*This piece contains information about my personal experience with a negative body image and can be triggering. No advice in this piece should replace recommendations from a medical professional.
My distorted body image began at a young age. I’ll never forget whipping out a workout DVD in 5th grade, thinking to myself this is my golden ticket to being beautiful: losing weight. When I see photos of myself at that age, I’m shocked by how thin I was compared to what I remember seeing in the mirror. I wasn’t skin and bones by any means, but certainly a healthy 10-year-old with slowly widening hips, growing shoulders, and full cheeks. Nothing to be concerned about, much less to focus on “losing.” The next year I began a pre-professional ballet track at a local Russian academy. Needless to say, this didn’t exactly improve how I viewed my developing curves and the strong legs I was born with.
Fast forward to middle school, high school, college, and early 20’s where my barometer for weighing my self-worth was heavily influenced by my weight…until I became pregnant with our son.
For the first time in my life I was at peace with my body, no matter what it looked like. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still have days during those 9 months where I didn’t feel my sexiest, but my gratitude for being able to carry life outweighed any negative thoughts that popped up. I was growing our first child and let go of restricting my intake, overexercising, and trying to squeeze into pants that I’d outgrown years prior.
Between pregnancy and the raw, sleep-deprived postpartum months, I relied on a handful of strategies to keep my mind right when it wandered toward harmful (and all too familiar) dialogue about my body.
How I honor and appreciate my body as a mom
These 7 tips helped me through my first pregnancy and journey as a new mom, and continue to carry me through as I prepare for my second baby.
Fact check: your body is incredible
You’re looking in the mirror after a shower. Slipping into a swimsuit for a beach day. Or shimmying into pants that you swear fit last week!. Whether you’re expecting, are a new mom, or have little ones a few years old, remembering the work your body does on a daily basis is powerful. When unwanted thoughts creep up, flip through the Rolodex of reasons your body is amazing.
You grew and carried a baby, often for close to 9 whole months.
Or maybe you adopted the missing piece to your family’s puzzle and still spend endless hours carrying, hugging, and wrestling your child.
You fed your baby for hours on end, at all times of day and night.
Or maybe you spend endless hours on your feet preparing mac and cheese, pancakes, and their favorite tasty snacks.
Every journey looks different, but there’s one constant amongst moms and that’s this: you and your body are a force to be reckoned with. When you feel like you can’t physically give anymore, remember you’re stronger than you think. That strength is invaluable, and no number on a scale or sewn into a piece of clothing dictates your worth.
Don’t try taking control in the chaos
A crying baby, major changes to your body — or maybe changes aren’t happening “quickly enough” after delivery — a messy house, a sink filled with dishes at all times. It’s easy to feel like things are out of control when you’re a mother of little ones. I rode my fair share of postpartum emotional rollercoasters, and some days I still find myself desperately searching for the EXIT sign so I can get off the ride. In these moments, it’s easy to grasp for control over just about anything.
When life feels overwhelming, avoid turning to your body for a form of control. Instead of limiting your input or overdoing your exercise output to control the size and shape of your body, how about pausing? Yes, just stopping.
Give yourself a moment to think. What is it that has you on edge? Write it down. If it’s the dust bunnies constantly rolling by your feet or managing your kids’ busy drop-offs, pickups, and everything attached to their jam-packed schedules, identify the stressors.
Is there a way you can outsource getting the house cleaned once a month?
Can you and Jake’s mom alternate taking the kids to practice so you each get a few hours back once a week?
Would your mom or friend come over to watch your newborn so you can shower, turn on good tunes, and light your favorite candle?
Even if there aren’t any immediate supports that come to mind, take the much-deserved break. Acknowledging what’s causing your head to spin can be the first step to finding relief, even if it’s temporary. It’s a good gut check that your body is not the enemy and instead might be screaming at you to take a momentary time out. Remember: you deserve the pause no matter what.
Clothes are made to fit you…not the other way around. Treat yourself to new pieces that make you feel (and look) good. There’s nothing wrong with keeping an old fave top in your closet because you know your body is still changing and it may fit in a few months. But, if it’s multiple sizes too small and is a “goal” piece – aka something you want to *transform* your body to fit into – now’s a good time to invest in clothes that highlight your body’s beauty as opposed to hanging onto pieces that require changing your body to wear.
Months after my first son was born, I went through clothes I’d held onto for way too long. Finally parting ways with old denim that surely wouldn’t fit my now wider hips felt liberating, and exciting, and gave me peace of mind.
Don’t get me wrong. I would’ve loved to wear my favorite distressed jeans just a few more times, but accepting that my body’s shape had changed actually made me feel more confident. I no longer opened my pant drawer and saw a cute style I longed to wear but couldn’t because “I was too big.” My body had delivered our greatest miracle, and I was genuinely happy with my new figure. Yes, it was broader from my ribs to my hips. It was also stronger than ever before and absolutely amazing. Now my dresser is filled with clothes that fit me and make me feel cute, not cute clothes that make me feel bad about myself.
Pro tip: Old Navy has killer denim at the right price. One of my girlfriends recommended their jeans to me postpartum, and I loved the fit variety. It made it incredibly easy to find flattering (and chic) styles.
“I love you because…”
When your little ones are old enough, share what you love about one another. There’s nothing better than feeling adored by someone you love, and I can only imagine what my son’s words will do to me when he’s able to express them. Until then, I rely heavily on hugs, snuggles, and loads of kisses when I’m having a rough day…and when I’m not.
If your child is a newborn, infant, or toddler, telling them what you love about them out loud can still be a wonderful exercise. Looking at them and expressing your love is a reminder not only of the miracle that they are, but it takes the focus away from far-fetched physical standards that impact moms. Talk about your little one’s sweet smile. Their contagious laugh. The way they wrap their fingers around yours. Focus on the good. There’s a lot of it.
If your child is older, you can create a fun “Self-Love Jar” where the whole family writes what they love about themselves and one another each week. Read them aloud at the dinner table to share your gushy feelings about how awesome each of you is! This idea can also manifest in a cheer that you and your little ones recite, emphasizing support, love, and encouragement Take Lindsay Gurk’s viral chant lead if you need inspiration.
Strength in numbers
Finding your mom community is key when navigating life as a parent. Call, FaceTime, or text a girlfriend if you’re struggling in any capacity. Lean on them for advice, a pick me up, or a good laugh. Chances are whatever you’re up against, they are in some capacity, too. Connecting with a loved one or group that makes you feel understood can alleviate feeling isolated, and in turn shift the focus from feeling down on yourself and your body toward feeling supported and empowered.
I’ve found solace in listening to podcasts, Audible books, and even Instagram stories of moms navigating their body’s changes. Everything from listening to women openly talk about the discomfort of growing larger to postpartum exercises that pique my interest is a near-constant reminder that I’m never on this journey alone. Resources abound, and you just have to find what ways of connecting or consuming content work best for you.
Pro tip: Two of my fave mom community IG accounts are Karrie Locher and Big Little Feelings. Their content is incredibly helpful, makes me laugh, and definitely drives home the universality of the motherhood grind.
…And strength training
If you’re a product of the early 2000’s crash diet and cardio culture like myself, strength training programs for women is a fairly new concept that’s only been adopted widely in the last few years. And I have to say, I’ve never felt sexier than when I feel strong (not *skinny*).
No, I haven’t taken to heavy-hitting gym machines or racking up major squat bar reps, yet. But, I have increased the weight I use when I work out, and I tote around my 30-pound toddler all day which has done two major things for my body and my mind.
First, it’s given my body a beautiful shape and tone, one I’ve never had since I used to actively avoid weights for fear that they would make me “bulky.” Excessive cardio never did what I thought it would do, which is exactly what strength training has given me quickly: definition.
Second, it strengthened my mind. Every time I’ve felt like I couldn’t lift my son one more time, take him on one more walk in the carrier, or lift the unpacked junk box that has been sitting in my bedroom for months, I could…and I did. Overcoming each step quite literally strengthened my body and made it easier to keep going when I thought I had reached my limit.
This isn’t to promote overdoing or consistently pushing yourself. Remember taking that pause we talked about? But, as all moms know, this job certainly isn’t a 9-5. So, knowing in your heart that you can push through when needed is a reason to celebrate your strength, inside and out.
Did someone say self-care?
It sounds simple, but here’s your reminder that when your inner dialogue about your body is going in the wrong direction, take time to give yourself extra TLC.
Book a massage where the only thing you can hear for 60 minutes is the soothing sound of spa music. Pro tip: If you’re on a budget, look for deals in your area at massage schools where graduating students’ rates are deeply discounted!
Schedule a mani-pedi with your bestie and catch up on the latest episode of The Kardashians, what it was like trying to serve your little one food on the blue plate (not the green one!?!?!), or go solo and listen to your fave podcast. Or, buy that new nail polish you’ve been eyeing and do a DIY mani-pedi at home.
Whether you opt for a facial or face mask, carve out time for self-care. Your body and mind deserve it!
We’re human, and not every day is the same. I hope even one of these strategies helps you along your journey in motherhood, even if simply reading this piece serves as a reminder that you’re worthy, strong, and beautiful exactly as you are!