A SYTYCB entry
A few years ago, I was having lunch with my younger sister. She asked me, “what’s the most embarrassing thing that could ever happen to a girl?” My adolescent summers spent poring over Seventeen had finally paid off and I was able rattle off several plausible scenarios, all involving crushes, periods, and static cling.
It turns out, my sister was referring to someone mistakenly believing she was pregnant. Apparently, this had happened to her while she was waiting in line for a bus, looking lovingly at her stomach. Prior to this discussion, I didn’t think that that sort of thing happened in real life. I mean, doesn’t that only happen in romantic comedies, most likely starring Hugh Grant, as a means to show how bumbling and endearingly awkward the male lead is?
In the past year, my first as a teacher, several students have asked me if I was pregnant. Movies and TV tell me that such comments should send me off crying to a tub of ice cream, but I felt strangely unaffected. And even if I had been offended by what they said, my students were, except for one, genuinely curious and excited for me. One girl even reached out and put her hand on my gut, hoping to feel a nascent kick. Having a student touch me actually bothered me more than any of them commenting on my belly. But still, by taking an interest in my life, my students were being, or trying to be, sweet.
Rather than spurring me to forsake homemade mint brownies, or to finally figure out what Zumba is, my students’ comments led me to this realization: I don’t give a shit if I look pregnant or not. Partially because I don’t think having a tummy is at all embarrassing or shameful, but primarily because I actually do look pregnant, despite never having been. My lazy American posture, preference of cheese and beer over crunches and squats, and love of high-waisted skirts means that I often look to be about 13 weeks along.
My fellow teachers, on the other hand, have reacted to these incidents with shock and dismay. One even said it was a pity we don’t live in a state that allows corporal punishment. Instead of feeling the need to lecture my students, or god forbid, slap them, I usually answer with a smile and an explanation that I had a big lunch.
I soon realized, however, that such an answer wasn’t always appropriate. Saying “I’m not pregnant, I’m only 24!” to a Brooklyn teen who grew up in the projects isn’t the most culturally relevant response. And only an asshole would cite a big lunch to a 13-year-old immigrant who has spent the last few months living in a homeless shelter. Of course, the fact that, for me, the idea of a possible pregnancy only incites garden-variety panic means that I am privileged enough to not care about looking pregnant. For people for whom the idea of pregnancy causes dysphoria, my rather blasé approach neither helpful nor worthwhile.
Having some padding doesn’t mean, as the cultural curriculum we are fed each day would have us believe, that I am lazy, slovenly, or weak-willed. I am some of those things (case in point, the shelf in my fridge devoted to rotting leftovers), but that was true before I started gaining weight. In fact, the only adjective that can now be used to describe me, which couldn’t when I was thin, is happy. I love myself and my body, which isn’t something I could say 5 years and 10 pounds ago.
It’s not even that I’ve begrudgingly learned to accept my body. I’ve started to love it unconditionally. It’s like I’m running across a meadow towards it, jiggly knees and all. And this pouch that some would suggest I diet away? I wouldn’t know what to do with my hands when I’m falling asleep if I couldn’t rest them on the groove between my hip and the pool of flesh that collects when I lie on my side. That is the most glorious part of my body, and if it comes with questions about my impending maternity, I accept that bargain.
And even though I’m supposed to be ashamed of my body, I can’t bring myself to be. My limbs, while perhaps coated in a layer of cushioning, are surprisingly strong. I can pick up pieces of paper with my toes and carried my 70lb air conditioner up the four flights of stairs to my apartment without breaking a sweat. My vocal cords and ankles carry me through days of lecturing and my shoulders, for the most part, can handle the weight of the mini-library I carry around in my bag. With all of these wonderful blessings, it would be rather churlish to dwell on some spongy fat.
So do you, dear reader, want to know my secret of not giving a shit about how big my stomach is? Sadly, I don’t really have one. I could spin some anecdote of a moment of truth where I realized I loved myself, I could rattle off a list of writers who lead me to a heightened sense of awareness (although everyone should read everything Lesley Kinzel has ever written), or I could even try to monetize my techniques and develop a career as a self-help guru. Ultimately, though, the simplest advice I can give is, really, just stop caring. Tie your self-esteem up in your ability to put together a fabulous outfit or lesson. Measure your worth by metrics you choose, not those that are forced upon you. And if someone on the subway wants to offer you a seat after a long day, take it. Hell, lean into it and gaze lovingly at your tummy until some investment banker gets up.