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October 03, 2022

Where Every Family Matters

YOUR STORY: Jessica Smith

In "My Body is an Instrument, Not an Ornament," Jessica Smith addresses the unrealistic cultural expectations of a woman's physical appearance.

YOUR STORY: Jessica Smith

It started out innocently enough. A few times a week, I popped in a workout video while my infant son slept sweetly in his bouncy chair just a few feet from me — his sweaty mama with the burning thighs and aspirations for buns of steel.  After a few months, I decided MyFitnessPal and Whole30 would be helpful tools to help me attain a body worthy of admiration and approval, especially after having just birthed a (giant) baby.  Once my son was old enough, I joined the YMCA and felt surges of pride when anyone took notice of my dwindling physique. Thus was the beginning of a devastating free-fall into obsession, restriction and exercise addiction. Despite being no stranger to the world of eating disorders, I didn’t see it coming.

There isn’t enough space provided here to even begin to scratch the surface on the underlying issues at play in my personal story, but what I can tell you is that the cultural expectations of a woman’s physical appearance are unrealistic and relentless … especially that of a mother. 

Throughout your pregnancy you are told, “Eat for two!” and, “Rest while you can!” and sometimes even treated as though you have a debilitating illness: “Don’t carry that/pick that up/move that way!”  Your weight is meticulously assessed without fail at every obstetric appointment. You are continually reminded of a “healthy” range of weight gain, and in some unfortunate circumstances, you are body-shamed. For some women (if not most) this creates a confusing dichotomy between appreciating the changes our bodies undergo and greatly fearing them. 

Sadly, this isn’t where the scrutiny ends. It gets worse.

The minute you manage to get your baby out of your body in the safest manner possible, the countdown begins. Sometimes it’s silent and insidious, sneaking into your psyche via magazine headlines and social media ads. Other times, it’s booming and blatant, spoken bluntly and openly from your mother-in-law or a supermarket stranger (“Oh! You already had your baby! Oops!” You feel overwhelming pressure to “get your body back” (I mean, where did it go, exactly?) and fit into your pre-baby jeans. Forget the fact that you pee when you sneeze and still can’t quite figure out how to swaddle. Society expects you to hurry up and get right back to looking as though … you never had a baby at all.

This incessant pressure to look a certain way makes me angry.  Our bodies just took two individual cells and created human life, and yet they are only acceptable if they manage to look untouched … unchanged?  I am calling BS.

Our bodies were meant to change. They will expand, they will contract. They will stretch, and they will sag. They will grow bigger, and sometimes they will stay that way. And it is all good.  We are still good. In fact, I personally believe that we are all freakin’ GREAT.

I am now recovering from my eating disorder and exercise addiction. I remind myself daily that my body is my instrument, not an ornament. These days, my sweet boy loves to cuddle me. He wraps his arms around my soft, comfortable body. He frequently rests his head on the belly in which he used to reside, and I am filled with contentment and gratitude.

And that, dear ladies, is exactly how it is supposed to be.



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