When I was 10, I decided I wanted to become a fashion designer. I became captivated by a particular Versace campaign. Christy, Naomi, and Cindy (the holy trinity) in graphic black and white, shot in the desert by Herb Ritts. I had never seen anything so glamorous.
I started making fashion sketches and reading Vogue. I wore all black for a while, not in a goth way, more of a simple chic sort of Audrey way. I dreamed about being old enough to go live in New York.
And I did it. I went to college, majored in fashion design (one year behind my co-blogger extraordinaire), and moved to New York after graduation to pursue my dream. I spent ten years working for big companies, and small houses. Mass market and red carpet.
Being a fashion designer came with an expectation to dress well, but little money to do so. I lived for sample sales and spent many a lunch break traipsing around the garment district from warehouse to warehouse in search of the best and the chicest at the lowest prices. Sometimes I was lucky enough to snag a freebie or two from the places I worked.
Clothes and body image are inextricably tied together. As a designer, I had to be always attuned to what women wanted to show, and conceal. I had never had major body image issues, but was always conscious, in the way I think every woman is, that there was someone with a smaller waist, bigger boobs, longer eyelashes. I spent my youth fighting those feelings and struggling with at times overwhelming jealously. Ain’t middle school grand?
Over time I grew out of it. Then I got pregnant. Here’s the thing–as a woman, you struggle with learning to love yourself, accepting your appearance. It takes years, if you ever get there at all. And then, if you have kids, you go through a huge body transformation right about the time you start to be good with what you saw in the mirror. All bets are off. You are back to square one. But this time you have to learn to love several different bodies in a pretty short time frame.
Some women revel in pregnancy. The dramatic changes that happen, the power of the female body. Others don’t. I suppose I was a bit in between.
Phase One: Lets be honest, it’s kind of hideous. You gain weight in all the wrong places, you’re probably trying to hide it at work so you start learning how to camouflage the best you can with sometimes ridiculous layering. You look, not glowingly pregnant, but like you just had two burritos for lunch and they gave you food poisoning. It’s not a good look.
Phase Two: You emerge from your layers when you start breaking the news, and then you hit the cute stage. A tiny round belly, and lots of congratulations from friends and family and random passers-by. But you have to learn how to dress this little bump. There are tons of options out there, not all of them great, and usually the cuter ones are pretty expensive. The pricey stuff I admired but I just couldn’t get behind investing in a wardrobe that would last me for 6-8 months. I got away with, for a while, non-maternity things in stretchy fabrics, in larger sizes. But that only lasts for so long.
Phase Three: You are enormous. Insensitive assholes ask if you are having twins. You feel like a baby whale and have completely stopped looking in your full-length mirror. When you do, you often cry. Your feet are swollen and you have given up wearing heels. The time has come for full on maternity clothes. Large tent-like tops, pants with big stretchy panels that you pull up to your ribcage.
Post Partum (Phase Four): You are still wearing maternity clothes. A lot of people don’t know this, but just because you just dropped an 8 pound love bundle, doesn’t mean you suddenly don’t look pregnant anymore. Those insensitive assholes are now asking you when you are due, and you gave birth 5 weeks ago. Good times! You can’t throw away those maternity clothes just yet! (As much as you want to. And I KNOW that you want to.) You are disoriented and exhausted and sweatpants are your new best friend. I was never a big fan of sweatpants until Phase 4. You are tending to a tiny demanding baby and you may not change out of your pajamas in the morning. Why bother? You are going to get spit up on or pooped on, so it doesn’t really matter what you wear, right? (Yes, this is the fashion designer speaking!) And it better all be machine washable.
Phase Five: This is different for everyone but my Phase 5 was back to work and nursing. I loved wearing dresses to work, but having to stop and pump 3x a day while wearing a dress was awkward, so my wardrobe became pants and nursing friendly tops. Secret revelation: I was still wearing maternity pants. Once you get into pants with no fly or waistband and a soft stretchy panel, its REALLY HARD to go back to regular pants. REALLY HARD. After work I would race home to have a precious hour or two with my baby who would make sure to spit up on me one last time before bed, so I usually changed into a T-shirt and sweatpants when I got home. It got to the point where my husband rarely saw me not in sweatpants. Bless him for keeping his mouth shut.
Phase Six: I’m ready to give up my maternity pants. I fit back into some of my old clothes but not all, because while my weight is back to pre-pregnancy, my body is different. I know I want to have two kids, so I can’t burn my maternity clothes just yet. Aside from some shoes and accessories, I don’t really buy myself anything new, because I like to buy things that I can wear for several years, and I just don’t know what my body is going to be like after #2. Oh and also, once you have a kid you are acutely aware of any dollar you spend that should probably go toward that kid instead of you. $45 new top, or $45 to the college fund??? College is going to be one billion dollars a year by that time, so I really don’t need that new top.
Rinse and repeat. I’ve been through this cycle twice. My youngest is almost two. The maternity clothes have long been given away, but I’m still not shopping for myself either. My body didn’t snap back quite as well after number two as it did after number one. I have diastasis recti which means my abs didn’t completely come back together. The long and the short of it, is that I look a couple months pregnant. And some insensitive assholes have asked if I am. Mom Tip: NEVER EVER EVER ask someone if they are pregnant. EVER. If you can’t obviously tell they are pregnant you are treading on some very dangerous territory.
I have lots of things in my closet (even some still-great pieces from sample sales of my designer days) that just don’t fit me the same way, or draw attention to places I would rather not. I’m not ready to part with them. I’m not ready to accept this body as my own just yet. I’m a work in progress.
As it relates to pregnancy and fashion, I will leave you with a story. Once upon a time, Lisa and I were out to dinner. Young twenty-somethings living in New York. Girls on the town. At dinner we saw a group of women, one of which was pregnant. She was so amazingly stylish, we couldn’t help but notice her. She was definitely Phase Two. An emerald green open-back halter top over a black bandeau, white jeans, gold jewelry and gold platform sandals. Lisa, the more outspoken of the two of us, excused herself and went over and told her how fabulous she looked. It turned out she worked for a very popular online retailer and had access to great stuff, but she was absolutely thrilled for the compliment. I think about her often. I’m certain I never looked that fabulous when I was pregnant, but now I understand the effort it takes when you are pregnant to pull out all the stops, and that complimenting a pregnant woman is maybe one of the nicest things you can do.