(song: Paperback Writer/artist: The Beatles)
I wrote the following article about my struggles with body image - particularly during and after my pregnancy(s) - for Seleni Institute. My first paid writing assignment!
Reprinted with permission from seleni.org
Learning to Love
My Formerly Fat Self
One mom's journey
By Alison Donnelly,
mom to a 5-year-old son in Brooklyn
Because I was a
chubby kid since the age of 10, I've heard every possible euphemism
to describe my body: "pleasantly plump," "Rubenesque,"
"carries weight easily." I always understood what those
words really meant. And I never disagreed with them.
Nope. I believed
them all, and I punished my body for it. I ate too much (and when I
got older), drank too much, smoked, and even did drugs with little
concern for the consequences. I hated my body, so why did it matter
how badly I treated myself?
Flash forward to
2006 and my first pregnancy: At 5 feet, 9 inches and 175 pounds, I
was a size 14. And when that pregnancy ended in miscarriage, I felt
like the body that had failed me in its appearance had also failed me
in function. So I returned to punishing it with a vengeance. By early
2007, I was 193 pounds, size 16, and (luckily) pregnant again.
Like most women, I
was desperate to get through the first trimester so I could feel more
confident that I had a viable pregnancy. But I had another reason: I
couldn't wait to announce my condition to the world, so people would
start thinking "pregnant" instead of "fat" when
they looked at me.
Caring for a
developing baby meant caring for me
This time around,
something amazing happened –
because I cared about the life growing inside me, I
began to care about my body. I opted for healthy meals and logged my
calories to make sure I stayed within my doctor's guidelines for
gaining weight. And even though I felt heavy, I also felt beautiful
and energetic (to the extent a 200-pound woman can feel energetic
during a New York summer). For the first time since my wedding day I
felt strong in the present and excited about the future. And then, at
the peak of joy from my son's birth, everything began to unravel.
Back to my old
The surge of
confidence I experienced during pregnancy seemed to have been left on
the delivery room floor. For the better part of my son's first year
of life, I felt like I had been placed in the wrong job.
Some mothers made it
look so easy, while I struggled with every aspect of being a new mom.
I couldn't breastfeed because of a breast reduction I had when I was
18, so I felt like a failure in La-Leche-League-loving Brooklyn. At
"mommy and me" music class, I defied inspirational posters
by dancing like everyone was watching. The milk-filled breasts
of bikini-clad moms in baby swim class mocked my mammary inadequacy.
I was not the natural-born mother I had thought I would be. I felt
like a fat, useless stay-at-home mom.
Then one afternoon
while watching TV in my nightgown, a fitness infomercial inspired a
revolutionary thought: Wasn't I worthy of the kind of love I had
shown my body while my son was growing inside it? I got online,
ordered the DVDs, and started exercising soon after. "A year
from now, I'll be healthy and fit" became my mantra as I sweated
and grunted through those first weeks, unable to do much more than 20
minutes of moderate cardio. I also reduced my calorie intake
(especially the kind that came in a lovely stemmed glass), and the
weight slowly started coming off. Within six months, I had slimmed
down to a size 12 and began to feel the occasional twinge of
self-worth that characterized my pregnancy.
Learning to love
As the ball dropped
on 2009, I had lost 19 pounds and was wearing a size 10. A year
later, I was another 20 pounds lighter thanks to a personal trainer
who made me believe that we all have the power to transform our body
and mind. Understanding that is the sole reason I have kept off those
When being super fit
was new, I felt enormously guilty about the slightest setback. But
I've learned to forgive myself for my slipups –
like the occasional ice cream binge. Part of the maintenance process
has been finding balance. I don't succumb to guilt when I enjoy too
many carbs or have more than two glasses of wine. I acknowledge it
and then return to my commitment to be healthy.
Yes, I started to love myself when I saw a skinny body in the mirror,
but that was superficial. The meaningful love came from allowing
myself to be human and forgiving myself for human behavior. I have
the confidence to stay fit and healthy. I have the desire to enjoy my
life. I finally know how to do both.
writes about her struggles and triumphs with weight, motherhood, and
everything else as Formerly