My story is not unlike those of countless other postpartum moms: pregnancy changed my body in ways I didn’t expect, and even once I lost most of the “baby weight,” I struggled to accept that my body had rearranged itself. My hips had widened and never narrowed again; I had lost muscle tone and gained a permanent belly pooch; a few new stretch marks had shown up on the fleshy parts of my thighs. And I couldn’t seem to find the motivation (or time or energy) to do much about it.
But instead of acknowledging the reality that I’d grown an entire human in my abdomen and things were bound to be different, and instead of giving myself grace for not having the energy to workout like I used to, I shamed myself. My fingers pinched the extra belly fat as I stood in front of the mirror waiting for the shower water to get hot. I tried to stuff myself into my prepregnancy skinny jeans every day, looking for the tiniest signs of progress. I scrolled Instagram, comparing myself to other moms who seemed to have lost all their baby weight and then some, berating myself for not being one of them.
I heard the words of well-intentioned friends echoing in my head: Your body is beautiful, even if it’s different. You can choose to love your body, even if it’s not perfect. Your strength has grown, even in the moments when you feel weak.
It’s not that I didn’t think the self-compassion strategies would work. I knew I had what it took to be kind and gracious with myself, to learn to love this mother-shaped body. Instead, I actively chose not to engage in self-compassion, because I was afraid of giving myself permission to accept and even love my current body. If I bought clothes to fit my new shape, said nice things to myself about my belly, looked at pictures without cringing, then maybe it would be like pulling a release valve and I would end up letting myself go entirely. If I accepted less than perfection, what would hold me back from diving into the depths of bags of popcorn and tubs of ice cream? What would prevent me from gaining even more weight? What would stop me from becoming someone I didn’t recognize? No, it was too dangerous to love myself.
Instead, I punished my body by wearing too-tight clothes, thinking that if the waistband of my pants cut into my flesh, maybe it would serve as a reminder to not eat that cupcake in the break room. I looked at pictures from my wedding day and told myself that I had the power to look like this again. Maybe I do have that power, but perhaps the real power is in choosing not to wield it.
I know I could have a tighter, slimmer version of my body by eating a little better and working out more. But I also know that striving for a better body would involve some serious trade-offs, like giving up writing or reading or sleeping or spending time with my daughter – and those aren’t things I’m willing to sacrifice right now. It’s hard work to achieve a perfect body, and it’s also hard work to love an imperfect one. To be honest, I’d rather my daughter witness the latter. I don’t want her to grow up seeing her mommy chase after the elusive goal of a flatter stomach or tighter thighs; because what will that teach her about her own value?
Instead, I want her to see me enjoying exercise, feeling strong and fueling my body. I want her to see me not just granting myself permission to fall short of the ideal, but redefining what “ideal” can be. More than anything, though, I want her to see that my body is a shell that houses the vibrant mind and unique gifts and creative spirit that my loving God gave me, so she’ll grow up believing the same about herself.
Brittany L. Bergman is a writer and editor living in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and her daughter. She is passionate about living simply, savoring motherhood and finding the sacred in the everyday, and you can find her writing about these pursuits at brittanylbergman.com.