People like to talk about growth, and how life-changing new experiences can be. We preach the goodness of looking towards the future, and how the past is behind us. We all want to think that we value these learning experiences, and welcome them. Don’t get me wrong- these are all important ideas to value, and in many cases it is easier to look forward than back. But when it comes down to it, change is hard for most people, especially when that change is related to our most valuable possession – our bodies. We hold a picture in our minds of how we should look; based either on an idea or a past season of life. For many, this correlates to a size, weight, measurement, or another number. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we all want to be smaller, thinner or weigh less. It could mean we want to bulk up, gain muscle, or weigh more. But for whatever reason, how we look does not line up with how we feel about ourselves. There is often a nagging feeling that “if only” we could change something, or go back to the way we once were, we would be happier.
There is a special place in this hell of a landscape for mothers. Body image is a dangerous term. I would argue that for many, it may be one of the most emotionally charged terms in the English language. It is tied so tightly to so much more than just how we see ourselves. The mental ramifications of studying our bodies can be damning. The obsessing, seeing flaws, and urge to fix things is a slippery slope. As mothers in particular, society does us no favours. The same body that is praised for growing and bringing life into the world is quickly frowned upon for not “bouncing back” fast enough. We attach descriptives like glowing, radiant and healthy to pregnant bodies, and then turn around and call those same, postpartum bodies tired, flabby, and untoned.
The moment mothers give birth, the race is on to erase the stretch marks, tighten the love handles, and tone the core. Celebrities who leave the hospital looking runway-ready, or grace the cover of magazines in bikinis a mere months after giving birth, do us all a huge disservice. We look to how our bodies were before babies and yearn for those back, as if all it took was a time machine. We don’t relish the beauty and miracle that same body has given us.
In the spirit of transparency, I am equally guilty of this. I often think back to my pre-pregnancy body, and equate it with a number on the scale and a size of jeans. For a long time, I hid my stretch marks, even from myself. The body that grew two humans was not what I wanted it to be. Why is it I was able to carry two wonderful, healthy babies to term, and still judge the body that made it possible? Even to this day, I struggle with loving my outer shell. I have worn one-piece bathing suits since I was pregnant nine years ago, only bought a bikini last year… and I still don’t feel 100% confident in it. It is a journey and gets easier or harder depending on the season I am in. Anyone who says that social media, advertisements and popular culture have zero effect on them is in denial. Those people may have a stronger inner voice than others, but the messages (subliminal and overt) are constantly thrown at us. I have recently begun following several body-conscious influencers on Instagram to help inform my mindset. If you are looking for some, Sarah Nicole Landry (aka The Bird’s Papaya) is a great start. I feel fortunate that these women are making their voices heard, and have been embraced by others. There hasn’t always been a place for these stories, but they are slowly becoming louder and louder.
So why do we hold on to these ideals? These past images of ourselves? Keep clothes in our closet so we can wear them again eventually? Or perseverate on unrealistic goals that will somehow determine our self-worth? It is a unique form of torture we keep only for our deepest, darkest moments. Why is it so easy to preach self-love and self-care, but so difficult to exercise them? We tell each other to treat ourselves with grace and patience, yet it is so difficult to take our own advice. Society simultaneously tells women to be perfect versions of themselves, but also to take care of themselves and not worry about what others think. For my part, I have to commend Hubby for having my back. He often tells me to shake off the negative self-thoughts. There is a stark contrast between these polarizing ideas, and it is so difficult to meet somewhere in the middle. It would be so much easier to just say “screw it” and live for ourselves and not for others. It is just easier said than done.
Having a daughter has changed my outlook, though. With diet culture and social media barbies running rampant, I am acutely aware of the messages she is receiving. I know that as she grows, she will [continue to] be bombarded with print and television media ideas of what she should look like. I just don’t want those messages to come from me, too. I have always been conscious to not comment on my weight in front of her. That is a private conversation I have inside my head, or with Hubby when I’m feeling extra sensitive. Those are my demons that I battle on my own time. J sees me exercising and hears me talking about eating healthy, but we always frame the conversation about how it is to keep our minds healthy and feel good about ourselves. We talk about makeup, and how I wear it for myself, and not to look beautiful for others. I stress the importance of doing things for ourselves to boost our positive vibrations, and not as a result of others’ judgements. The other day she commented on my stretch marks, and I told her we should come up with a magic word for them because they magically appeared when she was born. Did I believe it when I said it? Honestly not even for a hot second. But I wanted to try to be positive about it. I want her to love her body, and talk positively of herself, even if I am still learning how to do so. Of all the things I want to pass on to my daughter, negative body image is definitely not one of them.
This is life. Love, Mom.