Artwork: Jane Tan

Turning 30 is certainly a cause for celebration… but what are we celebrating exactly? In ‘My Dirty 30s’, columnist Samantha Y. reflects on the good, the bad, and the downright ugly truth about what this decade spells for “ageing” millennials like herself. 

“Don’t freak out, but I think I see some stretch marks,” my partner whispered to me in a hushed tone. For a second, I didn’t know whether to scoff or laugh in his face. I opted for the latter.

For context, I was about 8 months pregnant at that point and had gained close to 20kg. I thought I would rock my baby bump with a modicum of Rihanna’s pizzazz or Blake Lively’s effortless ease, but all I could manage was a clumsy waddle.

And no, the father of my child didn’t mean any harm by pointing my newly-earned tiger stripes out. The delivery was awkward, but I think he was trying to be supportive because I had a hard time coming to terms with my pregnant body, including all of the discomforts and additional weight it brought.

Like most women, I struggled with body acceptance. I wouldn’t say I was obsessed with my weight, but all throughout my twenties, I would step on the scales whenever I hit the gym to check if I was still in the lower range of a healthy BMI. And while I didn’t have a super-defined muscle tone, my workouts were all targeted at maintaining a flat stomach — something that I would check for in a full-length mirror almost daily.

Thinking back, all of this fringed on unhealthy. I wasn’t on some physical training programme, nor did my livelihood depend on being able to fit into sample sizes. There was simply no need for me to be scrutinising my body like that. Given my insecurities, it was no surprise that I had a very bad initial reaction to my changing shape. Between the bloat and the weight gain, I could no longer fit into my UK 6
wardrobe by the first trimester. Cue the angry tears and yelling “LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME” at my poor, terrified (and well-meaning) husband, who immediately went out and bought a ton of size-appropriate maternity wear for me to wear.

But by the time the stretch marks made their appearance, something had clicked. After months of dealing with debilitating nausea, fatigue and pelvic pain, I’ve come to accept that my body was working very hard to support a growing foetus. And it’s within the realm of normal for my body to look — how do I put this delicately — kind of banged up from this ordeal.

“Honestly, these stretch marks are the least of my worries right now. It’s no big deal,” I replied to my partner.

And I truly meant every word! Call it radical acceptance or the wisdom that comes with age, but whenever I start to feel bad about my appearance, I no longer wallow in the self-loathing that I was so prone to in my twenties. Instead, I cycle through a series of questions to help me put things into perspective and come up with a sustainable action plan.

The first question is simply this: Can I fix it right now? For instance, I’m still carrying a bit of extra pregnancy weight. The most logical thing to do would be to make some lifestyle adjustments — such as planning healthier meals and starting on an effective workout routine.

If this was something that I could implement immediately, the shame spiral would stop there. But the reality is I’m now a working mum with a four-month-old baby. I only have so many hours in a day and I would like to spend this precious time with my family. That, and catching up on sleep because my baby still isn’t sleeping through the night. So to answer my own question, no — it’s not something that I can effectively fix right away.

This is when the second question comes into play: Is this detrimental to my health? Sure I’m a few kilos heavier compared to my pre-pregnancy self, but if my doctor isn’t concerned about my weight, then neither should I. As for my deep purple stretch marks and flabby “mummy tummy”? They don’t look pretty, but they don’t pose any health risks either. Why stress out over things that are inherently harmless?

The final — and arguably most important — question I would ask myself is this: Why am I feeling this way? Sometimes it’s about removing toxic people from your life, or unfollowing certain people on social media. Other times it’s about having realistic expectations of yourself. In this instance, I realised what I really needed was an upsized wardrobe — and promptly went shopping.

It’s ironic. My body is in its worst shape ever, yet I’ve never been more at peace with it. Perhaps I really did get older and wiser. And flabbier too, but who cares?