Let’s talk about motherhood bodies. It’s summer. It’s Las Vegas. Which means less clothes and more skin. That may cause negative self-consciousness about body image for women who are pregnant or postpartum.
Body image describes the subjective opinion and judgments you hold true about your appearance. This mental image of one’s own body can differ greatly from the image that others see. As women, we tend to be hypercritical of ourselves and notice changes that our loved ones and friends would not notice. Experts describe body image as a complex experience encompassing a person’s emotional attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions.
Body image can be shaped by the way we think, our self-esteem and the past experiences in our lives. A history of a parent constantly criticizing your weight as a child, being the only one in the family that looked “different” or being picked on in high school for not wearing trendy clothing, can lead to misperceptions about body image.
Culture, society, and media also play a huge role in how we think about our bodies and our expectations of perfection. Social media shows women the highlight reel of the lucky few who “don’t even look pregnant” at 38 weeks and the new mom holding her 6-week-old and showing off her six-pack. Many postpartum moms report confusion as the societal expectations change so drastically from pregnancy to postpartum. One minute they are celebrated for their baby bump and the next minute they’re expected to be back in their pre-pregnancy clothes.
“Getting Your Body Back”
We’re constantly bombarded with new weight-loss trends and systems and the messaging that “getting your body back” is easy in 8 minutes per day. There is a constant focus in the postpartum period to go backwards, to return to something that once was, a size that once was, an identity that once was. The transition to motherhood is difficult on the body and the mind and many women struggle with the pressure to return to their old selves in body and mind, but it is impossible. Your body performed an amazing feat. It grew, nourished, and birthed a human baby and in the process, you were reborn a mother.
Your body and your mind can never return to “before” because the changes have been too significant and are permanent. Your identity as a mom changes everything for the rest of your life and even if you were to get back to the same weight as before you were pregnant or fit in the pre-pregnancy jeans, there is still a difference in your body that cannot be changed. The stretch marks, sagging breasts, and loose skin serve as reminders of the magic your body performed to bring your precious child earthside.
Have Compassion for Yourself
In a society that already lacks social supports for new moms, this idea is unrealistic and damaging. Have compassion for yourself. Be gentle with your body as you go through this identity transition. As the weather heats up and the invites for pool parties and beach days roll in, remember that you are not alone. Many women have dealt with the same concerns and struggles you are facing about your body. Remember that your body and mind have gone through a profound change and feeling unsteady and unsure is normal at first. Remember that help is available in the form of friends to chat with, therapists to confide in, and doctors to support you. Self-acceptance is the goal and your path to achieve it is yours to determine.
Ways to Achieve Self-Acceptance
1. Ditch the Scale
You can even ask your provider to weigh you backwards and not report your weight out loud.
2. No More Negative Talk
That goes for in your head, or out loud. Don’t say to yourself anything you wouldn’t say to your child about their weight or appearance.
3. Mourn & Accept the Loss
Accepting that the old identity and body might not return and begin the process of building a new identity to go with your body.
4. Be Present
Don’t let your feelings about your body keep you from enjoying life. Don’t miss out on experiences because of your body image. Your family loves you no matter your size or imperfections.
5. Seek Connection
Connect with other moms. Connect with your partner in a new way. Talk about your thoughts and struggles.
6. Stop Scrolling
Social media is the thief of joy. Don’t allow yourself to feel worse by seeing posts from friends or celebrities boasting about pregnancy or postpartum weight.
7. Change Your Thinking
Honor your body and the magic that it accomplished by bringing your baby into the world.
8. Control What You Can
Focus on health and not weight. Focus on loving yourself and your body and practicing self-care.
9. Be Comfortable
In pregnancy, always size up before clothes feel tight. Invest in clothes you feel comfortable in. Don’t try on pre-pregnancy jeans and torture yourself. Stick with clothes that fit and when they feel loose, you will know you have lost weight.
10. Ask for Help
Help and support are available. Therapists commonly work with body image in pregnant and postpartum women. Body image struggles can lead to disordered eating, perinatal mental health complications, and relational issues.