Today I am 31 weeks pregnant and feeling blissful as my husband and I are preparing for the birth of our first child. I feel so full and happy in my heart… and my body. For me, how I feel in my body often translates to how I feel about myself/my life. This practice of positive embodiment is how I have worked with body image issues and encouraged my clients to do the same. However, this approach does not necessarily work in pregnancy. I have been enjoying my pre-natal yoga practice, slow walks and almost weekly pre-natal massage, but still haven’t adjusted to the daily experience of swollen fingers, feet and ankles, back pain and living in a heavier body.
Last week I had a pre-natal visit scheduled and before the appointment found myself obsessing about how much weight I have gained in pregnancy. I am thankful that there has been a shift from when my mother had children and doctors stressed minimal weight gain to a focus on providing the nourishment needed for mother and baby during this time. However, in my childbirth classes, we were given a range for healthy weight gain, 25–35 pounds, and I was anxious that I would get on the scale and it would be a number higher than 35 pounds of weight gain.
As I became aware of this anxiety, I also became aware that this feeling was probably a signal that there was something deeper going on inside. It was time for some reflecting.
In my work I am surrounded by women struggling with the false belief that their weight, the number on the scale, determines their self-worth or happiness level. Of course, this distortion is common among many women living in our present society that values thinness. For people who struggle with self-esteem issues, or upbringings that did not provide positive mirroring for their true self qualities, weight is a seductive, tangible way to measure their self-worth, albeit misguided. I also know from my life experience that low weight doesn’t equal happiness. One of my most broken times of life, when I moved to Asheville from California in 2002, I was at my adult lowest weight and it was my lowest time personally. I feel part of my higher purpose in being in this work environment is to be an example of a woman who does not buy into this false equation of weight = worthiness or low weight = happiness. A quote from Gandhi reminds me of this role I have chosen, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I wish to see women embody their power and express it in the world, without negative body image as an impediment.
But I can’t say that I am not impacted by the daily work of helping women change this ingrained, false belief. And times when I am feeling vulnerable, these belief systems seep into my own, and I have to stay mindful and question what my belief system truly is and what is my clients’.
So thinking on these things, I was driving from my work in Brevard back to my pre-natal appointment in Asheville. I pulled over for a mid-afternoon ice cream cone.
Walking into the store, there was a man about my age leaning against the counter talking to the ice cream scooper. He looked over at me and immediately said, “I know you. How do I know you?” We went through the typical list of places where we may have crossed paths. Nothing triggered any memories until he asked if I had spent much time in downtown Asheville. I immediately remembered my first summer in Asheville working at Café on the Square, a restaurant located in the heart of downtown. This man worked at Bonnie’s Cigar Store, a little market right on the corner of Patton and College, three stores down from the Café. I often went into that store before my shifts and remember having conversations with him. He said he had worked there for 15 years before it closed a few years ago.
To be honest, I was shocked that he recognized me. At the time when I frequented Bonnie’s Cigar Store (not for the cigars, by the way), it was the summer of 2002. I was at an unhealthy low weight from the sadness I was experiencing in my life. And here I was now, 7 years later, almost 8 months pregnant. I expressed my disbelief that he had recognized me and he said, “Oh, it’s your eyes. That’s what I remembered.”
I left the store with my scoop of cookies-n-cream ice cream and a warm feeling inside. I knew this guy wasn’t hitting on me, because no one hits on a super pregnant lady, and he also didn’t have that vibe. He remembered me because of my eyes, a truer reflection of my spirit. It was perfect timing for me to run into a person who saw people in a different way, not by their weight or appearance, but by their essence. I was reminded of one of my favorite bumper stickers, “Change how you see, not how you look.” I was thankful for this encounter with a person who lived by this philosophy.
Of course, I have the good fortune of being married to a man who also lives by this philosophy. And I could go on and on about the usual joy of embodying the goddess body of a pregnant women. But this was the lesson of the day. And in its honor, I am coming out with a pregnant belly picture. May you see the joy and bliss in my eyes.