I was never one to be particularly experimental with my fashion choices, and that only became more true after welcoming my first child three months ago — unless you count "how many different shirts can I match with these running pants?" as experimental. But I realized something needed to change when I wore a form-fitting, low-cut bridesmaid dress at my friend's wedding and I felt totally positive about my body. I wasn't just someone who works from home and rarely has reason to put on "real" clothes. I wasn't just a mom who can't be held responsible for the spit-up on her shirt. I am a young woman, a partner, and someone who occasionally enjoys challenging traditional views of how someone should look. To jumpstart a change, I wore clothes postpartum women "shouldn't wear" for a week straight — and was pleasantly surprised that neither I nor the general populace seemed to care about those outdated rules.
The picture of what a woman is "supposed" to look like postpartum is complicated. On one hand, postpartum women are often made to feel guilty if we aren't able to lose the baby weight overnight, like celebrities apparently do all the time — with help from trainers, nutritionists, and highly skilled Photoshop professionals. Then again, whenever certain women in the public eye post revealing pictures, they're criticized for not dressing appropriately. (Backlash to Kim Kardashian's risqué photos comes to mind.)
Becoming a mother added an element to who I am as a woman, but it didn't define me. So why should it make me take things away from my wardrobe? Although I'm not always comfortable in my skin, I fought hard to feel good about myself after recovering from an eating disorder. Sure, the weight has settled differently now that I've given birth, but I've learned the pursuit of a perfect body is pointless — especially when I have someone much more worthy of my attention to concentrate on.
On the occasions I've made an effort to dress up since my child was born, I gravitated toward the clothes that are "best" for the postpartum body. Some of the picks are practical, such as the shirts that allow easy access to the boob for nursing on-the-go. But the shapeless shirts intended to conceal a tummy only made me feel more self-conscious about my seemingly shapeless figure. What I gained in comfort, I felt I lost in confidence.
Throughout the course of a week, I challenged myself by revisiting some of the more revealing or bold items in my closet. Then I went about my day, often with my son in tow. Here's what happened.
Day 1: Red Skinny Jeans
I eased into the challenge with the outfit that was the closest to my comfort zone: My go-to boots, a comfy sweater, and some red skinny jeans. I actually purchased these jeggings back when I was pregnant with big plans to wear them afterward because, duh, they're comfortable. I just hadn’t been to do it yet — they were a bit too skinny and bold for my taste.
I finally decided to go for it when my husband, son, and I were meeting up with friends at a brewery. When I put them on and walked out of the room, my husband’s first reaction was, “Hot mama.” Between that and the effort that I actually put into my hair and makeup, I felt pretty confident with the look.
After about two seconds of hesitation, I realized how ridiculous it would be to let personal insecurities stop me from doing something I was otherwise looking forward to.
I felt even more validated by my outfit choice when we got to the brewery and my friend — another new mom — was wearing a nearly identical ensemble. (Crisis was averted, though: Her pants were another color.) I also came to love the legging part of the jeggings as I had a beer and some queso-smothered fries. These are definitely going in the rotation.
Day 2: Low-Cut Top
I’m self-conscious about my large bust when I’m not breastfeeding, so I’ve gravitated toward even more modest or minimizing shirts these past few months. The problem is, those are pretty hard to come by when even a normal shirt looks low-cut because of my crazy lactation cleavage. But, for the sake of pushing my comfort zone, I let a nice, v-neck shirt in the back of my closet see the light of day for a trip to my favorite coffee shop.
As I was leaving the house, I felt pretty good. I like this shirt! It makes me feel fancy! Then my insecurities swept back in when I was walking into the building and realized the way I had to carry the carseat emphasized my chest more than I ever intended. By the time I got inside, my nerve had worn off a bit, so I was pleasantly surprised when no one clutched their pearls at the sight of me. Instead, I think people took one look and me, one look at my baby, and figured, “Oh, that’s where those come from.”
It was refreshing that no one said anything, but at the same time, I couldn't help but wonder if people were thinking things about what I was wearing and just didn't have the gall to say it out loud.
Day 3: Workout Crop Top
To be honest, this outfit made me pretty nervous. A crop top at a trendy restaurant? That's stylish. A bikini? That's normal. But a belly-bearing shirt while working out? That wasn't something I had done since running cross country in high school when we regularly went in just sports bras. For the sake of pushing my limits, I decided to wear a crop top normally reserved for lounging around the house for a run in some unseasonably warm weather.
When I arrived at one of my favorite trails, I immediately noticed two construction workers nearby. Putting my anxiety aside, I got out of the car and they turned toward me — and offered courteous head nods. The run then turned out to be better than normal: There were no strange reactions from the people I passed and I ran well because of how empowered I felt. Win, win.
Day 4: Bikini
I was really excited when I found a Mommy and Me play hour at a local swim school, until I thought it through and realized that meant donning a swimsuit. I don't own a one-piece and my bikini, like most, leaves little to the imagination. After about two seconds of hesitation, I realized how ridiculous it would be to let personal insecurities stop me from doing something I was otherwise looking forward to.
When I arrived to the class, I quickly realized bikinis were standard among the other moms. I soon bonded with a woman who regularly attends with her baby and, honestly, the thought about how I looked when talking with her didn't cross my mind. We were just there to have a good time with our little ones — and, let me tell you, it was one of the most enjoyable events I've done yet as a mom.
Day 5: Crop Top
Emboldened from my success so far in the experiment, I picked a neglected crop top for an afternoon of casual errands. Paired with a modest maxi skirt and total mom bun, the shirt was definitely the statement part of the outfit. Even though it revealed just a few inches of skin (especially after I pulled it down on that one side), I was nervous about pushing a stroller through the store with my stomach on display.
Rather than feeling judged for daring to wear a sexy dress, it seemed that others respected the effort.
I'll be honest: This probably isn't an outfit I will be repeating anytime soon, but I don't blame the mom-appropriate expectations for that. Although I didn't get any overly negative reactions, I was paranoid and didn't feel as comfortable as usual. There's a line between being experimental and knowing what trends just don't work for me, and this felt like one of them.
Day 6: Heels And Mini Skirt
On Friday night, my husband and I decided to go out for appetizers at a brew-pub that tends to attract a casual crowd. I took the opportunity to wear my comfy-yet-tall heels and a mini skirt that hasn't been worn in more than one year. In terms of a dressy outfit, this one was still close to my style — or, at least, it was before motherhood.
Walking in while standing more than six feet tall and carrying a baby, there was no hiding. There was also some kind of event going on, so we had to weave through a crowd to a table at the back. Still, the only reaction I got was from the mom with her kids at a nearby table who gave — what I took as — a supportive nod. More importantly, I felt confident.
Day 7: Body-Con Dress
For the grand finale, a revisited a body-con dress for a celebratory dinner date with my husband — and sleeping baby. I knew the dress had never been particularly forgiving, and I'm sure that would have been even more true if I had taken the time to dwell on my appearance before going out. But, even though I knew there were a few visible lumps and bumps, I also knew the dress made me feel fiiiine.
When we arrived to the restaurant, there was a wait for the tables. While congregating with the other diners in the entry, I noticed people were extra friendly with questions about the baby. One older gentleman even praised us for getting out to dinner. Rather than feeling judged for daring to wear a sexy dress, it seemed that others respected the effort. The outfit also reminded me why I embarked on the experiment in the first place. Just as with the bridesmaid dress, this outfit choice made me feel like so much more than a mother — which is good, because that's what I am.
What I Learned
Aren't our personal fears about what others will think almost always worse than reality? My week of going out in clothes I believed postpartum women "shouldn't" wear confirmed that's the case for me. Even as I was hyperaware about what people were doing or saying in response to my outfits, I never once got a negative reaction. Rather, my takeaway was I felt like people gave me credit for pulling together a special outfit. (Either that, or people just really dig my style!)
I'm not donating my yoga pants to Goodwill anytime soon, but the experiment inspired me to shuck my vision of what a mom "should" wear and take the time to dress up if I'm in the mood. Even if people had snickered behind my back, I know that I felt peppier, more productive, and more confident. That's what matters most, and that's what I'm going to keep doing.