Pregnancy, labor, delivery and the postpartum time period can be incredibly challenging for a woman's body image. The weight gain during pregnancy; the struggle to eat what's best for you and the baby versus the cravings; the exhaustion that leaves you unable to think clearly enough to make meals that are healthy; the unrealistic beauty expectations society holds all women to; all of these things can have an impact on how women feel about their bodies. Of course, there are things no one tells you about your body image and how it evolves, as a mother, too, which only makes maintaining a healthy body image after you've had a baby, all the more difficult.
My body image issues started when I was really young. Even as early as grade six, I would watch videos of myself through a critical lens, wondering how I could have chosen the outfit I had felt so good in that day, or wondering why no one had told me my lip gloss looked ugly, despite my big, genuine smile. Sadly, the challenges have only increased as I've gotten older and have grown two babies inside of me.
When I had my daughter, I swore up and down that I would provide her with the example she needed to see to be a strong, confident, body positive girl and young woman growing up. I was a forced to look inward and, in turn, found myself spending more time being active, happy, not really examining the minutiae of my body's "flaws," but rather simply enjoying life. Before my daughter was born, I had tried to do the same for my stepdaughter, but not having her full-time growing up meant that I was capable of constantly filtering any negative messages she may or may not have heard. In the past year, though, and since my daughter was born I've had to spend every single day reminding myself of the example I need (and want) to show my kids.
However, just because my daughter has given me a reason to be constantly and consistently body positive, doesn't mean body image and body positivity aren't constant struggle for me. It's a battle I'm willing to wage, though, to be happier with myself, and to show my children what it means to truly love your body. If you are new to this battle, here are nine things no one tells you about your body image, but I will:
It Will Change With Each Kid
Depending on the type of pregnancy you have with each baby, you'll feel differently after they're born. I was eating very differently with my first, so the weight I wanted to, personally, come off after my kid was born was minimal. I still had issues with my body, but it was relatively easy to take back the reins. The second time, I had a whole host of other challenges, including different cravings, injuries preventing exercise, and perinatal anxiety and depression. Totally different outcome. Totally different feelings associated with that outcome.
You Can Continue To Fight Against Hating Your Own Body At The Same Time You're Teaching Your Kids Body Positivity
Every day, I struggle with the weight I've gained recently. I see bulges that have never existed, and cellulite in places it's never been. I am trying desperately to love myself right now, because I know my kids will see it and absorb it and use my example as a foundation for their future relationship with their own bodies. I have to actively tell myself not to roll my eyes when I notice the fat on my belly in the mirror, because little eyes are watching. Through my struggle, I'm also talking to my kids about loving themselves which helps, to be sure, but it doesn't mean it's any easier.
Sadly, Women Of All Sizes Hate Their Bodies. Your Feelings Aren't Invalidated Due To Your Size.
I know plenty of women who weigh far less than the "average American female," and still hate how they look and struggle with body image. The media has done a fantastic job, sadly, of creating a feeling of self-loathing in most women, especially those who have just had babies and don't "lose the baby weight" (what does that even mean?) and fit into their pre-pregnancy jeans, immediately. In order to buy into their marketing of products that are espoused to "help" moms get their bodies back, new moms are told their miraculous bodies, that just did an incredible thing, are somehow flawed or lacking. Total bullsh*t.
You Don't Have To Be Skinny To Love Your Body
That's right. Women everywhere are taking back their bodies, regardless of what society tells them constitutes as "beautiful." Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, ladies and gentlemen.
The Less Time You Make For Self-Care, The Harder It Is To Love Yourself
This is the honest truth, and I wish I could sear it into every new mom's brain. Sacrificing everything that you are for your children is noble, but only when there is no other choice. If that is the case, I salute you and your strength and hope that you find the support you need in order to give yourself the self-love and self-care you deserve. For the rest of us, taking even a few minutes out of each day to do something for yourself, or an hour a week or something remotely similar, will contribute to your overall wellness.
You Might Not Always Love Your Body, Even When You're Body Positive
Just because you're body positive, and constantly working towards being body positive, doesn't mean you won't have parts of your body you don't necessarily like. Everyone has ups and downs, and body positivity is a journey, too.
Sometimes, Body Positivity Is A Choice You Have To Make Every Single Day
The days when my daughter asks me to go swimming in the lake, when I know my fit cousin or model niece will be there, make me want to crawl under the covers. However, I choose to be more than my body, especially in those moments. I choose to be an example of love and joy and strength and courage, for my daughter to see.
Your Body Image Will Impact Your Kid's Body Image, Whether You Want It To Or Not
Those little sighs you loudly let out when you pull on a top and survey the result? Yeah, your children hear those. That off-handed comment about needing to cut back on calories, so you can fit in your clothes? Your children hear that, too.
While being body positive should ultimately be a decision you make for yourself, to benefit yourself, there's no denying that your children benefit from your body positivity, too. You deserve to love yourself, there's no question about it, and your children deserve to witness and learn from that love.
Your Body Image May Be Affected By Your Mental Health
I found it so much easier to take control of how I felt about myself, after my first child. Back when things were "simple" and I was just a normal anxious mom, not the kind who completely loses her shit because, well, life. For me, depression and anxiety usually translate into eating, which obviously affects my weight and, in turn, my body image. I also know the opposite to be true, and realize that anxiety or depression causes you to stop eating, too. The lesson is: how you are feeling about yourself can be a direct result of your mental health, so be aware and look for treatment, if you need it.