Pregnancy has completely changed how I relate to my body.
Instead of embarrassment at the cellulite on my thighs, I revel in my legs’ strength. Rather than excoriating myself for not being as skinny as I could be, I recognize that gaining weight is a natural and necessary part of the change my body’s going through, integral to its ability to healthfully support another life.
Instead of being jealous of women who are thinner than me, I’m increasingly able to perceive their bodies judgment-free, as simply another variation on the spectrum of size and shape. And, for the first time in my life, I’m actually proud of my belly—and I kind of want to flaunt it.
I’ve never been a crop top wearer. For whatever reason, I was never comfortable having my belly out in non-beach public settings, even when it conformed to society’s distorted expectations of how a woman’s midriff “should” look.
Maybe it was the result of a deeply ingrained sense of propriety left over from my Christian upbringing. Maybe it was fear of others’ judgment. And perhaps it was just a personal preference for more conservative attire (I’ve never been comfortable in booty shorts, either). Whatever the reason, I had never considered leaving the house with my belly exposed—until I got pregnant.
My initial foray into the world of pregnant crop top wearing was a resounding success. After taking my partner to work at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday (ugh), I went to get breakfast at a nearby café. The barista beamed at me and exclaimed,
“You’re SO beautiful; your belly; everything!”
An adorable little girl kept smiling and waving at me.
I took my dog for a walk in the park, and felt no self-consciousness; I simply reveled in the sensation of a crisp breeze on the exposed skin of my belly.
The next time I tried it, though, was a little different: venturing to the farmer’s market, I felt (or at least imagined that I felt) the harsh appraisal of strangers’ eyes. An older woman looked me up and down with a scowl; though it’s possible that a frown was simply her default expression, I sensed disapproval in her gaze.
I went to the grocery store, and felt similarly self-conscious; I imagined that people were looking at me with judgment and disdain.
Although these experiences were uncomfortable, they taught me a lot about my own tendency to judge other people’s self-presentation. Being on the receiving end of clothing-based scorn—real or imagined—let me recognize how completely unfair, how priggish and arrogant I’d been in the past regarding the fashion choices of others.
Even if I don’t like what I see (an older man in miniscule running shorts, for instance, pale, veiny legs on prominent display), that’s my problem; I can choose not to look. Deciding that someone should conceal their body because of my personal prejudices only serves to perpetuate the Puritanical body-shame that’s so rife in our culture.
During my crop top experiment, I loved feeling the sun on my belly, imagining cosmic rays of nourishment and light pouring into my baby. Also, it’s hot out—the less clothing I have on, the better I feel.
While I may not be a total crop top convert, I feel more empowered to bare my belly, at least in certain settings (at the park, for instance, or while walking my dog). And I promise to be a lot more thoughtful from now on when it comes to my own fashion-policey tendencies.