After a cross-country move from L.A. (with our one-year-old, Leo), and a long, soul-sucking apartment search, my husband and I finally found a home in Brooklyn that we loved. We were eager and excited to start our East Coast adventure. Then, the pandemic hit. Our dreams of having Leo take music classes and baby-and-me yoga while we strived for work/life balance, a monthly date night, and becoming part of a community were replaced with Clorox wipes, masks, the constant buzz of ambulance sirens, endless hours inside the apartment, and the fear of getting very very sick.
We’re lucky to be able to work from home, and it is lovely to have so much time together. But like many other families, the calendar days blurred. Weekends and weekdays were interchangeable. Sleep came erratically when it was possible. We chugged coffee while holding a laptop in one hand and an iPad with some animated creature singing in the other.
As we adjusted to life in quarantine, my postpartum/post-breastfeeding body settled in and showed its form. It’s pretty common to gain weight once your body is no longer producing milk (which burns a lot of calories). Plus, my lifestyle had been unstructured and chaotic for months. The added pounds took shape in a very different way than they had in the past. I didn’t know how to dress this body, and all of my clothes didn’t fit, clinging and digging in new places.
I found myself trapped in a kaleidoscope of big feelings.
My relationship with my body has always been strained and I'm prone to disordered eating, stuck in a loop of negative self-talk, and I found myself trapped in a kaleidoscope of big feelings. To add to this, I didn’t have the motivation or energy to work out, do my hair, put on makeup, or any of the things that help me feel like, well, me. Maybe it was from trying to balance Leo and work. Maybe it was pandemic fatigue. Maybe we were just fried from content on social media. Whatever it was, beauty and wellness were at the very end of my priority list.
I was deeply uncomfortable and ashamed of this new version of myself, but didn’t want to express it outwardly, fearing it would impact my son. So, I buried it all deep down, skipped any form of self-care aside from showering, and wore my husband’s oversized sweats. I put lipstick on once or twice for important video chats, but whenever possible I avoided my reflection. I didn’t want to see myself, and I was glad no one else could see me either. When the CDC recommended we wear masks, I welcomed the opportunity to hide even more.
One day while bracing myself for whatever “news” and conspiracies the Facebook world would serve, I saw someone mention they were gifting kid’s stuff on another page called "Buy Nothing." I was intrigued and requested to join the group and read up on it while waiting to be approved.
The Buy Nothing Project’s mission is “to offer a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies.” They feel that “the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors.” The way I’ve come to think of it is, you know how you’d ask a nice neighbor for a cup of sugar? Or offer your no-longer-in-use maternity clothes to a pregnant friend? Take that, make it virtual, and spread it across your entire neighborhood. There’s no trades. No bartering. No first come, first serve. Marketplace lingo like “ISO toaster” is discouraged. The goal is that in addition to gaining or sharing an item, you connect with some neighbors, make someone smile, and maybe even make a friend. If you were to ask your neighbor for that sugar IRL, you’d likely also check in with them and see how they’re doing. You might circle back and share a few of the cookies you baked with that sugar. In short: You get something or gift something, but it’s about so much more than that.
After being part of the group for a few weeks, I felt very brave, and shared my first “ask” post. I admitted that I was struggling to embrace my new body, and asked if anyone had flowy dresses in my next size up.
I didn’t want to see myself, and I was glad no one else could see me either. When the CDC recommended we wear masks, I welcomed the opportunity to hide even more.
One neighbor replied within minutes, saying she’d go through her closet ASAP, and then dropped off fun colorful dresses that evening. Another neighbor, who lived right in my building, had been given a dress from someone in the group that didn’t work for her, but she was happy to leave it outside my door for me to try. And another fellow mom gifted me a handful of beautiful, brand new things that I’ve been living in ever since. Most of these exchanges continued beyond just the drop-off/pickup logistics and turned into meaningful, socially-distanced conversations that I would have never engaged in without this group.
There was something very uplifting about getting clothes to accommodate weight gain from people who empathize and care, versus buying them from a store. I felt grateful slipping them on, knowing that someone wanted me to feel good wearing them.
The road to loving my body has not been a straight path. But my experience with Buy Nothing, and the thoughtful folks I’ve met in there, has shown me some glimpses of brighter days ahead.
All that positive energy along with having a bunch of new things to wear (that actually fit), re-inspired me to take my self-care up a notch or two. When I stepped into a romantic floral maxi, I added some coral cream blush to my lips and cheeks. And I paired a navy wrap dress with some cork wedges and a cherry red DIY mani/pedi.
I know that this is just a baby step in the right direction. The road to loving my body has not been a straight path. But my experience with Buy Nothing, and the thoughtful folks I’ve met in there, has shown me some glimpses of brighter days ahead. It may seem small, but has really made a difference. If you’re reading this and have similar burdens, or just feel discouraged about the uncertain state or the world these days, I hope this inspires you to think outside the box about how to find community during challenging times. If you give it a chance, you might find that connecting with others might help you reconnect with yourself too.