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This is something that has been on my mind for quite a while, but I needed some time to articulate my thoughts and work up the courage to share something so vulnerable. So, here it goes…
You don’t have to get your body back.
Not that I think you need my permission to love yourself just the way you are, but I hope you will read that statement and know that it truly does not matter if you ever look the same way that you did before you had children. You are not the same person you were before giving birth, so why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to look like we never had children? Why is a flat stomach and six pack abs the standard of beauty women are told day in and day out that we need to achieve?
The female standard of beauty has not always been what it is today.
A big step on my journey toward accepting my unique body came during our vacation to Italy last summer when I was six months pregnant. We visited museums all over Italy with some of the most famous art in history. I had seen photos of many of these works in books, but it wasn’t until I saw them in person that I truly saw the way the female body was being celebrated. The women in these paintings and sculptures did not have rock hard abs or chiseled calves. They were soft and round and feminine and beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that some of the most talented artists in the world felt them worthy of memorializing for someone like myself to appreciate thousands of years later. It was the first time I thought to myself that there isn’t one way women are meant to look. Society’s standards of beauty are always changing and there is no one right way to be.
And then I had my son…
I’ve had two beautiful (if I do say so, myself) baby boys. My first is now four years old and my second was delivered by c-section last September. After delivering my first son I was waaay too concerned about this concept of getting my body back. I weighed myself all the time and was so focused on seeing the same number on the scale that I had seen on the day I got my first positive pregnancy test. I’m guilty of falling into this mindset and I’m not afraid to admit that I am still a work in progress.
After delivering my second son, I remember being told that my stomach would never look the same. My first thought, of course, was “I’ll show them!” It’s pretty embarrassing to admit now that one of my main concerns after bringing a human being into the world was “getting my body back”.
That term kind of makes me cringe now because it shouldn’t be about looking a certain way. Yes, taking care of yourself after having a baby is important for your physical, mental, and emotional health, but caring for yourself and having flat abs do not necessarily go hand in hand. There is no one way stomachs are supposed to look and you are not somehow failing yourself and your family if yours does not look a certain way.
The definition in your abs does not define your health or who you are.
Your body is different now than it was before you had kids and that is okay. Do you know what else is different now? Everything. My body may never look the way it did before I had children, but my life will never look the same either, and I wouldn’t want it to. I have a long purple scar and loose, wrinkly skin. I am softer and curvier than I was before I had kids. I also eat well (I said well…not perfect) and move my body daily. Some days, exercise looks like a walk with my babies, playing in the backyard, or pulling weeds in the garden. Some days it is weightlifting, running, cycling, yoga, or core strengthening/stabilization exercises from my physical therapist. My goals no longer have anything to do with my outward appearance. I want to eat well and stay active so that I am healthy enough to play with and care for my children, go on adventures with my husband, and enjoy my life! None of that has anything to do with scars or loose skin or chiseled abs or my pant size.
I am finally learning to love my body because of what it has accomplished, what it does for me on a daily basis, and what it is capable of doing for me for years to come; not because of the way it looks. The people who care about YOU love the way YOU look. They also know that YOU are so much more than just the way YOU look. I don’t feel this way because I’ve reached my “goal weight” or my body looks a certain way or meets a certain standard, but because I’ve finally reached a place where I understand that the way I look does not define me.
We all need to give ourselves some grace.
Honestly, everything I am saying applies whether you’ve had children or not. Outward appearance has no bearing on what kind of person you are. There are infinite ways a person can look and it’s time for the pressure put on women to all look the same TO GO! I love to see women of of all shapes and sizes celebrate their bodies; abs, no abs, and everything in between.
Having goals for your health is great. Aesthetic goals, however, should never be sought out at the expense of your own health or happiness. That is a post for another day, but if your physical, mental, or emotional health is suffering because your goals don’t line up with your body’s plans for you, I hope you will take my words to heart and know that health and beauty start on the inside and are arguably more important than what you see on the outside.
How I am learning to love my body just the way it is?
The truth is, I am still a work in progress. Some of it comes with old age (haha). Some of it comes with going through other issues in my life that really put into perspective how unimportant my abs are. And it doesn’t hurt that my husband is pretty vocal about how he loves my body now more than ever. There is no magical land of body acceptance. It is something you have to work on daily. I think it gets easier with time. What I do know is that we are all worthy of love. Most importantly, you must love yourself and know that every body is a beautiful body. If anyone makes you feel different, go ahead and hit the (real or virtual) unfollow button. You deserve to be loved and accepted by people just the way you are. No strings attached.