It Took 32 Years and 10 Weeks of Pregnancy for Me to Stop Wishing My Body Was Smaller
I was nine or 10 weeks pregnant when my first ASOS maternity haul arrived. As I tried on a long red leopard-print dress with a ruched bodice and fun poofy sleeves, then turned to face the mirror, I all but scowled at the extra fabric pooling around my waist.
The dress—which I was already obsessed with—was clearly built for a larger belly. For the first time ever, I wished my body was bigger.
Casual picture of me trying on maternity clothes with a fake but delightful baby belly.
I barely recognized my own thoughts. Real talk: I’ve been sucking in my stomach since I was a kid. Ever since I outgrew my older sister, who has always had a more delicate frame than I do and was better posed to accept hand-me-ups than dole out hand-me-downs, I’ve felt too damn big for this world.
As an overweight kid at sleepaway camp, I remember sitting erect during hours-long evening activities so my back fat wouldn’t poke through the chair back’s plastic columns. In grade school, I studied the way my peers' thighs neared the edges of their seats and died inside a little every time my flesh hung over the sides of my own chair.
Having never not felt like the fat kid, I’ve always longed to be a smaller size, even though my BMI has been in the healthy range since I lost a bunch of weight before my senior year of high school (and even more in college). In the interim, I've squeezed into size 2s and filled out size 8s, but the desire to shrink has persisted. My weight is on my mind every time I walk into a grocery store or sit down for dinner at a restaurant. Rather than considering which items I’d actually like to eat, I eliminate options that are super high in calories off the bat, lest my meal end up on my waist.
Now that I’m in my early 30s, my baby belly has put its proverbial foot down: There’s something about procreation that’s given me permission to break the long-held, self-inflicted rule of always trying to look slim. It could be because sucking in when you’re pregnant is goddamn uncomfortable (and BTW, mostly impossible!).
Or it could be because I felt so shitty and bloated during my first trimester that I’d do anything to feel better—from rubbing my belly in public, which only drew attention to it, to letting it all hang out when I felt fully distended (despite the fact that I was only carrying a pea-sized embryo). Maybe I’ve long strived for a flat belly because the conventional definition of sexy doesn’t tend to apply to any round belly—baby bellies are the exception.
Just ask Ashley Graham, whose full (but markedly hourglass) figure has secured her spot on runways and lingerie shoots. Now pregnant, she’s totally feeling herself while fans “YASS-QUEEN!” her left and right. How, I can’t help but wonder, would they have received her had she put on 30 pounds of belly flab, sans baby?
Without a doubt, the world has a ways to go in accepting bodies of all shapes and sizes. In the meantime, my baby bump has got me feeling V-I-N-D-I-C-A-T-E-D. Rather than trying to minimize my waist as per my trusty favorite fashion hack—the ol’ cinched waist—I’m slipping into flowy dresses that I’d have previously dismissed for making me look too large.
Why should I care whether wearing, say, a pleated skirt above my belly, makes me look XXL—particularly during pregnancy when the larger I look, the more positive reinforcement I get? (Did I mention people are super friendly to pregnant women?!)
Now more than ever, I’m breaking other “rules,” like the one that dictates only thin people can “pull off” tight-fitting clothes.
It's a belly, NBD.
In the name of putting comfort first, I bought a skin-tight stretchy turtleneck dress. Before getting pregnant, I probably would have worn it with control-top tights on a “skinny day.” Early in my second trimester, though, I saved it for a “big-bump day,” skipped the tights, and took deep belly breaths all day long. And I felt amazing.
For all these years, I’m not sure what I thought would happen if I looked “too big,” but you know what? No assholes surfaced to tease me when I wore high-waisted, wide-leg pants to work until the last day they buttoned, despite a bulging belly. And no bolt of lightning has struck me since!
Now, the bigger I look, the more entitled I feel to cash in on what I’ve come to know as pregnancy privilege—my newfound “right” to snag a subway seat, rest when I’m tired no matter how few steps my iWatch has logged in a given day, or call the last piece of shared pizza when I’m still hungry.
To that end, after years of eating a diet largely comprised of salads, I've begun to more or less eat whatever I feel like in part because I've lost the sense of cause (i.e., eating “bad” foods) and effect (looking “fat”). The real real: With a baby on board, I’m legitimately always starving—and getting bigger no matter what I do. It’s why, more than ever, I’m listening to my body, including what and when it wants to eat. (And JFYI, so far, I’m still gaining the “right” amount of pregnancy weight.)
While I ate two lunches a day and craved pudding, peanut butter, and smoothies during my first trimester, in my second trimester, my appetite went more or less back to normal, meaning daily salads returned to the menu. That said, I didn't feel a twinge of guilt after eating a soft pretzel for lunch last week, whereas before I got knocked up, the choice would have weighed on me all day.
For the first time I can remember, I've found myself abandoning all sorts of guilt about what I eat, how much space I take up, and how large I look. While I have no idea how I’ll feel once my little guy arrives in March—or what my body will look and feel like then—I sure hope my new perspective well outlasts my pregnancy.
Elizabeth Narins is the editorial director of digital and social content at WW (formerly Weight Watchers) and a Brooklyn, NY-based writer whose work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Prevention, Marie Claire, Elle, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Delish, and more. Her best work—a baby!—is due in March 2020. Follow her at @ejnarins.
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