Some days I know the truth, and some days it gets buried so far beneath those old lies I can hardly remember its echo.

This morning I woke up feeling out of sorts. Not unexpected, since there is a baby who had trouble sleeping. Since there was a brain that just wouldn’t turn off. Since there is work and anxiety and worry that has, lately, followed me right into sleep.

But this was something different. Something deeper.

This was me. This was my body

This was a lie, a pair of them, rising up from the graveyard, where I thought I’d buried them long, long ago.

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While I was sleeping, the corpses came walking, and when I looked in the mirror this morning, they opened their mouths to speak.

Six weeks you’ve had, they said. Six weeks you’ve had to lose that belly. AND IT IS STILL HERE.

And then they smiled with their rotten teeth and told me the worst part of it all.

Un-beautiful, they said. This is un-beautiful. You are un-beautiful.

I could not argue. Not right now. Not today.

Because today, this moment, their words feel true

Today is a reckoning day – six weeks postpartum, a day when I will visit my doctor again and stand on that scale. A scale that will tell me how much I have left to lose. A scale that will tell me, just a little bit, who I am now.

I hate that this is so.

All this time I’ve stayed away from the scale, because I said it didn’t matter, and I meant it this time. I really did. Because he’s my last baby, and I just wanted to enjoy him without worrying about what I look like.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Until now.

I dressed for the morning. Those after-pregnancy transition jeans fit. A transition shirt hid the pouch.

I got my hopes up, I guess.

And then I walk in the doctor’s office and I step on the scale and I see how much weight is left, and I thought it would be different, not as much, and those voices start their howling…

Guess you should have tried harder, they say.
Guess you should have exercised more, they say.
Guess you should have worried about it a little more often, instead of indulging in your son, they say.

I try to swallow the disappointment, and then the nurse takes me to a room with a mirror, and I have to look at my body before I wrap a flimsy sheet of paper around it, and I can’t help it. I turn away, because I don’t want to look.

This is beautiful

I know what’s there

Sagging skin that may or may not shrink back this time, because this is the sixth time. Lines that mark my midsection and a belly button that’s hardly even a belly button anymore it’s been stretched and pulled and rearranged so often.

Those voices grab all of it and fling it right back in my face. Right back in my heart.

This is what un-beautiful feels like.

It feels sad and sharp and hard and achy and impossible and shocking. Most of all it is shocking.

We can go whole years knowing and believing and living the truth, and then one thing, one tiny little thing, can raise the dead and make them walk again.

It happens for many reasons, this feeling un-beautiful

It happens because someone makes an insensitive comment about our bodies that hits us right where it hurts. It happens because we live in a society that tells us skinny equals beautiful – and don’t you dare argue. It happens because we look in the mirror and the body looking back is not the one we think we need or want.

Un-beautiful, the kind that makes us starve or stick a finger down our throat, it is a sickness. An addiction. There is no cure.

There is only one day at a time

Every day we are offered the choice to look in that mirror and shake our fists at those living-again lies and say, No. I don’t believe you. This body is not un-beautiful. It is strong. It is amazing. It is the loveliest beautiful there ever, ever was.

Because this is the truth.

So after my doctor finishes her examination and releases me and walks from the room, I return to the mirror, and I dress again and then snap a picture, because I want to remember.

I want to remember the day I looked at my body and finally, finally, finally said out loud, if only to myself, what was true.

This body, I say. I am so very proud of what it has done. It has housed and carried and nourished six boys and a girl we will meet in glory. So what if there is still an after-belly six weeks later? THIS BODY HAS DONE SOMETHING AMAZING AND BEAUTIFUL. It needs to revel in that. So I will let it take its time.

And I mean it.

Those corpses, the anorexia and bulimia that have breathed down my neck all morning, start crawling back to their graves, because you know what?

They know, too.

This is what beautiful feels like.

A version of this essay first appeared on Rachel Toalson’s blog. Find Rachel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.