Before the latest generation of body-positive photographers, models, and brave moms on social media decided to openly challenge what it means to be beautiful, I'd never seen a real postpartum body aside from my own mother's. I don't think I've ever seen a single stretch mark in a magazine ad and I've definitely never seen a roll of loose skin or a less-than-perky breast lovingly touched in a on-screen love or sex scene (as opposed to being the butt of a joke). If you're struggling to love your postpartum body you're not alone, and you're definitely not a bad mom because of it. After all, your postpartum body is probably the first real postpartum body you've ever seen.
As someone who doesn't want to pass on this particular struggle, I definitely do my best to always model body positivity for my kids. I don’t say negative things about myself in their presence and I try to focus on what makes me feel my best, not what makes me look a certain way, when discussing my body around them in general. Because I've tried to build a body-positive home, I don't own a scale, I don't diet, and I don't vocally obsess about my shape.
But while I feel much better about what I see in the mirror than I did in the days and weeks immediately after giving birth, I definitely still struggle to feel great about all the little "souvenirs" pregnancy left behind. After all, all of the body positive images and messages I've seen in the past three or so years are up against three decades of hearing and seeing the exact opposite, and being praised for looking quite different from how I do now (under my clothes, anyhow).
There are times when I internally start to beat myself up over caring how I look at all, because I know that there is so much more to who I am than what I look like, and I feel like someone with my feminist credentials should "know better." But then I remember that I'm not obligated to be perfect, which is what I would have to be in order to magically delete three decades of social conditioning from my mind and at my will. If you're feeling something similar, or worrying that you're somehow less of a mom because you're less than 100% thrilled with everything (physical or otherwise!) that's come of your choice to have a baby, know that you're in the very good company of plenty of other very good moms.
You’re More Than Your Body
There is so much more to who you are than what you look like and the body you live in. You have a heart, a mind, various talents, and so many other things that you contribute to your children's lives and the lives of everyone else around you. It is hard to deal with feeling like your body is a totally new place that you're just not that into right now, but that doesn't mean that you're doing anything wrong, or that your kids are worse off for it.
It’s Hard To Overcome A Lifetime Of Negative Conditioning
It would be fantastic if we'd all grown up with the body positive parents we're trying to be, in a society that is as body-positive as many of us would like to make it.
But we didn't.
We grew up, and are still growing up, in a world that teaches us that there is a very narrow (literally and figuratively) way to be a beautiful woman, and most of our postpartum figures don't fit that mold. Being able to completely wipe our brains of that toxic messaging would be nothing short of a miracle. You've already performed at least one miracle (by making and birthing the kid or kids that changed your body) so you don't have to perform any more miracles for a little while.
It Takes Time To Adjust To Major Changes
Hopefully, there will come a day when you are fully healed and at peace with your new shape, lines, or whatever else is part of your postpartum physical reality. But depending on your own history, how much you've changed, and so many other factors totally unique to you, it'll probably take a while. That's OK. It's totally normal and human to take your time, and the time it takes has no bearing on how you feel about, or how you parent, your kid(s).
Your Feelings About Your Body Have Nothing To Do With Your Kids...
What kind of mom you are depends entirely on how you treat your kids. How you provide for them, love them, teach them, show them respect, and so forth, are about what's in your heart and mind. Just like what you look like doesn't define the core of what kind of person you are, how you feel about what you look like doesn't define who you are as a mom, either.
...Or Your Worthiness As A Mom
You don't have to look a certain way to be a great mom, nor do you have to feel a certain way about how you look to be a great mom. You don't have to be the picture perfect model, but you also don't have to be the emotionally perfect body positive role model in order to be worthy. Indeed, being real about your own struggle to make peace with your body, while not disparaging yourself as a person, is part of embodying body positivity.
You Don’t Have To Be Any Kind Of Perfect To Be A Great Mom...
Perfection in any form is impossible. We're all flawed humans (even the models, celebrities, and uber-moms we are compared to, or whom we try to resist comparing ourselves to).
...And Showing Your Kids You Are Imperfect Can Be Beneficial To Them
Our kids often idealize us, no matter how ordinary we are in reality. Showing them that we have flaws, that we struggle to embrace those flaws, but that we are still worthwhile people, can help them learn that it's OK for them to be imperfect, too.
Navigating Imperfection Sets A Good Example
Because our kids are just as human as we are, they'll never be perfect, either. Modeling what it looks like to know we are imperfect yet know we are worthy, too, teaches them how to strike that balance for themselves. That kind of grace —- the grace to own both your imperfections and your inherent worth and dignity — is critical to living an authentic, satisfying life, and is one of the most important lessons we can teach them.