I’ll never forget the moment I fell in love with my belly for the first time.
I was lying on a hospital bed after giving birth to my daughter. The oxytocin levels were running high, and I was in a giddy state of shock over what my body had just managed to do. I told my husband to grab his phone and snap a photo of me so that I could remember exactly how I felt. As I grinned at the camera and proudly held my tummy, it hit me. This was the first time I’d ever loved my body before.
For decades, an eating disorder and body dysmorphia kept me locked into a constant cycle of self-hate. I became addicted to diet pills as a teen and tried weight loss membership programs in an effort to lose weight in an already skinny body. No amount of pounds shed ever satisfied me, and the endless weight loss compliments I received just kept me obsessed with getting even smaller. Society had sent me a clear message early on that I held onto as an undeniable truth well into my thirties. I was only lovable and worthy in this world if I remained thin.
And then I got pregnant, and the praise shifted into something else altogether. People would not stop telling me how beautiful my growing stomach looked as my baby bump made its big debut. The bigger the bump, the more adoration I received. It was as if I was existing in some sort of alternate universe where the only acceptable form of fatness came in a stomach that was teeming with life. I was on cloud nine as I naively thought that maybe the positive feedback would continue on after I birthed my child, since everyone around me seemed to be totally on board with my body changing to grow a baby.
Sixty-five pounds later, in a postpartum body that still looked pregnant AF, I sat on that hospital bed wanting to live in the courage, freedom, and overwhelming worth I felt forever.
Of course, going home was a much different story. Because there I became vulnerable to the well-meaning but hurtful reactions and advice I received about my postpartum figure. Loved ones wondered if I’d ever “get my body back,” kept assuring me that I’d lose weight after breastfeeding, and the bodily praise completely stopped. I was asked several times by strangers if I was pregnant, and when I grinned and told them that I’d actually just had a baby, they looked at me with an awkward mix of guilt and sympathy before apologizing profusely. My belly had stretched and grown in new motherhood, and I was living in a fat body for the first time in my life. And there was that pesky cultural messaging again being slapped across my face, convincing me that there was something very wrong with just letting my body naturally exist as it was in this new way.
Do you want to know the strangest part of this story? I ended up unexpectedly falling in love with my belly anyway, and I did it without losing an ounce of weight. In fact, I also went on to give birth to another child, gained even more weight and still loved the big belly with stretch marks looking back at me in the mirror. But there was something even more life-changing that happened after I surprisingly became BFFs with my mom bod.
I stopped loving the fatphobic society that had incorrectly taught me to feel ashamed of the natural evolution of my body.
Diet culture has it ass backwards, and I’m so damn tired of it. We idolize thinness at any cost and then, curveball-style, heap adoration on a woman’s growing belly in pregnancy. And then we have the nerve to serve her up profit-driven options like postpartum tummy tuck surgeries, “get your body back” workouts, waist trainers, and stretch mark creams that have her believing she needs to erase all physical evidence of motherhood that the vast majority of us had just spent months praising. What’s most damaging is how much our annoying obsession with baby bumps misses the mark. When we refuse to show the same mothers we previously complimented the awe and respect for their postpartum bodies they so deserve, we also dismiss the very real truth that any woman’s belly, whether she’s had a child or not, is already filled with life. Because every single body on this fucking planet has a human being already living inside of it who deserves to be loved, respected, and valued.
It honestly blows my mind to think about how our culture could have gotten to the fucked up point of demonizing things like stretch marks, loose skin, scars, cellulite, and weight fluctuations as if they aren’t totally natural parts of living. On my Instagram platform, I talk about this subject often and will frequently receive messages from women who feel deep shame about their bodies, postpartum or not. They struggle to allow their partners to be intimate with them, they tear down the tummy that grew their children, they receive criticism from loved ones on the regular, and they feel worthless because their appearance doesn’t match up to our society’s racist, ageist, discriminatory, sexist, fatphobic, and ableist beauty standards. And it breaks my heart, because the last thing any mother should be made to feel after birthing a child is hate for the body that helped her do it. And no woman should ever be made to feel like her body is an unending problem.
We need to collectively shift our mindset from worshipping pregnancy bumps and rejecting postpartum bodies to a narrative where we respect, appreciate, and champion women at every physical stage of their lives. And the truth is that if we all did that, there would be a ton of industries that would assuredly go out of business. Because body acceptance doesn’t sell diet detox teas, and true self-love would never work as an ad for weight loss pills. Could you imagine a world where a mom’s postpartum body was considered as much a work of art as her pregnant one? More importantly, I wonder how women would show up for life differently if they inherently believed that the size, shape, or condition of their belly had absolutely no bearing on their lovability, value, and worth.
As I sit writing this, my “mom pouch” is comfortably hanging soft and low in my lap. I’m smiling as I occasionally look down at it, because I honestly think it’s adorable. My belly tells the story of my life. And that is a story worth telling. It’s not lost on me that my journey is unique and that for many of us, the road to loving our bodies without constantly feeling like we have to change them is so damn hard. So however you want to take up space now is your choice, and there are no judgments over here if you still decide to reach for the stretch mark cream. Believe me when I say that I get it. I simply hope that my story can help some of you out there realize that there was never anything wrong with your body to begin with.
Please, don’t ever let anyone convince you that the inevitable physical changes of living and aging are something to be ashamed of. And if you’ve birthed children, your postpartum body — and you — deserve the same damn love you received when you were growing your baby.