My body is beautiful: Loud ‘n Proud

True Beauty

True Beauty

If you saw me – if you have seen me – if you know me, you would probably want to kill me if I ever said anything negative about my body.

I am thin. I am tall. I have long legs. I can eat cake all day every day and not get fat.

(I will now duck down behind the sofa to avoid whatever projectile you managed to get your hands on while reading the above.)

And yet…

I have never been happy with my body. Like everyone else, in my spotty teenager years I took my good points for granted and just yearned for the things I didn’t have: thick, wavy hair (mine’s very straight and straw-like), a pretty face (mine is a bit blotchy, a bit spotty, a bit angular), less skinny arms (mine are slightly skeletal) and impressive breasts (…). I was a smart kid in school, but all I wanted was to be beautiful. I felt crushed every time I auditioned for a play and was yet again passed over for the role of the “pretty girl” and instead ended up playing somebody’s mother. It never occurred to me that perhaps this reflected my acting ability rather than my appearance.

I met my husband, who like the proverbial drop of water slowly hollowing out the stone set about re-training my eyes to see that I really am beautiful.

I actually struggled to write that down because somehow I still don’t believe it is true. I still feel like there are “beautiful people” and the rest of us.

I loved being pregnant, because it fulfilled many of my wishes: my hair was thick and lustrous, I filled out a little, my boobs were AMAZING (I am getting those nursing bras framed for posterity) plus, added bonus, I had made a tiny human.

I was proud of my body.

What skinny people look like when their stomach muscles give up. (C) Roger Hargreaves

What skinny people look like when their stomach muscles give up. (c) Roger Hargreaves

I was even prouder of my body when I had given birth. Maybe not so much the first time, but definitely when I gave birth naturally to my daughter, who came out feet first in record time. I was superwoman.

Since then all the teenage doubts have crept back in. Things I never really appreciated about my body have decided to take a holiday. Things I was never very happy with anyway have exacerbated.

I find it hard to be proud of my body.

How about you?

As women, we are being poisoned by advertising, by magazines, by public opinion. We are constantly being told that there is one way to be beautiful and one way only. There is no room for stretch marks, for sagging, for scars, for bulges. We are being told to “get your body back” with exercise videos and gym memberships – as if we had lost it.

My body is not lost. I have found it. I have discovered what it is for. I am learning and re-learning that I am beautiful.

A group of poets – and I am proud to be one of them – have banded together to fight for our works of art, our post-baby bodies. We have produced five poetry-postcards about our changed and changing bodies, which we are distributing around cafés and libraries and toddler groups for free. You can catch a glimpse of them here and read more about the project.

Our next step is our Twitter campaign #showusyourbelly. Please join us in creating a slideshow of what normal bodies look like. Send in your anonymous picture to sarah@paperswans.co.uk and join other proud women in showing off real beauty.

There is more to come: opportunities to write blog posts on the topic and share them, or to write poetry and fiction that celebrates the diverse and beautiful female form. Keep an eye on the website for new ways in which you can get involved.

Meanwhile, as usual, you can link up your Loud ‘n Proud posts by clicking on the link below. Tell us how proud you are of your kids, or yourself. Maybe you too are learning to be proud of your body? Link up and shout it from the rooftops!

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C-section, live.

Yesterday, I had the tremendous privilege of being a good friend’s birth partner. This was the first time I had ever done anything like it, and it also happened to be a planned caesarean, something of which I had no experience either. So, naturally, I had to write a poem about it. This one is for you, M.

scrubs

Birth

All I can see is your head
You are strapped to a bed
with what looks like pink parcel tape.

You smile and shiver while unseen
doctors work behind a screen:
to us they’re only sound and shape.

We chat about sci-fi and fantasy
and agree to disagree,
then we fall silent, you close your eyes.

On three hours sleep, you’re looking worn
and out of sight your child is born,
breaking the hush with disgruntled cries.

Birth for me was full of stress,
full of noise and blood and mess.
This gentle stillness is quite new.

I cuddle your daughter, hold her up,
as invisible doctors stitch you up,
and I look at calm and glowing you.

Thanks
for sharing these first moments
as a mother of two.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2014

Don’t stop here! Look on Prose for Thought for inspiring poetry and prose from talented bloggers.

Waiting for adventure

rainI have been writing this poem for a long time. For six weeks, in fact. I’m not sure if it has actually made it better or worse than the poetry I was churning out in about fifteen minutes flat on a weekly basis before I went back to teaching in September.

Anyway, I mention this to explain why the topic of today’s poem is a tiny bit out of date. It is about how I hate January.

January Carol

Too long it stretches with grey foggy skies
No hidden, glittering gem now lies
In bleak midwinter meadows
Bearing hints of spring
And gleams of hope.

starry Virgin
weary mother
bringing up Immanuel

Stark leafless trees and churned muddy fields
No thrilling adventures the world now yields
Just bloodless exposition,
First chord struck,
The first page turned.

After pains of birth and newborn joys
Comes slogging feeding chaos noise
Through plain days drained of colour
Watching drying paint
And growing child.

changing nappies
washing dishes
destiny seems a fairy tale.

Beyond the horizon veiled from view
The humming prelude of something new
Where long awaited promise blossoms
Layers peeled away
And life reborn.

Glory lies just there, you see?
Forgetting what is past
The ordinary steps will lead
To the thrill of life at last.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2014

regen tegenlicht

Photographs (c) Pieter Kroonenberg

Click here to read poetry and prose from an ever increasing community of writers at Prose for Thought.

 

Prose for Thought

Birthday

It is my birthday today. “Gefeliciteerd!”, we say in the Netherlands, which dictionaries will translate as “congratulations”. We say this, not just to the birthday boy/girl, but to everyone we find in the room at a birthday party: father, mother, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends. “Congratulations on your [best friend]’s birthday!” This always makes my husband laugh. “What exactly is it they have done that I am congratulating them for?” he wanted to know the first time he experienced this curious custom. “Your mother gave birth to you, but what do the other people have to do with it?” It was then I learned that saying ‘congratulations’ in English is usually reserved for achievements. The more accurate translation for ‘gefeliciteerd’ is ‘felicitations’, or ‘good wishes’.

I used to make a massive deal of my birthday every year, never having lost that childlike excitement for getting a year older. I think I was still hoping that this year might be the year that I was old enough to be taken seriously. Although I have now realised that this day will never – and probably should never – come, I still quite enjoy getting older, even now that I am looking at 30 in the rearview mirror. But the excitement about my special day has faded a bit since ha2 taart 2ving children. My first birthday after my son was born I woke up and realised the thrill had dulled. Don’t get me wrong – I have had lovely birthdays since the arrival of my son and I have thoroughly enjoyed them. What is missing is the feeling of being Very Very Important for a day. Instead, I get that thrill for his birthday now. I enjoy having a day to celebrate my son and making him feel special and important. But I myself also feel important  – because it is his birth-day, the day I went through hell to bring him into the world. This now seems like a much more appropriate day to feel a little important than my own birth-day, on which, to be fair, I didn’t achieve anything more impressive than drawing the first of many breaths.

I wonder if my mother still thinks of that moment every year on this day, even now. It probably seems more and more surreal as the years go by and the reality of me-now bears less and less resemblance to that very small, screaming, squirming thing I was on day one.

Giving birth to my son was not cool. I won’t bore you with the gory details, but – oh alright then – it was an instrumental delivery, I lost a lot of blood and needed a transfusion. While I was pregnant I had read books that were meant to be empowering, to help you realise that as a woman you are built to give birth to your baby and that you can do it yourself, no need for medical intervention. The books were meant to be uplifting and encouraging, but after my son was born the memory of their advice made me feel like a failure. I felt like it was my fault that it had come to a forceps delivery: perhaps I had not relaxed enough or I had unresolved issues or whatever. I felt very down for ages and couldn’t think back to the birth without crying. Although I wanted more children, I wasn’t sure that I could go through labour again.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I dreaded having to give birth to her, but resolved to grit my teeth and bear it. I didn’t read the books about natural birth again, although I hadn’t changed my mind about it: I still wanted as little medical intervention as possible, but this time I decided to be more relaxed and open-minded about changes of plan. Good thing, because as it turned out she was coming out feet first. Nobody had picked up on this until I was at the hospital and 3 centimetres dilated. By the time the doctors arrived to decide on a course of action, I was ready to push. I was rushed into theatre but gave birth to her normally – she was small and in much too much of a hurry to wait for scalpels. My husband only barely managed to scrub up in time.

Although my daughter’s birth was possibly even more eventful than my son’s, I felt on top of the world afterwards. I had delivered her normally, even though she was breech, and I got to hold her and feed her in the first hour after she was born. Any lingering guilt or feelings of failure from my first labour were gone: I was superwoman.

So no need to congratulate me today. I have done nothing remarkable other than stay alive. Congratulate my mother, and applaud my accomplishments in the autumn when we will be celebrating three years since my son came into the world amid quite a bit of agony, and one year since my daughter landed safely on her feet.