Motherhood is multifaceted - it is tiring, heartbreaking, joyous, overwhelming and life-affirming in a million different ways so it is no wonder that mothers are in need of encouragement rather than unsolicited (even if well-meaning) suggestions about how to model perfection, including the way they look. According to a gazillion lifestyle editorials, the best coping mechanism against such constant nitpicking would be to breathe, speak your own truth, listen only to understand and don’t listen when you can’t. Which sounds like good advice until the moment you want to explode when you feel attacked on a very personal level simply because your once lithe body has somehow transformed into a “mom bod”.
Your first instinct is to immediately react to the slight as opposed to practicing mindful breathing and in-depth listening. There are those who shame you for your Cesarean scar and those who praise you for same, those who taunt you with their tight stomachs shortly after giving birth and those who proudly show their loose skin, those who reject your take on body-positivity and those who embrace it. Not surprisingly, you need to figure out for yourself what to tune in and what to tune out in order to distinguish between useful advice and unhelpful criticism. Whatever you do, never forget, in motherhood your body is your best ally no matter the level of criticism (real or perceived) you face about the changes it has gone through.
That is not to say that once you become a mother, you stop viewing yourself as fully invested in your physical presence and well-being. You simply shift gears. Before becoming a mother -a person whose body has safely nurtured another person into existence- you faced the world through the prism of self versus others and your physicality used to be the most immediate (although surely not the only) way to leave an impression in the world. In this sense, all the preening and dressing up and constant dieting of your pre-motherhood days speak volumes about you as the kind of person who was making such choices regarding physical appeal as well as your “audience”: your partner, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, random strangers. On the other hand, the moment you become a mother, you change your perspective. All of a sudden, you have little time and no desire to mold your body for the benefit of your “audience”. You are fully focused on your new role as a mother.
On days when your little one is running a high fever you couldn’t care less about your hair (messy but not in a cool way) or the extra pounds on you. On those days, all you want is a strong, healthy body to get you through another all nighter ministering to your kid. On other days, when things run more or less smoothly, you take a longer look at the mirror and decide that maybe it is time to do something about bringing the old body back not because you don’t recognize the new frumpier version of yourself as authentic but because, free for a minute by the demands of motherhood, you remember that there is a whole other dimension of yourself you have neglected. You remember that while motherhood is all consuming and, to a large extent, identity-defying it is a deeply personal relationship between you and your child and everything else that falls outside of these boundaries should not be allowed to pass as “mom”-anything. If your body is harboring extra flesh, you shouldn’t have to proclaim to the world that you embrace your “mom bod”- quite simply, say that you are a mom who also happens to have a body with more weight that is ideal. Same for your soft belly, your loose skin, your beautiful eyes, your rashes, your unruly hair, your soft voice, your chubby arms, your thin lips, your big feet, your bony knees. You are all that and you are more than that. Somewhere along the journey you may begin to feel a bit bummed but remember to check yourself and acknowledge yourself, see yourself. Remember that the only acknowledgment that matters, the approval that truly counts is the one you offer to yourself so that you can stop showing up as a small being trapped inside a mom body and proudly take as much space as you need into the world.