On Body Image

Friends, I’m excited today to be corresponding with one of my all-time favorite people ever in any category EVER IN THE WORLD. She’s also one of my favorite poets. If you are wondering what me and Catherine Calabro think about our bodies, well, you are in luck.

Dear Catherine,

Ah yes, the body image post, at long last. It’s taken me a while to write it, because it’s taken me a while to get a handle on my body. When you have a baby, your body goes through a completely amazing and totally ridiculous series of changes. My uterus went from the size of a plum to the size of a watermelon and back to a plum. My boobs went from B-cups to C-cups to DD-cups. My brain went from normal to crazy to I’m not sure what. I remember at one point in my pregnancy, turning to Jason and lamenting that I was living in a body that wasn’t mine, with a brain that wasn’t mine, and yet I had to go to work and pretend to be my regular self every day. THAT was the tiring part of pregnancy.

I gained about forty pounds while I was pregnant. One week after I had Violet, I had lost twenty of them. I had three stretch marks. I had an enormous rack. I was running on adrenaline and love, and I felt amazing. I felt like Superwoman. I had always thought the whole “nine months in, nine months out” adage made sense, and yet, my super-human body was going to put that to shame.

And here we are, eleven months out. I’m about ten pounds over my normal weight, and while I can squeeze into my regular pants, the key word here is “squeeze.”

Here’s the rub: As women, we KNOW HOW TO DRESS OUR BODIES. You ask any woman what her body shape is, she knows, and she knows how to dress it. In my “normal” life, I’m pear shaped. I’m a S/M on top and a M/L on the bottom. I know to wear prints on top, solids on the bottom; dresses that are tight to the hips and then flare out. I know that my large, square-shaped ass is weirdly flat, and looks better with pockets that have flaps. In my “normal” life, if I ever got to ten pounds overweight, I’d rein it in and be my regular size relatively quickly.*

A couple of months ago, I spent some time feeling a little lost when it came to my new shape, and feeling bad about it. Feeling like my body would never be the same again, and worrying what another pregnancy or two might do to it. Feeling like I had no idea how to dress THIS body, or, at the very least, no clothes in my closet that would work.

Today, though, I’m happy to report that I’m feeling pretty great. I weigh more than I want to, sure, but I’m breastfeeding. I eat what I want, and a lot of it, because there is a (possibly irrational) fear that I have that if I’m craving something, it’s because my body NEEDS it to make the milk. When your body makes the food that sustains another life, you want to make sure it’s well fed. Also, Catherine? IT FEELS GOOD TO EAT WHATEVER YOU WANT, IN WHATEVER QUANTITY YOU WANT.

Furthermore, I’m learning to dress this new body. Yup, my ass is bigger than ever, but do you know what’s also bigger than ever? MY BOOBS. And they are magnificent. And now I have this sort of hourglass figure, and I can rock that. I’ve always been more of a Peggy, but suddenly I’m a Joan. And Catherine, I don’t think you know this, but IT FEELS GOOD TO BE JOAN.

One of these days I’ll stop breastfeeding, and then I’ll probably be an A-cup, and I won’t have any excuses to gorge myself. When that sad day comes, I’ll re-learn self-control. I’ll stop eating around the clock, bread at every meal, huge bars of chocolate. And all my old pants will fit (Hello, old friends! I’ll say happily as I zip them up without inhaling.). I’ve always assumed motherhood would look something like this:


But maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll wear baggy t-shirts and swimsuit-dresses and tell myself that it’s not that I’ve let myself go, just that I’ve stopped caring about such superficial things. I HAVE A DAUGHTER TO RAISE. High five!


I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

How’s your body, Catherine?


* I could go on, ad nauseum, about my “normal” weight, as I’m sure most women could. But for the purposes of this blog, and brevity, it seems right to keep it to my “mom” weight.

Dear Amy,

I remember when I was a Girl Scout camp counselor in high school, one of my fellow counselors said “I’m so comfortable with my body that it’s not even funny.” It wasn’t even funny — but it made me feel funny. We were, what, maybe 14? 15? and I’d never really thought about my body being any different than it was — small, short, hairy, but there was my coworker, who had been through enough with her weight and height to have come around such a seemingly steady stance on her own image. In my mind’s eye I remember her as completely lovely – a year or two ahead of me, taller, curly haired, freckled – and I looked up to her in the same sort of teenage worship way that often look up to you now, Amy. I never for a moment imagined her to have any kind of issues with confidence at all until she said that. To this day I can’t decide if it was self-confidence or a strange defensiveness that led her to say that comment in the camp pool that day. It’s not even funny, which means, well, nothing, does it? Empty words. So, was she comfortable?  You know, Amy, I’m almost thirty, and I go through bouts of comfort and distress, too. A dress didn’t fit me this summer. My underwear doesn’t cover my butt. My breasts are stretching out more — they’re hairier than ever – why, why? My thighs. Good lord — somehow, they’re always making me look squat and even though they’re on my mind anytime I do any kind of exercise, they won’t get toned. My legs are never going to turn into the svelte muscular spindles of Olympic athletes. I can accept this intellectually, but something in me won’t ever let the idea go.

One of my new year’s resolutions was to care more about my outward appearances. I stole it from my friend, who vowed the previous year to work on “keeping up appearances.” For a few years, I was a grad student who wore a steady wardrobe of jeans and graphic tees, sensible snow boots and a ponytail. I think I got my hair cut once a year if I remembered. I owned two and a half cardigans. One of younger cohort-mates even said to me, “Why did you start dressing like a mom when you started teaching?” (which is funny to think about in the context of this particular blog, huh? Amy, when someone says you look like/dress like a mom now, what do you make of it?). I think my frazzled look started to actually frazzle me. So last year, I started with paying real money for a real haircut (a “style”) and more real money to put “product” in this “style.” It involved “bangs” and the upkeep (frequent trims) of said “bangs.” I’ve tried to wear just a little make-up most days and, because I’ve learned that my figure looks infinitely less dumpy (remember my squat thigh fixation) in skirts and dresses, I’ve basically followed our boss’s footsteps and disposed of all my pants. I guess I’ve only actually figured out my body shape in the last few years, because I just started paying attention. Why? Well, probably because keeping up appearances on the outside is something we can control, right? Tangible change. Things can be spiraling and syrupy inside, but it’s easy enough to put the energy into applying hair gel and looking put together on the outside. And maybe, I think I hoped, if I could get it together on the outside, the inside would have to follow suit.

Keeping up appearances! I think this is something my mom has wanted me to do for a long, long time. And maybe that’s what all moms want when they tell their daughters to put on some make-up and take care of their hair – they want to know that daughters have got it together, inside and out, and that they care enough to know themselves. Maybe that’s hard to imagine for you and Violet right now, or maybe it’s something you think about all the time? Gurl, let me know what you think about that.


Dear Catherine,

My mom literally puts on lipstick to get the mail. She puts on lipstick to go downstairs. She puts on lipstick to look out of the window. She puts on lipstick to get something out of the trunk. Of the car. In the garage. I think you get the idea. I hate lipstick. I don’t know why. Because good girls like me and you rebel against what our mothers want for us in the smallest ways possible? (But ones that are, in our mind, tied to larger issues of generation and liberation and gender roles changing…?)

I don’t think about it too much with V yet, or maybe I should say I TRY not to. Right now, I’m enjoying the fact that I’m the center of her world. I know it may not last for much longer.

Gurl, I have three things for you: 1) I think you are petite and pocket-sized and adorable. 2) Your haircut and bangs are amazing. You may recall that my husband called you “a dish” post-haircut, and he hates bangs. 3) Thank god for razors, am I right? Can you imagine being born before they existed?? I guess, at least, you’d be warm in the winter.

“At my age” (I hate starting sentences like that, and, for the record, 36), I’m battling this whole “I should stop caring what I look like” with “I need to take care of myself so I never look my age.” What’s wrong with looking your age? I don’t know, because I’ve never had to do it, but I do know the concept frightens me. Thanks, society.


Catherine is a poet and a friend of Amy Sumerton. They work at the same non-profit and they both live in apartments with two cats. This is Catherine’s first experience with “blogging.” She is not a mom, although she sometimes dresses like one.

One thought on “On Body Image

  1. Stop being so interesting.
    Thank you,
    Someone Trying to Work


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