Accepting, loving and being confident about your body is a feat that is easier said than done. There are so many high standards set for women and their bodies that it can be tough to embrace our bodies, particularly when they are in the process of transition or have undergone many changes in our journeys through pregnancy and beyond in our lives as parents.
We are told to celebrate our “tiger stripes” (stretch marks) and then marketed towards with products to get rid of the same stretch marks, and don’t get me started on the post baby belly bumps and flat stomach expectations! It’s conflicting, confusing, and frustrating! Add in that parents want to set a good example surrounding self-worth and body image for their children, so we end up internalizing a lot of our own insecurities.
Whether you are newly pregnant, a veteran parent with tweens, or a doting auntie, we could all probably use a little tune up surrounding the ways that we look at our bodies. In my research on the topic of body positivity I was able to find many valuable resources to help anyone who is struggling with body image.
I connected with Tynan Rhea, Sex Educator, Sex in Pregnancy and Parenthood Coach, and Doula with the Sisterhood Wellness Collective to compile a list of 15 Tips, Tricks and dispelled myths that will help inspire body confidence.
15 Our Culture Isn’t Exactly Kind to Mothers
We come from a place where we aren’t exactly forgiving to women, particularly when it comes to their body shapes and sizes. “The dreaded stretch-marks, ‘loose’ vaginas, belly jiggle. For most people, these are inevitable outcomes (or what I like to call, badges of honor) of pregnancy and birth. Typically, people are also sleep-deprived after birth and sleep deprivation alone causes depression (we know this, because science). There's so much going on! Relationships take a hit, our bodies are healing, and now we have hungry need-filled vulnerable babies who need caregivers at their beck and call.” says Tynan.
Take a moment to understand that this is an unfair reality, and then take a really, really deep breath!
14 Your Body Doesn’t Need to Be a Priority Today (or tomorrow)
While Tynan recognizes that it’s a lot easier to say, “don’t worry about it” when it comes to your body than it is a reality, remember that dedicating your energy to feeling great about your body doesn’t have to be your number one project today. Tynan notes, “There's a lot of pressure (again, specifically on women) to feel good about their bodies and the reality is, given the world we live in, that is just not possible every day, right away, or all the time.”
13 Give Yourself Permission to Have a Bad Day
Everyone has bad body day when they don’t feel good about themselves, whether it’s because of PMS bloat, those dark rings under your eyes caused by hours up with a colicky infant, or it’s just one of those days. We are all allowed to have these moments, these days.
Tynan gives the important reminder that, “If you wake up and look in the mirror and think, ‘I look like crap,’ believe it or not, that's okay. You're allowed. And you don't have to ‘work on that’ IMMEDIATELY if you don't want to.”
12 Try Focusing On How Your Body Feels
As a parent with a child of any age your body has been through a lot, which is why Tynan suggests focusing on, “how your body FEELS rather than how it LOOKS. Again, you're likely feeling pretty sore after birth and you will take time to heal.”
Parents: Your body has produced one (or multiple) children, and that took a lot of work. Pay attention to what your body is saying to you instead of a magic number on the scale, dress size, or flat stomach.
11 What Will Make You Feel Better Right Now?
While the media and society often pressures new parents on immediate results post parenthood, this isn’t realistic. That being said, there are other things (that don’t involve weight loss, circuit training, special creams or plastic surgery) you can do.
Tynan urges you to ask yourself, “What can I do right away to help me feel better? Do I need a nap? A healthy snack to help with digestion? A brisk walk to get my heart-rate up and burn-off some frustration?” These small, simple things can be the difference between a bad day and a good one, so show yourself some kindness and listen to what your body is trying to tell you!
10 Appreciate What You Like About Your Body
Our body image has a profound impact on ourselves and our relationships. In Emily Nagoski’s book, Come as You Are, she explores the impact that body image can have on our sex lives. One of her suggestions involves changing our own self-messaging about our bodies.
She recommends that people look in the mirror each day and list the things about their bodies that they love, and appreciate it. It doesn’t matter what you’re saying (whether it’s your eyelashes, your fingernails, or strong shoulders), just say it out loud. This list may change from day to day and the length of the list may also vary.
A simple exercise in gratitude can significantly help heal some of those cruel and unfair messages all around us that haunt our heads into shaming ourselves.
9 Put Yourself First, Even Just a Little Bit
As parents it can be hard to give ourselves permission to do something just for us. If an extra bit of time spent on your hair or a manicured set of nails helps make you feel better, take the time to feel like yourself again.
Heck, in early days of parenthood even splurging on a daily shower can feel like pampering, but if it makes you feel better about the way you look, just do it. For parents who are in between maternity clothes and their pre-pregnancy wardrobe, consider grabbing a couple of well-fitting pieces you love to make you feel great, right now, today.
8 Consider Asking for Help
Help can come in many different forms and a little bit can go a very long way. Tynan suggests asking your partner(s) or loved ones to name parts of your body that they adore as well as your friends as, “hearing positive messages from those who love you is a legitimate way to boost your body self-esteem.”
You can also look for a therapist who specializes in body image or eating disorders as these can often go hand in hand.
7 Do Something Physical You Love
Exercise doesn’t need to come with a personal trainer or hours spent at the gym. Think about the things that you like and love to do that will make you thankful for your body. Love nature, go for a hike; like team sports, consider some intramural leagues in your neighborhood.
When we move our bodies for something we love, we get so much more than exercise and this can help us appreciate what our body is capable of. There are also emotional benefits to exercise that can help improve your mood, reduce stress, boost your energy, help you sleep better, and prevent illness. All of these benefits can help.
6 Your Partner(s) Will Still Desire You
We are often harder on ourselves than our loved ones are. When Tynan surveyed several women about body self-esteem she was able to crush some unfortunate myths and find some wonderful things. One survey participant noted, “Don't be hard on yourself over how your body has changed. When you're aroused, as my partner says, it all looks as it did before. Lol". This sentiment reminds me of a brilliant quote from the film Eat Pray Love, “Lemme ask you a question, in all the years you’ve ever undressed for a gentleman has he ever asked you to leave? Has he ever walked out, left? Because he doesn’t care. He’s in a room with a naked girl. He’s won the lottery.”
5 Having a Child Will Not Make Things “Looser”
There are all of these thoughts that having a child (or children) will “ruin” a woman’s vagina and that it will forever be looser. Here’s the thing, the vagina is pretty magical. Tynan comments about how unlikely it is for a vagina to get looser due to childbirth. “In fact, people that did talk about their vaginas after birth noted how TIGHT it felt due to episiotomy scars, natural tears in their perineum, and C-sections (yes, they affect your sexual functioning too).“
One women who responded to her survey wrote, "I thought I would be ‘gapped out’ or stretched and it wouldn't be pleasurable for my partner. I was wrong. You won't be gross, your body bounces back, your vagina is like a rubber band, it goes back to what it was. STOP STRESSING."
4 Be Prepared for Breastfeeding to Throw You a Curveball
How women feel about their breasts being touched in a sexual way while they’re breastfeeding can differ dramatically. Touch in general can be a cause of stress for some people who feel like they are in constant contact with their infant or children and at the end of the day just need some personal space.
A woman surveyed by Tynan wrote, "I was totally unprepared for how desexualized my breast(s) would be from breastfeeding. 8 months [postpartum] and only now letting my husband touch them." Tynan also confirms that it is also totally fair and normal for women not to struggle with this.
She adds, “It's important for partners to understand (and for postpartum people to feel empowered) that breasts might be off-limits for a little bit while they navigate their new role in feeding their baby.”
3 Get Reading
As people with busy lives we often end up reading entertainment articles online or seeing celeb headlines at the checkout of our local grocer. There is some great material out there that you can use to help boost your body esteem awareness. Tynan recommends: The Mother's Guide to Sex by Anne Semans and Cathy Winks, Eating by the Light of the Moon by Dr. Anita Johnston, and Women’s Anatomy of Arousal by Sheri Winston.
2 Remind Yourself that Real Beauty Isn’t Just Skin Deep
There are so many wonderful things about you that have absolutely nothing to do with your body. Your self-worth should not be based on fitting into a specific pair of jeans or looking a particular way. Your friends and family love you for your inner beauty, and you should take inventory about many of the wonderful qualities you have that make you so freaking awesome!
When you’re a parent, your child sees your lap as a place to seek comfort, to read stories, and cuddle. So take a moment to appreciate it the same way they do.
1 Find Creative Ways to Express Yourself While Pregnant and Post-Pregnancy
Tynan reinforces the importance of finding creative ways to feel in touch with your body during--and post--pregnancy in a way that will represent how you feel. “I think it also should be noted, if you're a trans-man or masculine woman who is uncomfortable with appearing more feminine than usual, if you can find the creativity and joy in defining what a pregnant or post-natal man is, you're golden! Though I want to acknowledge the struggle that some might come up against in navigating a world with little to no guidance on what that looks like. Trailblazing can be as "exhilarating as it is exhausting.”
She says that the birth world is SLOWLY waking-up to the needs of the LGBTQ community and recommends a Podcast by The Longest Shortest Time, Episode 41: How to be a Pregnant Butch, as well as this website dedicated to providing pro-choice information on trans and non-binary pregnancy information.