This weekend I was asked if in pregnant (I’m not!) – here’s how I stopped it from destroying me.
‘When’s it due?’
It’s probably the worst thing you can inadvertently say to a woman who feels self-conscious about her weight – or any woman for that matter. Whilst on the surface it’s well-meaning and harmless, it horrendously backfires when it transpires that the woman in question is actually not pregnant at all. Then immediately your kind, caring curiosity is transformed into an ugly insult which can cause instant damage to the recipients self esteem.
I discuss briefly in Nutrition in a Nutshell and Tough Love that I struggle with constant IBS. Anyone who has or has had IBS will understand that dealing with chronic stomach pain and bloating day in, day out is no fun (especially when people think you’re making it up, are over-exaggerating or are being awkward). Over the past 4 years I’ve come to terms with the fact that I rarely have that much-coveted ‘flat stomach’. I’m pretty much always bloated.
This used to be a REAL problem for me. My stomach (along with my thighs) was a focus point whilst I had anorexia, and ever since I longed for the VS body (until I started to change my perspective and finally learnt how to love my body the way it is). Now I just accept it and make the best of it – and I get better at managing my IBS all the time (although it’s still difficult due to anxiety). The only time I feel self-conscious at all is on occasion in a bikini and on nights out – and clubbing is something I rarely do anymore.
My best friend’s hen do this weekend involved such an occasion – and as I’d tried the dress I’d bought especially for it on a week before with no issue I didn’t expect to get into it and feel like a whale. But unfortunately I did. My stomach was inexplicably round and hard – even though is been careful as usual with what I ate. The problem with anxiety linked IBS is that it strikes when it wants without your say – so I put the bloating down to some subconscious apprehension about the weekend as is normal for me.
We went out and I forgot about the bloat (as I’ve become used to dealing very well with my insecurities and no longer let them bother me too much). I put it to the back of my mind and we set off to the club.
Yet halfway through the night I was paid the ultimate backhanded compliment. As I stood washing my hands at the sinks the toilet attendant smiled, pointed at my stomach said to me: ‘Pregnant?’
In fact the tone of her voice was less ‘posing a question’ and more ‘Aww!’ Shocked I smiled back (as you do) and replied ‘oh,..no, actually…’ before scuttling out in disbelief feeling embarrassed as the queue of women waiting looked on.
Of course I went to tell the hen party crew who were all just as shocked as I was. None of them could understand why she’d said what she’d said – but in reality I could. When I’m particularly bloated I can look a couple of months pregnant – I’m just not use to people other than my inner voice pointing that out.
I could have done two things at this point. I could have gone home crying and feeling fat and ashamed, or I could shrug it off. The new me shrugged it off. The old me would have laughed it off, only to punish myself continually afterwards and embark on some harsh diets or IBS treatments to ensure it never happened again.
Yet it’s not just what we do in the immediate aftermath that matters. Comments can cut deep and still effect us even if we managed to stick a plaster on them at the time. And I soon found myself feeling a little more self conscious than usual about my middle area – both the bloating, and the fact that my rear has been slowly expanding for a few months now.
Now I’m nowhere near as bad as I have been in the past – feeling nauseous when I look at myself, kneading my stomach critically wishing it was slimmer. But I do generally opt for baggy clothes, only wear leggings and sometimes. But even then I felt a little fatter. I looked at the photos from the night with more critical eyes. I realised I was letting my anxieties and insecurities over how I looked rule me again – and I haven’t allowed that in a long time.
So how did I make sure I felt better and didn’t let the comments bother me further? And how can you do the same after a similar blow to your self-esteem?
The criticism could be one of two things. It could be that you already recognised the ‘flaw’, so now you feel a lot fucking worse about it. Or it could be something you’d never considered before, and now you’re thinking ‘Oh my god it’s worse than I thought. Now I have to sort that out too.” Either way, you’re left feeling bad. Here’s how you can stop.
I realised when I was feeling bad that I was allowing clever psychological tricks my brain used to play on me to slide into my life again. For example, when I used to weigh myself and I discovered I was a lb over my ‘perfect weight’, I’d feel fat for the rest of the day. I’d actually feel it – my clothes seemed tight, my face looked puffy in the mirror. This would carry on usually until the next day, by which time I’d forgotten. The tight clothes, the mystery bulges of fat and the puffy face were all in my imagination.
And so too were these ideas I was having about having ‘gained weight’. Since I don’t weigh myself anymore I panicked because I decided I must have got fat without realising it – but when I sat down with myself and rationalised it I realised I looked exactly the same. Just on that night I was bloated, my dress accentuated it and that lady made a misguided comment. That’s all there is to it.
Often how we feel is 100% in our mind – it’s not actually the product of anything factual or tangible. Don’t throw away all the good things about yourself for one perceived ‘bad thing’ – especially when someone else points it out to you. More often than not they have their own motives behind saying something thoughtless or unkind – so don’t forget that often it’s them, not you.
I would have literally fallen apart if someone had said that to me a few years ago. But now I’m able to live with myself better – and I can handle curveballs because I’ve developed tools to help me to deal with my poor body image and insecurities. Fancy taking your first steps to living your life to the full without body image issues? Take a look at Tough Love and my Golden Rules here.