In our latest #TrueRomance column, Anna Whitehouse and Matt Farquharson discuss body positivity in a relationship
By Anna Whitehouse
It was as I stood up from the side of the bath that I felt definite suction on my dewy post-shower bottom. There was an accompanying sound that was part-walrus, part squelch. It was definitely not a sound I’d heard before, especially in my younger, comparatively toned, showering times.
Either way it left me a little shaken; it was aural confirmation that my bits were malleable enough to create an almost bovine grunt. It was at that juncture that I realised that if I was going to keep the good marital ship afloat, I’d have to get over a soggy/saggy bottom, the fast-descending mammaries and, in turn, Matt’s absent six-pack. We had two humans to show for some slightly stretched skin, and things definitely aren’t getting perkier, so why waste time worrying about excess baggage?
'The postnatal body is a cruel mistress indeed.'
That said, and regardless of the body positivity that is abound on Instagram, this comfort isn’t something that came easily or is even wholly cemented. The postnatal body is a cruel mistress indeed. It gives with one hand: the lifeform mewling in the moses basket. With the other, it siphons off confidence as you navigate leaking boobs, a torn perineum, an infected C-section scar and Tena Lady pads the size of a hamster cage. Post-birth, there’s so much exiting the maternal building, there’s no way anything can enter.
Even when I considered Fitness First a firm friend in my 20s, I had body hang ups. I’d breathe in when someone touched my stomach, willing it into Victoria Secret flattened perfection. Then I met Matt and became so consumed by what he was saying that I forgot to worry about what my upper back thigh looked like up close. His mind aroused me. His sharp wit could ignite ugly, carefree laughter that I hadn’t experienced with anyone else. He didn’t take himself too seriously and, in laying those relaxed foundations, neither did I.
He jokes occasionally that I’m not the 24-year-old minxlet he signed up for. Standing in our kitchen, swathed in an aging hoodie and baked bean-flecked jogging bottoms that our toddler has decorated, I’d say he’s got a point. I’m a size 14-16 when he signed up for a size 12. I’m less perky-boobed and definitely greyer around the edges. The strain of redundancy, miscarriage, anxiety, deep-rooted fears about Trump, Brexit and whether our kids are getting enough of their 5-a-day are etched across our bodies and faces.
'Now there’s a softness to those once-hardened edges, a softness that has us fitting together more comfortably and opening up more deeply.'
There’s no denying we’ve changed. Our silhouettes are not those of two twenty-something carefree journalists conspiratorially whispering across a heaving Eritrean restaurant where food is the last thing on our minds. Now there’s a softness to those once-hardened edges, a softness that has us fitting together more comfortably and opening up more deeply.
All I really know, as we stand together immersed in mortgage repayments and soiled nappies, is that my grandfather’s advice hit home: ‘If you’ve got twinkly eyes, no one’s really looking at what’s going on around them.’
By Matt Farquharson
I have created a new diet, called the Die A Bit Later plan. It’s not too strenuous, and I hope it’ll catch on. I now never eat more than one packet of crisps in a sitting, and try to make it those baked ones with less fat. Sometimes I don’t have milk in my coffee. That’s really about it. The main motivation came from the mirror, where it seems I’m more dough than biscuit. With my increasingly deep belly button and fluffy middle portion, my stomach is starting to look like an unbaked cinnamon whirl.
'Being married, I have to accept that it is not just MY stomach, but Anna’s too...'
And, being married, I have to accept that it is not just MY stomach, but Anna’s too. She sees nearly as much of it as me, and it’s probably propelled towards her a bit more than she’d like. So, it only seems fair that I rein it in a bit. And so there is another dark secret to the Die A Bit Later plan – I have, regrettably, begun running, and not just for the bus. Mostly, along with potentially buying me a few more months at the end of my life, it’s to stop me becoming an unbonkable bag of flab.
I last did regular exercise in 2006, when I was last single. I was 29 and thought that sounded old (the schmuck I was), so had better stay in shape for potential mates. And then I met Anna, and the exercise petered out. There were some five-a-side games, a little bit of touch rugby. I once tried golf and played for nearly 18 minutes. But that was it. I care much less now about how I look, and that makes me happy. With my life partner secured, I didn’t really feel there was a need. ‘She loves you for you,’ the more idle corners of my mind would whisper whenever I spotted an extra bit of dough had attached itself to me. ‘It’s who you are that counts’.
'While I do generally think ‘I am enough’, the mirror is also suggesting, "I am a bit too much"...'
While I do generally think ‘I am enough’, the mirror is also suggesting, ‘I am a bit too much’, and it’s best not to push the assumption that I’ll get through the next forty years of marriage on personality alone. So, I’ve downloaded an app that has former Olympic superhero Michael Johnson whispering encouraging things in my ears, like ‘Well done! You’ve been running for eight minutes! I bet you never thought you’d get that far’, which feels at once encouraging and also a little bit sarcastic.
My only real goal is to not get out of breath climbing the stairs, and to keep her keen. Nothing that gets me so firm that it looks like I’m about to start a secret Tinder account, but also not letting myself get so lardy that missionary becomes an undignified fight for air.
Because the mirror doesn’t lie, even if we might lie to each other a bit, saying encouraging things in the way that couples do, like, ‘You look great!’ or ‘Really? Two kilos? I hadn’t noticed. Are you sure the scales work?’
Because she has changed too, of course. After two kids, there’s a tiny bit more of everything, which in many areas is good news. But these are things that are generally best left unsaid (until you’re asked to for national magazine, of course).
Anna is a presenter on Heart radio. Tune in every Sunday at 10pm where she talks sex, relationships and issues from the past week. You can also download the podcast Ellie & Anna Have Issues.
Marie Claire Newsletter
Celebrity news, beauty, fashion advice, and fascinating features, delivered straight to your inbox!
Billie Eilish asks people to 'leave her alone' after questions about her sexuality
"Why can’t we just exist?"
By Lauren Hughes
Taylor Swift hints that this fan favourite song isn't actually about Joe Alwyn
This is very enlightening
By Lauren Hughes
All the key moments from the Fashion Awards 2023
See all the best red carpet looks
By Penny Goldstone