger than before and still beautiful.
But the fact I’d got curvier since having my children wasn’t the only reason I wanted to lose a bit of baby weight.
My joints ached and my back kept seizing up. My petite frame just wasn’t meant to carry that much weight and it was struggling. I didn’t feel healthy, my skin was dull, and my energy levels were flagging.
So I started eating better, I started exercising and, in turn, the baby weight slowly started dropping off. I’d like to say it was an easy process, but it took a lot of effort and time to see any progress. I had to make some big changes.
And, yes, that included giving up my favourite custard doughnuts for a while, giving up our weekly takeaways and choosing a trip to the gym over a night out with friends. But it did happen and I slowly started to feel more like my old self again.
The most telling thing was that my weekly trips to the osteopath spaced out to monthly, then every six months, and then not at all. I didn’t ache anymore. My back stopped hurting. I had energy and I felt more positive. It was clearly the change I needed. I’ve always appreciated my body and what it did to grow three children; it’s really remarkable how it grew, stretched, and bounced back again. But I have to be honest, I was struggling to feel the love back then. I just didn’t feel like myself. But that’s not a very fashionable thing to say that these days, is it?
Did I let the side down by losing weight?
‘Body Positivity’ is the latest buzz phrase on social media and post after post cheers us on with ‘Embrace your body shape!’, ‘Love every dimple and every wobble’; and ‘Show your daughters that you both accept and love your body’. Did I let the side down by wanting to change? By consciously trying to lose the baby weight?
I’m a blogger by trade and I found myself deliberately avoiding the subject. If someone asked about the weight loss, I ignored the question. I pretended I had embraced my new body shape too, when in fact I’d tried very hard to change it.
In confusion, I turned to my friend Georgina; a Dubai-based nutrition and health coach at The Inside Works to ask what she thought. “It’s such a complex subject,” she replied. “The body positive movement attacks anything related to the desire to change. People shouldn’t feel bad for wanting to create some positive change through diet and movement, and starting to build more confidence in their bodies.”
“But we can still embrace body positivity in change,” she went on to explain. “Most women still have a vision in their head of how they looked in their twenties and they work towards this ideal, which just isn’t realistic. I think it’s about finding some acceptance of that and then creating positive changes.”
This rings true for me. I may have lost the baby weight I gained during three pregnancies, but I have simultaneously fully accepted that I will never regain the body I had before them. I have, without doubt, retired the crop tops and body-con dresses to the back of the wardrobe.
In a more recent photo, I recognised the woman staring back. She still had a warm smile, she still had a twinkle in her eye, and she still looked happy. But this time, I knew she was healthier too. And there are few things more positive than that.
Louise Emma Clarke is a blogger and the author of From Mum With Love, a laugh-out-loud, heartwarming tale of motherhood.