Sick of “body after baby” stories about celebrities–but dismayed by changes in your own post-baby body? Here’s some important advice for self-love.
Are you sick of celebrity “body after baby” stories? I am. They’re unrealistic and unfair–and they do nothing to help women at a time when self-love is especially critical. But the truth is, many of us struggle with the changes our bodies go through after pregnancy. So how can you deal with those feelings in a healthy way? I asked Rebecca Scritchfield, author of Body Kindness, to share her wisdom. If you want a free copy of Rebecca’s book, consider participating in her research study about body image in women from pregnancy through five years postpartum. Find out more at the bottom of this post. And anyone can join her free Summer Scale Smash Challenge.
By Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, EP-C
When we’re pregnant, we’re told that we have a beautiful pregnancy glow–only to turn around and be gobsmacked by story after story of celebrities whose bodies miraculously “bounced back” after baby.
It used to be that women were given at least some body grace period. But these days, the message is clear: If you can’t get your pre-baby body back in 6 weeks, there’s definitely something wrong with you. We’re supposed to be in bikinis by the time we’re barely out of ice diapers. It’s not fair.
I did a quick Google search on “postpartum body image” and the headlines read as if it’s absolutely normal for women to be suffering from post-baby body hatred:
- “How moms face their body image postpartum.”
- “The uncomfortable truth about your post baby body.”
- “How I’m learning to love my post baby body.”
This ridiculous pressure to force a body that’s supposed to be healing into submission is rooted in societal expectations of women. The message we get is that our value is in our appearance–and that we should be using all of our resources to achieve the ideal that society says makes us good, powerful, and lovable people.
I’m calling B.S. on all of it.
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At a crucial time for mom and baby well-being, we should not be wasting valuable mental energy on self-loathing. We should be putting our effort into shoring up our self-compassion for the bajillion times we’ll inevitably tell ourselves that we’re messing up as parents and not doing anything good enough. (Because we all know we do that!)
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Reclaiming a pre-baby body is about just as real as field of unicorns – a magical figment of imagination.
Pregnancy is one of the rare times in life when it’s biologically beneficial for fat cells to divide. After all, you’re supporting two lives. Though they may shrink, fat cells don’t go away. Many women’s bodies, like mine did, hold on to fat throughout nursing. Even when you’re a year or more postpartum, it doesn’t mean you should look like you did before you got pregnant. The truth is that all bodies change over time, whether you have babies or not!
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Knowing this, what should we do? It’s important to figure out how we’re going to care for ourselves and grow resilient to these unacceptable messages that our worth should be tied up in our weight.
Appreciate or Accept Yourself
Certainly pregnancy does create body changes. Those are things that should be appreciated and valued and not used as a weapon to limit our worthiness. Reframe your thoughts toward body appreciation when you notice criticism pop up. Or, how about acceptance? Even if you can’t find something you appreciate about your body, can you accept that it just is, releasing the judgment of good or bad? Let me be clear: Acceptance is not apathy. You are not giving up when you accept what is. You can still care about making important changes to your eating and exercise habits, how you cope with stress, or any other change that is important to you.
Compassion Over Comparison
Resist the urge to compare your body to anyone else. It’s a human tendency to “compare and despair” as a way of assessing your self-worth. We can’t help that we do it, but we can control our response. Instead of body bashing yourself, just notice the comparison and give yourself a little mental hug, like you would your kids, letting them know you care. Say “It’s ok to be hurting about this, you are worthy and loved as you are.” This gentle response practically ensures that you will be in a better mindset to consider whatever self-care practices you can manage that moment: a drink of water, sleep, a balanced meal, a quick workout, a hot shower, or a good book.
Your Anger is Valid
Get mad. Go ahead and be angry, but make sure it’s positioned at the right culprit: the culture, not you! There is no such thing as a “bad” or “wrong” body. So what if you have more fat cells or cellulite after kids? Is that really the most important thing in life–or do you appreciate kindness and connection? How do you value being a mother, partner, friend? And how much does body shame interfere with your ability to truly be present and enjoy the moments of happiness you deserve to have? Is it worth it?
Make a Manifesto
I love writing down affirmations and intentions because they help me get through rough spots. Here’s a few to get you started. Add your own.
- All bodies are good bodies (yes all bodies).
- My body is worthy just for being born and for everything it’s done for me since then.
- I respect my body exactly as it is right now even if I wish it would change.
- I am fully committed to taking good care of my body as it is right now.
- My well-being matters to me more then weight, shape, appearance, and pants size. What do I need right now for my well-being?
- I will notice my negative thoughts and feelings, especially when I compare myself to others.
- I will treat myself with kindness – the way I hope my children will care for themselves when they are my age – even when it’s difficult.
- I have permission to have a bad body moment, day, or week without it being a judgment on how good I’m doing at body acceptance. I’m human.
Becoming a parent changes us, physically and mentally, forever. We will all do better when we embrace this new normal and reject unhelpful demands directed at our bodies. We deserve better.
If you’re either pregnant or up to five years postpartum (and a U.S. resident), consider participating in Rebecca’s research on body image. Now through the end of August, you’ll get a free copy of her book Body Kindness to read and a survey to complete. After finishing the survey, you’ll get a free e-kit she created called Body Kindness After Baby with resources and a video with practical, compassionate advice. Learn more here.
Rebecca Scritchfield is an award winning “health at every size” dietitian and exercise physiologist. She’s author of the book Body Kindness and host of the Body Kindness podcast. She provides one-on-one counseling, virtual support groups, workshops, e-courses, and more.