By Kate Kole
I caught a glimpse of my tank top hugging my postpartum belly as I talked to my friend on FaceTime. Trying to ignore my dissatisfaction, I continued on with what I was saying.
It wasn’t until the next morning, with my stomach growling and my brain working to convince it that it wasn’t yet hungry, that I realized I was back to dealing with the same body image issues I’ve wrestled with since junior high. The ones I’ve believed on more than one occasion that I’ve beat.
They’re like a hair clogged drain. Each time I dump the Draino down, I’m confident that I’ve cleared it. But within a month, the water is pooling once again.
I felt annoyed first. At my body’s natural hunger cues. At my inability to “bounce back” after pregnancy. At the fact that I was vain and unrealistic enough to even care to bounce back in the first place.
And then I felt ashamed. Because I’ve spent the better part of the last 10 years working in the fitness field, encouraging other women to love themselves. I’ve told my other mom friends how bad ass their bodies are, carrying, delivering, and sustaining life. I’ve preached body positivity and all but hypocritically promised myself and others that I had achieved it.
During this pregnancy, I’d made the conscious commitment to be more patient with my postpartum body.
I would rest when I needed it. I wouldn’t rush my way back to working out. I would take care of myself, be kind to myself, and offer myself the same unconditional love I extend to others.
I would appreciate my body for the baby it carried for 9 months. I would be grateful for the strength that pushed me through labor and delivery. I would accept my body just the way it was.
But then, I found myself looking in the selfie lens, studying the loose skin that draped across my midsection. And I heard myself mentioning to my husband that my stretch marks looked like cracks in the desert.And I noticed myself choosing not to post pictures because of the flaws that I inevitably found.
Beyond the shame and annoyance I felt was something so much worse. I was heartbroken. Because I had just welcomed my daughter into the world. My first girl. And I hated that I hadn’t overcome my demons before raising her. I wanted so badly to carry on body confidence and I worried that I would instead play a part in raising another generation to find worth, or lack there of, in their weight.
I reached out to my girlfriend to voice my fears. To ask the question that was heavy on my heart: How do you teach your daughter self-love when it’s still something you’re struggling with yourself?
I wanted a paint by numbers kind of answer. Follow these steps and your daughter won’t have to wrestle with the same stuff you did.
Instead she said, “She might feel this way at some point. Because she’s just human.”
And I realized, we don’t always get to spare our kids from the hardships we’ve experienced or teach our kids life lessons after we’ve learned them. Sometimes, we have to walk with each other through them.
Of course, I dream of a day that my daughter and I can sit on a beach in our swimsuits without giving a second thought as to how our stomachs look. That we can go out to dinner and order dessert without mentioning calories or what it will take to work it off. That we can spend an afternoon shopping and buying clothes that fit without obsessing over the number on their inseam. That we move our bodies simply because it makes us feel good.
But right now, I have to start here. Eating breakfast because I’m hungry. Actively looking for things I appreciate about my body. Telling my girl how strong, capable, and worthy she is and hoping those encouraging words might seep into my soul as well.
And if the day comes that my daughter voices the same struggles I’ve experienced, I can offer that she’s not alone. We can sit on the couch and commiserate about how much the diet industry sucks and how hard it sometimes feels to be human.
I can tell her that self-love doesn’t mean the dark voices won’t still exist. And share that self-acceptance doesn’t mean that comparison won’t creep in. And reveal that confidence doesn’t mean critical moments won’t arise.
Hopefully together, we can learn. That in moments where we feel shame roaring, we can choose to give ourselves grace. And on days that we’re unsatisfied with how we look, we can remember that our lives are so much bigger than our bodies. And in the midst of grappling with our imperfections, we can choose to see that we are enough just as we are.