I was taking a shower on Saturday morning when a little face peered around the curtain and started sniggering at me.
‘Why is your tummy so wobbly?’
I didn’t bat an eyelid. ‘Go and brush your teeth,’ I said, reaching for the conditioner. ‘Then go and pester daddy instead.’
Ah kids. Please remind me at what age they learn the fine art of subtlety again? Still, it got me thinking… Ten years ago my daughter’s innocent observation would have torpedoed, then sunk, my fragile twenty-something ego. I’d be necking Slim Fast quicker than a Marguerite. So what changed? And how did I get so self-conscious in the first place?
I was pretty active as a kid. I achieved all my gymnastics badges, hit Grade 6 Ballet, competed in cross-country and played Lacrosse for my school and County A-Teams. I was super-fit. A size 8 easy.
Then I met a boy.
Well, several boys in fact. And then I met a man. We were doomed from the start. He had his issues. I had mine. At nineteen I was left with a broken heart and a self-esteem problem. Brimming with teenage self-pity, I convinced myself that I wasn’t worth loving. I stopped taking care of myself. I quit exercise and embraced alcohol and sugar instead.
At University it was much the same. An extra stone turned into three. I began avoiding the mirrors in changing rooms. Looking back I wasn’t even large. A size 10/12 at the most!
The weight kept creeping on during my twenties. I tried Weight Watchers, Slimming World… I started running again but invariably my Interstitial Cystitis would flare up and I’d have to stop. I’d feel frustrated. And then I’d reach for the Cadburys.
In 2008 I hit the jackpot. I married a man who loved me exactly as I was. I didn’t believe him of course. Who could possibly love a woman the wrong side of size 12? Hadn’t the Press dictated as much for years?
But when I fell pregnant with Emily two years later something clicked. It wasn’t just about me and my dodgy self-esteem issues anymore. I began to eat better. My IC went into remission. Matt developed an interest in healthy cooking and every night he would conjure up colourful meals containing a full alphabet’s range of vitamins and the good stuff.
Post-pregnancy, the changes to my body were more noticeable when Jess arrived. The skin around my stomach didn’t automatically ping back into place. It sagged below my tummy button like a little skin-coloured pouch and made the stretch marks even more prominent. I remember standing in front of my bedroom mirror three months after Jess was born thinking that I was in the worst shape off my life. Even my elbows had cellulite. My elbows FFS!
But I decided not to beat myself up about it anymore.
Because my body had been through a lot. At the very least it deserved my respect. I began to view my flaws and imperfections as badges of survival; two births, my struggles with breastfeeding, overcoming PND, an ongoing battle with IC… When I totted it all up I felt like a supermodel.
I’m not immune to society’s standards though. When I’m out and about I’ll always feel a pang of envy when a slim, effortlessly stylish woman wafts past me. In those moments I’ll stop and look down at two thighs that touch in the middle and a mini-muffin-top that isn’t quite concealed by my jeans and I’ll smile. And then I’ll celebrate.
Because I AM worth loving. I have two beautiful children who tell me that on a daily basis.
Sorry Vogue. You can’t compete with that.