Anonymous Mom: I’m Finally Done Hating My Post-Baby Body

170410646I can distinctly remember the first time that I felt fat. Up until that point, I was a confident middle schooler and didn’t think too much about how I looked. That all changed with a simple trip to the grocery store with my mother. As I twisted to fasten my seat belt, she smiled and reached over to pinch a fold of skin that had doubled over the belt and said the words I’ll never forget. ”Getting a bit of stomach on you, are you?” She then laughed and backed out of the driveway like nothing had happened, but I spent the rest of the car ride wondering if I was fat and if I should go on a diet. I was thirteen, 5’2”, and 110 pounds.

From that point on, I was bombarded with images and comments that told me I wasn’t good enough, just like every other teenaged girl in the last few decades. These came from both my peers and the media. It certainly didn’t help that I didn’t have a date to any of my high school dances (though I wonder now if that’s because I had the good Christian girl image, so there was no hope of getting me to a hotel after). But by far, the most damaging messages came from my mom, who was constantly berating her own appearance. Pairing that with the fact that she’d told me all my life how much I resembled her, I figured that if she thought she wasn’t pretty, I obviously wasn’t either.

My husband has tried for the last seven years to undo what the first eighteen did to me. He is one of the most supportive, encouraging, patient people I know, but no matter how many times he tells me I’m beautiful, I just can’t believe it. Becoming pregnant didn’t help. Even though I didn’t show until my fifth month and barely looked like I was in the third trimester when I was due, I felt like a whale. I gained about 35 pounds, and absolutely hated every single one of them. I managed to fend off stretch marks until week 36, but then cried for a half hour when I discovered the first ones spreading across my abdomen. I knew deep down that my body was doing an amazing thing and that these side effects would be worth the little person I’d soon get to meet, but I just hated the way I looked.

After my daughter was born, I realized that the flabby stomach, saggy breasts, and stretch marks weren’t going to go away. I couldn’t drop the remaining weight, despite light dieting and breastfeeding. In fact, I was still nursing my daughter once a day 14 months later when I discovered that I was expecting again. This time around was even worse. I gained another 30 pounds, and watched the stretch marks spread not just around my stomach, but down my thighs and around my waist to my buttocks. I showed almost immediately and grew to be huge. I had never felt worse about myself. I remember later looking down into the face of my one-week-old daughter and wondering if she was really worth the body I now found myself living in. (Of course the answer was still yes.)

I have spent the last two and a half months since my younger daughter was born trying to get used to my new body. Besides the things I’ve always hated, such as my freckles and feet, I’ve had to get used to the extra 40 pounds hanging on my body, my soft tummy, flat breasts, and spider web of stretch marks. But I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about how I can raise my daughters to be happy with the skin they’re in. I think they are absolutely beautiful. I don’t want them to struggle with body image issues like so many women do today. I look at my older daughter and see so many miniature versions of my features, including ones that I’ve always hated. If I don’t want her growing up to hate her feet, for example, I need to learn to love mine. If they’re going to know what it looks like to love their bodies, I’m going to need to model it for them. And I have no idea how to do that.

Last night, I took a bath. It was my first since before I became pregnant the second time. I’ve been avoiding being nude as much as possible, and considering that being able to find time for a shower is rare with two young children, it hasn’t been difficult. But last night was different. As the tub filled with water, I took a good long look at myself in the mirror. I scrutinized myself through my tears for a while before deciding that this had to stop. I have to stop picking myself apart. I have to find a way to love myself whether or not I’m able to drop the baby weight, whether or not the stripes across my stomach fade. My husband and my daughters think I’m beautiful the way I am, and in the end, that’s what matters most. They are mine and I am theirs. We belong to each other, and I owe it to them to at least try to love myself as much as they love me.

So I took a moment to gather myself, and then went over each body part I hate, from head to toe, acknowledging and accepting it. I have to admit it took a while. There are a lot of things I don’t like about myself. But one by one, I vowed to love my body. I accepted my freckles, my saggy breasts, my flabby tummy, my chubby thighs, and ugly toes. I accepted every single stretch mark, and there are probably hundreds scattered across my stomach and legs. I made a conscious decision as I passed each body part to no longer tear it down and complain about it. I am going to be happy in my skin, even if there’s more of me to love than I’d prefer. By the end, I was crying again, but for a very different reason. I’ve never felt such relief, like I’d finally gotten rid of a burden that I’ve been carrying around for twelve years.

It’s over. I refuse to let the cycle of teaching daughters how to hate their bodies continue. It ends with me, and it ends now. My daughters will learn what it’s like to love themselves, and I will set the example.

And for the first time since my wedding day five years ago, I feel like maybe, just maybe, I really am beautiful.

(Image: getty images)

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