What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see a beautiful, strong, courageous woman, or do you see cellulite, dark circles, stretch marks and wrinkles?
Do you hate what you see, or can you find the good qualities that outshine the flaws? Body image is an individual’s perception of her physical appearance. It is not how the world perceives your body but how you view your external self from within. Body image can be distorted by a variety of internal struggles such as early life experiences, mood, stress, fatigue, and societal “norms” to list a few. A healthy body image does not mean that you believe that your body is perfect; it means that you are comfortable with your body as it is, flaws and all. A negative body image can have deleterious effects on a woman that can range from distressing to life altering including difficulties in relationships, low self-esteem, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Pregnancy and postpartum marks a monumental transformation in a woman’s life. The changes are physical, mental and emotional. Our bodies make an incredible transition while pregnant. The miracle of life is held within our ever-growing womb. The physical changes of pregnancy are beautiful and warmly accepted. But then the baby is born and the beauty of pregnancy is gone and you are left with a deflated abdomen, loose skin and stretch marks. The culture in the United States will tell you that this body that created and held life for 10 months is no longer beautiful unless it is nipped, tucked, worked out, and dieted back into a size 0. Our perception of the postpartum body is tainted by unrealistic expectations. There is beauty in the postpartum body. There is strength, there is courage, and there is love in that beautiful body that just carried and delivered a precious new life.
Let’s have a reality check. It is EXTREMELY rare for a woman to leave the hospital after giving birth (whether it was a cesarean section or a vaginal delivery) looking like Kate Middleton. Very few of us will be able to wear their pre-pregnancy skinny jeans as their “going home outfit”. Your body has changed. Your hips are a little fuller, you have extra weight (that is not all lost immediately upon delivery) and your chest is fuller. This is what postpartum looks like and it is ok.
When the world tells you that your make up should be flawless and your hair should be on point all while fitting in to your pre-pregnancy clothes within 2 weeks after delivery, it is difficult to accept your postpartum body. How do we go about accepting our new bodies? Here are some suggestions to help in the struggle with postpartum body image:
- Speak kindly to yourself. Talk to yourself as if you were talking to your newborn. Imagine yourself as a child and speak kind and supportive words to your child self.
- Highlight the qualities you perceive as positive. If your mind starts to ruminate on negative thoughts, attempt to make a conscious switch to focus your thoughts on your positive qualities.
- Find your mom tribe. You will discover that you are not so different from all the other postpartum women out there. We all struggle with postpartum body changes.
- Get outside and move. Walking outside improves mood by increasing endorphins. Activity is not just about weight loss.
- Take a social media break. We naturally tend to compare ourselves to others. Avoid the trap of comparing yourself to women on social media. Life is always sunshine and rainbows on social media. Photographs can be deceiving.
- Let go and accept change. Give your self a break. Focus your energy on something you find enjoyable.
- Accept compliments by others graciously and believe them.
For some of us it will not be easy to accept our postpartum bodies. Acceptance may require help through therapy with a psychologist or licensed mental health counselor. A woman should seek help from their physician if body image concerns are causing eating habit changes, anxiety, depression, or thoughts of suicide.
Be kind to your self, momma. Pay close attention to your internal self-talk. Speak kindness and truth to your self. Your body is a temple, it is beautiful and it is strong. Believe this!
You got this momma!