“I just don’t recognize this body.”
At the intersection of the glowing pregnant woman and the fit and fabulous snap back queen lies the uncertain and unwanted postpartum body. The body that no one glorifies and no one praises. The body that is hidden and tucked away until a “better” body can emerge in its place.
If you’ve had the honor of growing a child in your womb then its most likely that you’ve unfortunately dealt with the pain of staring at your reflection and not recognizing the person staring back at you. A newly postpartum woman is a woman in her rawest state. And sometimes the rawness of being the vessel by which soul and flesh meet leaves us with a body that is full of battle scars. A body that is not always the easiest to love.
What Is Body Dysmorphia?
According to the Mayo Clinic Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is “a mental health disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance.” These perceived defects may be minor in reality or less noticeable than you feel they are. But you may experience frequent thoughts about these flaws to the point that you are uncomfortable in your own skin. In more extreme cases, people have been known to avoid social interactions because of the anxiety they may feel about being seen in public.
Symptoms of BDD
- Frequently focusing on a perceived flaw throughout your day.
- Feeling unattractive because of a perceived flaw
- Feeling as though a perceived flaw is extremely noticeable and that you are constantly being negatively criticized for it.
- Frequently checking your reflection to examine yourself and the perceived flaw.
- Constantly comparing your appearance with others.
- Frequently seeking reassurance about your appearance from others.
- Avoiding social situations
My Experience With Body Dysmorphia In Motherhood
Not unlike most women who have not been blessed with a SnapBack after giving birth, I have felt insecure about my new body. The saggy skin and stretch marks on my stomach, my mom pouch, saggy breasts and weight gain made it hard to recognize myself in the mirror.
I noticed that my feelings toward myself had surpassed a normal bout of self consciousness onto something a bit more obsessive when I started spending an unhealthy amount of time in front of the mirror. I couldn’t just pass by any mirror in my house without taking a few moments to critique my appearance.
I was mainly focused on my stomach and how it protruded and gave the look that I was still pregnant. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts during each of my pregnancies I’ve dealt with an extreme ab separation called diastases recti. After giving birth I have a 5 finger separation between my abdominal muscles which takes an extremely long time to heal. During this postpartum go around I’ve done a lot more to heal the separation but I still have a bit of a pouch and I’ve noticed that it’s all I think about when concerning my appearance.
It’s been hard for me to accept my new body and it’s even been hard to accept compliments from people on my body. Because although I’ve lost the baby weight, I still don’t have the exact physique that I want. I’ve realized as time has passed how unhealthy it is for me to downplay my body as much I have over the last year.
Dealing With Body Dysmorphia
According to the Mayo Clinic clinically there is no known way to prevent body dysmorphia but here are a few things that have helped me.
Thanking My Body For My Children
One of the main issues with my view of my body is that I have been viewing aspects of my body in a negative light. I’ve found that connecting my perceived flaws directly with the two little people that I love most in this world has allowed me to approach my body with an attitude of gratitude. For example, I’m grateful for my mommy pouch and stretch marks because they’re evidence that my body was able to stretch to make a safe and comforting home for my babies as they grew inside me. And I’m grateful for my breasts (even if they don’t sit up like they used to) because they’ve fed my babies for a total of 3 years and counting!
Following Natural Body Accounts On Instagram
I’ve touched on the negative effect that Instagram can have on your mental health before. The constant comparison of ourselves to others can leave us feeling self conscious and unhappy with our current lives. But I’ve found it extremely helpful to follow accounts where women are showcasing their natural bodies; stretch marks, unposed and raw. It’s a healthy reminder of what women really look like and how beautiful we naturally are.
Working On Accepting That My Body Is Ever Changing
Aside from the fact that I am literally growing older and my body will age as the years pass, my body is also shifting and moving throughout the day as it works to keep me alive. That means as I eat and digest my food my belly expands. If I haven’t had enough water to drink my body might show signs of this via a less bright complexion pit skin breakout. I will never look perfect 100 percent of the time because I’m not supposed to. And I should love what I see in the mirror regardless.
Learning to love ourselves completely is much easier said than done. But when we start to honor our bodies for everything that they do for us on a daily basis we move closer to seeing how beautiful we truly are.