Real talk: it sucks to feel like a stranger in your own skin. It sucks to not recognize your own body, especially when that new form is so far from what you've been taught your whole life is "beautiful." For many new moms, myself included, overcoming negative messages about your postpartum body is one of the hardest parts of adjusting to motherhood, even if we didn't necessarily struggle with body image before or during pregnancy. One of the worst, most insidious things about the oppressive beauty standards we've all grown up with is the way we internalize those messages. As a result of toxic conditioning, we end up saying terrible things to ourselves about our postpartum bodies; things we'd probably never tolerate someone else saying to us or someone else we cared about.
If you're wondering if this is a problem for you, try a little thought exercise. The next time you're looking at yourself in the mirror, ask yourself how you'd respond if someone walked up to your best friend in a bar and said to them what you're saying to yourself. If, in that hypothetical context, your self-talk all of a sudden sounds like fightin' words, please go easy on yourself. You deserve better than to go through life with a little voice in your head that berates you all day, every day.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: struggling with postpartum body image doesn't make you a bad person, a bad feminist, or a bad mom. It's a normal thing, unfortunately, in a society that tells women that how beautiful we are is the most important thing about us, and that there's only a few specific ways to be considered beautiful. If you're looking for a place to start on your path to self-acceptance, quieting the following borderline abusive messages you're sending yourself could be a great place to start.
Because we so rarely see images of what real people — let alone ordinary postpartum moms — look like without clothes, shapewear, makeup, retouching, and so forth, all the new lines, creases, scars, and other hallmarks of many postpartum bodies can seem "gross." But often what we're seeing is just part of the human condition, and we should try not to beat ourselves up over being human.
Expressing disgust toward yourself every time you see yourself is a really harsh way to live. It's just plain unhealthy for your mental and emotional well-being to repeatedly put yourself down in such a fundamental way. Hopefully, you'd never tolerate that from another person, so please don't do it to yourself.
Our postpartum bodies can be a really jarring change from our pregnant form, and it's easy to feel like your body is ruined, especially if you had a traumatic birth experience. But you survived one of the most incredible things a human can ever do, and likely made a miracle in the process. You may feel like anything but your normal self, but you are hardly "ruined."
“I'd Like Myself So Much Better If [That] Looked Different…”
Like I said, it's totally normal to wish this part or that part looked differently than it did. It's better to move toward making peace with what you actually look like, but it's definitely normal to struggle. Still, there's a difference between wishing some part of you were a little different, and liking or loving your entire self less because of what you look like.
“Nobody Wants To See That”
Shaming ourselves to the point that we hide in our clothes — or in our homes — isn't healthy. Of course we shouldn't show off more than we're comfortable with, but we shouldn't feel so ashamed that we feel like we need to try to make ourselves disappear, either.
“I Hate [This Part]”
We all have parts of ourselves that we wish were a little (or a lot) different. But when we go from wishing something were different to hating part of ourselves, that's not good. Again, picture that other person: if you'd tell someone else off for saying it to you (or someone else), please don't say it to yourself.
“When I [Lose Weight/Change Physically], Then I Can…”
There's nothing wrong with wanting to feel your best. However, when you start postponing your life until after you meet an aesthetic goal, that's problematic. It's like holding yourself hostage until you meet a goal that might not happen. What you look like really shouldn't determine whether you get to live your life to the fullest.
“I Want [X Food Or Treat] But I Don't Deserve It”
Food should be about sustaining and enjoying yourself. Telling yourself you don't deserve things that make you happy really isn't a great way to treat yourself. Now, if you know certain things that taste good to you will make you feel bad afterward, don't eat them because they're not good for your body. But don't deny yourself foods you enjoy as punishment, or because you fear what they might make you look like. If you eat well overall, an occasional indulgence is not going to undo that.
“I Ate [X] So I Need To Exercise To Pay For It”
Exercise should feel good (even if it's challenging), and should be about making yourself feel good. Exercising to punish yourself is not healthy, no matter how beneficial the physical activity might be, because it's undermining your mental health. When you work out, work out because you truly enjoy the experience and the long-term benefits, not as penance for daring to eat.
If you lived with someone who openly expressed contempt toward you every time they saw you, you'd feel like crap all the time (and your friends and family would probably be planning an intervention to beg you to cut that person from your life). Constantly expressing self-contempt every time you catch your reflection really isn't much better. Try to find something positive to say about yourself each time, to balance this out and eventually silence it.