It's painful to admit that before (and even directly after) I became a mother, I was far from body confident. In fact, I didn't think very highly of my body at all. A knee injury left me feeling like my body had failed me; unrealistic beauty expectations left me feeling like my body wasn't attractive; a sexual assault left me feeling like my body was dirty and used. It wasn't until my body brought another life into the world, and that life starting mimicking my actions, that I realized I needed to be more body confident; not just for my sake, but for the sake of my kid and the people he may or may not, one day, come in contact with.
I've watched my son run around our home proudly, his belly stuck out and arms and legs flailing wildly. I've watched him jump and stretch and throw and enjoy movements he was curiously experiencing for the first time. Then, one day, I watched him suck in his stomach and look at himself in the mirror, much like I was doing as a postpartum parent who wasn't entirely comfortable in her own body. I was stunned and embarrassed and, at that moment, hell-bent on being kinder to myself so my son would continue to be kind to himself, too. After all, my body had done something amazing; it housed and grew and birthed and sustained another human life. How could I hate something that did something so miraculous, and how could I possibly set an example of self-hate for a kid who naturally loved himself, without a second thought or misplaced sense of guilt-ridden vanity? I was determined to be the reason my son learned and nourished body confidence, not self-hate.
Perhaps it shouldn't have required motherhood, as I know plenty of women who exude body confidence without having procreated. Perhaps, as women who have been taught at devastatingly young ages to adhere to unhealthy beauty standards in order to feel a sense of value, we're all on our own, sadly necessary journey towards body confidence and self-acceptance, and mine did (unfortunately) require my son's presence. Either way, becoming a mother has a very powerful and palpable way of making you realize that you need to be more body confident. For yourself. For your kid. For a future generation that can (and I'm hoping, will) continue to evoke positive, body confident change.
You're Setting An Example For Your Kid
I knew that I'd be my son's go-to person for questions, concerns and general inquiries about, well, life. I didn't realize, however, just how much of an example I would be setting for him, on a daily basis. If I want him to love himself and accept his body for the marvelous entity that it is, I have to show him what that looks like by practicing body acceptance and body confidence every damn day.
Pregnancy Is Miraculous
I mean, if you just stop to think about or research everything a woman's body goes through when a woman chooses to become pregnant, you can't help but be absolutely amazed. It's just, well, incredible. My body's ability to grow another human life left me in awe of my form, and incapable of hating it. I just couldn't dislike something that gave me my kid; something that did something so mind-numbingly cool; something that has stretched and contracted and shrunk and changed form in such a drastic, wonderful way. My pregnancy taught me how to truly marvel at my body, not because of how it looked or was perceived by society, but because of how freakin' capable it is.
Breastfeeding Is (Or Can Be) Empowering
If you choose and/or are capable of breastfeeding, you can find yourself feeling incredible empowered (even when breastfeeding can be incredibly difficult). I, for one, loved being able to use my breasts for functionality and not sexuality, and enjoyed having an incredible body part be and do more than one thing. I (and my partner) could enjoy them as sexual entities, but I could also use my body to sustain my son for seven months; the length I was able to successfully and exclusively breastfeed. That ability just reaffirmed what my pregnancy already taught me; that my body is more (and most certainly worth more) than constant sexualization and the pleasure of the male gaze.
Your Kid Learns More From What You Do, Than What You Say...
Imitation is a vital part of how a child learns and develops and, at age 1, toddlers do what they see. So much of what you say (while still important) falls by the wayside, while what you do is studied and mimicked and engrained into their tiny sponge brains.
...And You Don't Want To Send Mixed Signals
Which is why you don't want to be sending your kid mixed signals. You don't want to tell them to love their bodies and that every body is beautiful and that they should be confident about who they are, while simultaneously talking badly about your own body or showing signs that you don't love your body or feel body confident at all. Not only will this be confusing, but chances are your kid will follow what you do, and not necessarily what you say.
Plus, Your Kid Is Always Watching You
I honestly didn't realize that my kid would always be watching me. Like, I've even started a few of my days by opening my eyes and seeing two little brown eyes staring back at me, so clearly my kid even watches me while I sleep (what a creep). I know that even when I don't think he's watching, he's watching, which means it's not enough to just "pretend" to practice body acceptance or feign the concepts when my kid is around. I need to make it a part of my life; I need to be body confident; I need to become what I hope my son will be one day become, too.
You Deserve Self-Love...
Honestly, as a human being you deserve to love yourself and your body. It doesn't matter your size, age, ethnicity, how you decided to become a mother (IVF, surrogate, scheduled c-section or sans medications); you're a human being and, as such, you have value. If we want our children to learn that every human being matters; that they matter as humans; that they are beautiful just the way they are, well, we need to lead by example.
...And You Can't Take Care Of Someone If You Don't Take Care Of Yourself First
If you don't practice self-love and self-care, I honestly believe there is no way you can adequately take care of someone else. I didn't really realize this until I had a kid. I would roll my eyes whenever someone regurgitated the over-played platitude, "You can't love someone until you love yourself first," because, well, that isn't necessarily true. I loved a lot of people before I learned to love myself, I just didn't love them as well as I could have. Now that I have a son, I realize that I need to do my best for him, which means I need to give myself the best, too.
Honestly, Because Everyone Deserves To (And Should) Be Confident In Their Own Body
Honestly, mother or no mother, you need to be body confident. You don't need (or shouldn't need) to go through pregnancy, labor and delivery in order to find some greater meaning for your body (although, like myself, it's perfectly OK if it took all of those things for you to eventually find body acceptance). You don't need to sustain another human life with your body or have someone learning from you in order to warrant loving yourself and your form. Your body doesn't need to procreate in order to be worthy of your acceptance and confidence and love. Everyone deserves to love who they are as a human being; everyone deserves to look at their body and be happy; everyone. Motherhood is just a great catalyst for realizing why body acceptance is so important, but it definitely isn't a requirement to achieving it.