ALAINA GUTIERREZ's Body Image Story
Weight // The force with which a body is attracted toward the earth by gravitation
Why does that word define so much of our lives? Why have I wasted so much energy on that one word? Why have I based my self worth on something so insignificant? How much has gravity held me down? Unfortunately, my answer would have to be, “a lot.”
I’ve spent the majority of my life hating the way that I look. I don’t remember exactly when the insecurities first crept in, but I know with certainty they’ve never quite gone away. My entire life, I’ve always been too something. My skin was too pale, my feet were too big, my face was too round, I was always too fat. Now fat, there’s a word I’ve often used to describe myself.
From making self-deprecating jokes, to standing alone in front of the mirror, fat has always been an adjective at the front of my thoughts. The word would sit in my mind, patiently waiting for the right moment to spring up and eat away at my joy. Like acid, it burned through my thoughts until it was all I could focus on. Let’s just say I’ve spent way too much time crying in dressing rooms, shying away from shorts and avoiding pool parties at all costs.
Part of the reason my weight has always been something I felt ashamed of was because I felt I could be doing better. I knew that if I tried hard enough and did the right things, the weight would come off. There was a pretty version of myself hiding underneath it all. If I tried hard enough, she would be the person everyone saw instead of the disaster that was my actual body. But every time a new attempt to diet and lose weight fell through, the shame and guilt just piled on that much thicker.
Then one day, something amazing happened. I learned that I was pregnant. My body was actually doing something good. Over the next nine months, my relationship with weight became even more complicated. As the pounds added up and my body grew and grew, I felt torn in two directions. On one hand, I knew that my body was doing what it was supposed to do. I knew that the weight was necessary and needed to bring my baby into this world. On the other hand, I was harder on myself than I’d ever been before. With each new clothing item that I outgrew, more guilt and shame built up in my heart. If I had just tried harder, I could be healthier now. If I had just lost the weight before, I’d be one of those pretty pregnant girls. If I had just dieted a little longer, these stretch marks would have never appeared.
When the day finally came for my baby to arrive and the pregnancy to end, all I could focus on was getting my body back. I just knew that once my son was born, I would immediately feel so much better. As much as I loved him, I was ready to be the only one in my body for a while. I was ready to take on a new diet and a new workout and to finally get all of the extra weight off of me. What I wasn’t ready for was a c section. Suddenly, reality hit me hard.
Over the next few weeks following the birth of my son, I could only feel miserable about this body of mine. For the first time in my life, I felt completely disconnected from the shell I was living in. Everything was different in the worst way. Not only had I been cut open to my core, but I was in constant pain, and everything felt wrong. Every inch of my body had changed. I spent a lot of time staring at my reflection and trying to figure out who I was now. The stretch marks reaching around my thighs and across my stomach weren’t part of the body I knew. The wide hips weren’t there before, and that belly certainly didn’t look the same. I was devastated.
As my recovery progressed and the pain eased away, I slowly became more okay with this new body. It still didn’t feel quite right, but at least I wasn’t hurting. The majority of the baby weight fell away on its own, leaving me just ten pounds higher than I was pre-pregnancy. However, those ten pounds were now part of a completely new figure that I was unfamiliar with. I bought a few new clothes to suit this new body, focusing on the day when my doctor would clear me to begin a new diet and exercise plan.
Then, last week I found myself talking with a good friend of mine. As we brought up our babies, I casually mentioned the stretch marks I’d recently found around my c section incision. I complained that I’d made it through my whole pregnancy without any stretch marks on my stomach when suddenly they appeared post-surgery. I expected her response to be understanding and agreement, with her probably complaining about a part of her body in return. That’s common practice among women, after all. But instead, she surprised me. She just smiled and said, “I don’t really mind stretch marks, to be honest. I’ve actually had a baby, so I don’t care if I look like I did.”
Immediately I felt embarrassed and ashamed of myself in a new way, because I realized that she was right. I’d spent the past twenty two years of my life hating my body. I’d spent twenty two years telling myself all the reasons why I wasn’t good enough. Twenty two years of letting my weight dictate my self worth. I’d thought things about myself that I would never dare say to another person. I’d been bullying myself from the inside out. This body had housed my soul for my entire life, and this was how I had treated it.
Later that night, I went home and looked at my reflection yet again. Instead of seeing something lazy, something worthless, I saw something I was proud of. This body had been the vessel that my most precious gift was born from. Without this body, my son couldn’t exist. Without the stretch marks, I wouldn’t have had room for him to grow. Without these wide hips, I couldn’t have carried him to term. Without the extra weight, he wouldn’t have been healthy. For the first time in my life, I felt my perspective truly shift.
God created this body, and he created new life within this body. I was created in His image and I should be proud of that. This body has brought me through every step of my life. This body is healthy, and functions in all the ways I need it to. This body allows me to see and think and breathe and laugh and love. Every thought I’ve ever had, everything I’ve ever felt, has been within the confines of this body. Even though it may have grown and shifted and stretched, this body is still my body, and it can do amazing things. This body has ached for months on end to reach its fullest potential and safely guide precious new life into this world. How could I ever look at something capable of a feat so powerful and be anything less than amazed?
From now on, I hope to keep my perspective straight. I want to honor my body in every way. I will continue to pursue a healthier life, including the way I speak to myself. I will treat my own body with respect and dignity. Whenever I begin to doubt myself, and feel the insecurities creeping in, I will look to my son and know what I am capable of. I will see the stretch marks and wear them with pride. I will accept the shape of my body and be grateful to call it my home.