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  • Dr. Lisa Ghent, ND

The biggest fear of all: bathing suit season

This weekend we are supposed to be setting records for the hottest temperatures ever in certain parts of North America. It probably means that many people (including myself!) will be breaking out bathing suits for the first time this year.

Does the very mention of 'bathing suits' strike fear and cause you to suck in your stomach? Me, too. If you've read my previous blog on my personal body image journey you know that part of it for me is mental. I am aware that I have a lot of work to do to separate my brain and its expectations from the images of 'normal' we are constantly inundated with on social media. I've also had three pregnancies and c-sections, both of which ravage the body in many ways, and an outcome of my second pregnancy was a severe diastasis recti (DR for short), which is an abdominal separation that has never healed.

Life with a DR has been an adjustment. I remember when it was first diagnosed and the therapist told me that it was not an injury that could be rehabbed but that would require surgery. I politely thanked her, went out to my car, and sobbed. Of course you know going into having babies that your body will change, but you don't expect that it will change like that. For those of you unfamiliar with DR, the long and short of it is that you no longer have a major core stomach muscle holding in all of your insides. This means you start the day with a relatively flat stomach, but by the end of the day you basically look pregnant. Because of the severity of my DR, if I fully relax all of my stomach muscles at the end of the day, without a word of a lie, I look 7 months pregnant. While I'm not quite ready to post a picture of that yet, I am working on it, and hope to someday share this with you as part of my healing process. So there I was, 6 months post-partum, already heavier than I was when I started the whole baby journey, being told that I now have a lifetime of looking pregnant unless I can find the money to pay for what is considered an elective and cosmetic surgery, to have my core repaired. This is why I sobbed in my car.

There are a number of things you're told not to do when you're diagnosed with a DR, particularly one as bad as mine. You're told no high impact exercise (definitely no running), nothing that requires you to be in a piked position (such as doing crunches or doing yoga), no planking, no lifting anything too heavy until you learn how to engage the other muscles in your core properly to prevent an injury or a herniation. You are warned that you will likely develop chronic hip and lower back pain because of the lack of core stability. You realize how guarded you must be of your internal organs because they now lack protection from impact that could occur say in a car accident or from being hit in the stomach. This was soooooo hard for me because I loved to work out and yoga was my main source of stress management. I felt like I had lost so much, which then made me feel insanely guilty because of course I would do it again to have my daughter. Had I not prepared enough before getting pregnant? I should have worked out more and been in better shape. I should have had a stronger core, then this wouldn't have happened. I shouldn't have gained so much weight in my pregnancies. Why did I eat so much? These were the thoughts I was having.

It changed my relationship with my body. I actually didn't think it was possible to dislike my body more until this happened, but it was possible. I loathed looking in the mirror. I resented every time I felt I had to put on Spanx or a waist cincher. A bathing suit? Forget it. Between the DR and my c-section scar I was determined that my torso and abdomen would never again see the light of day. Even though I knew that my husband didn't look at me differently because of this, I was embarrassed for him to see my stomach. I was constantly dressing to hide my body and I became obsessed with looking at my stomach in every reflective surface I passed to see if it was sticking out. I can't even tell you how many times I have been asked when I'm due when I've not been pregnant. I've done ALL THE PROGRAMS. I have spent thousands of dollars trying to repair, reduce, and then cover up this all-consuming flaw in my body.

Now, it's not been all bad. I have served as a model on dozens of occasions for medical students, teaching them how to recognize and diagnose a DR, though this did at times come at personal mental cost. I recall one time specifically when I was explaining to a group about how when standing it gives the appearance of being fat because of the lack of support for the internal organs and one student said 'but isn't that also fat on your abdomen?' Yah, that was awesome. This experience has allowed me to diagnose, educate, and help other women who have a DR as well. For most, the diagnosis was missed or not checked by the health care provider that delivered their baby and then they had spent a significant amount of time doing as many crunches as possible to try and flatten their stomach, when really it was making things worse. And while I hated my body initially for being this way, it has helped me to develop a different relationship with it. I have had to do the work, separating my physical flaws with who I really am. Who I am and how I need to be interacting in this world actually has nothing to do with my physical body. I have learned to believe that my body is just the vessel that has allowed me to accomplish great things, and these scars are the reminders of all these incredible accomplishments. Will I get surgery someday? Yes, I will. Even though I have learned how to use my body safely to enjoy most of the activities that I did pre-kiddos, I long to have a strong core again. It is no longer about vanity; it's about taking back control of my body.

For the first time EVER - I am willingly posting a picture of me in a bathing suit (and a bikini at that, which I have definitely not worn in many decades).

There is no filter, no editing, no fancy posing. I mean, I haven't even brushed my hair this morning. My body isn't perfect. It never has been and never will be. I have lumps and bumps and scars and all sorts of loose skin, but I no longer want to hide myself from the world. I am scared to death to press publish on this post, but I'm going to do it. Wherever you are in your journey to heal the relationship you have with your body, I want you to know you're not alone. You are the only one so harshly judging yourself, and I know this for a fact because I would never be anything but inspired by someone else for putting themselves out there, regardless of their shape or size. Even for those of you, like I did for so long, who hide yourselves and try to make yourself smaller in this world, I see you for who you really are, and that has NOTHING to do with how you look. My journey is far from over, but I acknowledge how far I've come and I'm proud of myself. I hope you are proud of how far you've come, too.

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