The concept of body positivity teaches us that all bodies are good bodies, but that fact that can be hard to remember amidst rampant shaming of postpartum bodies. Even a simple task, like going grocery shopping, can become a battle against suffocating feelings of body shame, especially when magazines in the checkout line trumpet celebrities that “look great after baby” (read: looking exactly as they did before pregnancy) and other celebrities that have “let themselves go.” When you're face-to-face with those headlines, or when you’re standing in front of the bathroom mirror and can barely recognize the reflection facing you, reassuring words can make a world of difference. There are certain things body positive men say to their postpartum partners or, sometimes just as importantly, know not to say to their partners, that can help their family navigate this stormy time.
Of course, not all postpartum couples are heterosexual or include cisgender males, however, the majority of postpartum couples are and do. In addition to dealing with the basic challenges of sleeplessness and all of the other demands that come with the birth of a new baby, couples are simultaneously battling wildly unrealistic expectations for postpartum recovery and appearance. Unfortunately, it’s not a given that most men, socialized in a society that fundamentally doesn’t appreciate women and ignores or even denigrates the realities of what reproduction typically does to our bodies, will understand what it means to be fully supportive and respectful of their female partners after giving birth. That basic inequality in our relationships introduces a number of additional hurdles for us to overcome with regard to our sex lives and other aspects of our relationships.
As a caring person and a staunch feminist who continually worked to make my life easier and the world better, I knew long before giving birth that my partner was the right person for me. Still, the things he did for me and said to me after giving birth our son reaffirmed, for me, that I’d made the right choice of partner. His words continually reminded me that he loved and appreciated me beyond whatever superficial things men are traditionally brought up to value in their female partners. He, like other body positive men, constantly reminded me that he loved and valued me and my hardworking mama body, by saying things like:
“What Do You Need?”
Body positive partners understand that their number one job, aside from helping to care for their child, is helping their partner recover from the incredibly huge task of giving life. They also understand that anything else that might happen in their relationship depends on their partner’s physical and emotional health, so they make it their business to support successful postpartum recovery.
“You Look Amazing”
After a lifetime of messaging about how some celebrity “got her body back” after giving birth, even the most confident and body positive postpartum mama occasionally needs reassurance that her partner still finds her attractive. Body positive men make sure their partner doesn’t doubt where they stand on this question.
“I Really Love [This Specific Thing]”
Even though it’s important to remind your partner that she looks amazing, a generic “you look great,” on its own, can come across as obligatory, rather than sincere. Partners who take the time to spotlight a specific thing they appreciate about their partner’s body can really help boost their partner’s mood and affection.
“You Are Amazing”
Even more important than how we look is who we are. Taking the time to express the appropriate amount of honest-to-goodness awe for how incredible we are (and how incredible our bodies are, because they did something truly amazing) is always appreciated.
“I’m So Proud Of You”
Nearly everything in our popular culture suggests that women whose bodies have given life should be "hidden away" and kept under wraps, unless and until they can get rid of all the physical evidence that they’ve ever had a baby. It can mean the entire world to have a body positive partner who counters that type of messaging by expressing how proud he is of her; both for the amazing thing she’s done for their family, and because he’s proud to be seen with her.
“I Know It’s Not All About What I Think, But [Compliment]…”
I was especially touched the first time my husband said this to me, before complimenting something he liked about me. It’s often hard to hear a compliment when you, yourself, don’t feel worthy of it. However, in saying this, he reinforced that he recognized that my own opinion of myself is actually the most important thing for me, in addition to affirming his feelings for me. Double points in the “my partner is awesome” ledger.
“Don’t Worry About [x]. You Just Made A Person.”
It’s all well and good to affirm the beauty of your partner’s body, and to embrace the things that may well have permanently changed as a result of giving life. However, certain aspects of our postpartum body will be a constant struggle, for a while, no matter what anyone says to us about it. So, having a partner who can lovingly refocus our attention on what’s most important about our bodies (the miraculous things they can do, and survive in the case of traumatic or emergent birth situations) can be really helpful.
“Whenever You’re Ready”
Being body positive means prioritizing our overall physical, mental, and emotional well being over our bodies’ appearance or anything else our bodies might normally do. That’s why body positive (and sex positive) men understand that their partner’s comfort level is critical to the health of their relationship. They understand that being physically “OK” to have sex, or start working out again or do anything else, after giving birth is not the same as being mentally or emotionally ready, so they don’t push their agenda at the expense of their recovering partner’s well-being.
“Let’s Do [X New Thing] Together”
After taking the time they need to recover, a lot of postpartum moms will want to re-establish their food or exercise habits that may have fallen by the wayside during pregnancy and directly after giving birth. Or, of course, they may just want to rejoin the world of things that don’t revolve around their new child. Whatever it is, a good, body positive partner is there to support them to do whatever they need to feel like their fullest self.
“Thank You. I Love You”
Body positive men (and decent partners of all kinds) respect the huge physical sacrifice their partner has made for their family, and the ongoing physical challenges we incur as a result. That’s why they know it’s important to continually express their love and gratitude for what we do.