You want me to squeeze into lines drawn for a child?⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
As if I could chisel away this womanhood I have earned!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
As if I would erase the power of this body—
The power to grow another body,
The strength to take two breaths,
to beat two hearts,
to nourish two souls.
To do this again and again, if it is blessed and I choose!
Earning stripes and inches every time I prove this small piece of divinity, marks of my might;
No wonder you tell me I must be smaller than I am. ⠀⠀
We can never really understand another person—that’s the trick. I can know you to the depths of your soul today, but what did that same place look like yesterday, or the week before, or when you were just coming of age?
And so, I can hardly blame them for not understanding my journey to this point. I didn’t expect them to assume that I’ve born two children and that my weight has yoyo-ed through two rounds postpartum; that it was only this summer I was able to release the weight—physically, and emotionally—through some self-care rituals and acupuncture and a full understanding of what my body was asking for. These aren’t things I would expect to crawl across the minds of perfect strangers, though they are the very elements that make me.
After all that hard work, after finally feeling at home in my skin again, I decided it was time to shop for some clothes that fit. I could again search for the pieces that felt like me, that expressed who I was outside of a mom running back-and-forth to school and her computer and Girl Scouts and a meeting. It had been a while since I’d allowed myself this luxury, and so I was after quite a bit, particularly new jeans in bulk. A girlfriend of mine suggested trying the jeans at Zara—a good fit for the price. Lucky for me, Zara had just opened a Denver location, and so I scooted over there with my mom to treat myself and celebrate how far I’d come. Except when we arrived at the store, after finally finding the denim section, I was disappointed to see only sizes 00-6 stacked up on the tables and racks, in every style. Not to be deterred, I chalked the error up to merchandising and sought the assistance of three different employees. They all told me that they weren’t sure why there weren’t any other sizes available, but that if I needed something not on the floor, they’d have to see if they could place a special order.
It was the subtlest thing. No one called me fat. No one told me I wasn’t welcome there. No one directed me to a tiny, isolated section of the store for the few items that might fit me. But with a lift of one eyebrow and a dismissive air, they belittled me. They told me I wasn’t good enough.
What is tragic is that, if this had happened last spring, I know I would have been crushed. It would have sent me spiraling through a loop of self-hatred for the better part of a month. I would have packed on pounds of “unworthiness” with chocolate and psychological punishment. Not that I could expect a complete stranger to know they had that much power over me—but then again, shouldn’t we all consider what power we have, being humans interacting with other humans?
Oh, but I’ve spent the last year nourishing myself. I have found a yoga studio that I love, an herbalist who has taught me what my body craves. I have studied and prayed over and praised the corners of my body, every morning, bold-faced to the mirror with gratitude. Not, “I can’t believe my tits hang down this far,” but rather, “Thank you for the ability to feed my children.” (Lest you feel ashamed, this did not come naturally to me. I feel ridiculous when I do it. It is a practice.)
I’m not the first woman to lose herself to motherhood. In fact, I’m certain that it’s just a part of it. You can’t help but to sacrifice something of yourself, letting your little tenant take a piece of you with them when they leave your body and head out into the world. But what amazes me about this universal experience is how much we allow it to shrink us instead of embolden us. It’s like we think, “I gave a piece of myself away, so there is less of me now,” instead of telling ourselves, “I gave a piece of myself away, so now my soul touches more of the world.”
I left Zara without much fanfare, waiting for embarrassment to set in, maybe; or perhaps sadness. Feelings associated with shame, with being made less-than. But instead I felt a quiet, righteous anger. Why should I give myself over to that? These voices that tell us we must shrink to less and less as we give more of ourselves, they are terrified of the power we’d have if we’d only realize it.
So, when I walked into Levi’s and turned to my tried-and-true fits, before I shimmied into them in the dressing room, I once more embraced my current physical state. I ran my hand on the lines of my hips and found beauty in the way they curve far out from my waist—life-giving. I pressed my palms into the empty, stretched space where my daughters once grew—soft. I held my shoulders back, even though the weight of my breasts seems enough to bury my heart—still it is open. And I took a picture of all I found in that mirror that I determined was good and lovely: my femininity.
I posted it to Instagram, and I couldn’t believe the responses that poured in. Similar stories, similar sentiments, similar fears. No wonder they shrink us. We’d be powerful enough in our own rite; never mind what we could do together. In honor of you, I wrote that poem above. I wrote it as a reminder for your morning rituals, your shopping trips, that hour right before bedtime when you think you won’t make it and you can’t remember who you are. You’re something alright.
P.S. Karma is real, and I got two pairs of Levi’s on sale for $25 each.
(Thank you, Sarah Ann Noel.)