My Postpartum Body Reality Check
About a week after I gave birth to my daughter I was standing in line to use the restroom at our local food co-op. It was our first real adventure out of the house, and my husband had taken our daughter to walk around the store while I was in line. After a few minutes of waiting, it was just me and the woman in front of me. The woman looked back at me, did a double take while looking at my body, and said “Well you’ve got a bit of a pooch on you, don’t you?” My jaw dropped to the floor, and I searched my brain for how to respond.
Of course, thinking about it now, and even a few minutes after it happened, I have all sorts of responses for her. Things like “it’s not polite to comment on other people’s bodies, especially when you don’t even know them!” or “You don’t know me or my story. I can’t say that it’s really any of your business what my stomach does or doesn’t look like!” or maybe even just something like “Really?! Did you really just say that to me?!”
Of course all the clever comebacks just left my mind at that moment. All I could say was that I had just given birth less than a week ago. She proceeded to tell me that it had always been so easy for her to lose baby weight and that she was the same weight she was when she was a teenager.
Now I won’t get into the psychology behind what she said, and why she might have said it. I’m not even saying that she meant it to be mean or rude. What I am saying is that it doesn’t matter if I had my baby with me or not, if I was a week postpartum, or 10 years. It doesn’t even matter if I’d given birth or not. What matters is that we live in a culture where people think that they have the right to comment on someone else’s body like that.
What Body Judgement Looks Like
I know that this specific example is a bit extreme. Most people don’t have the nerve to comment that bluntly to someone’s face. But there are lots of other examples of small comments that are said in judgement of someone else’s body. Things that are on the surface innocent, like commenting on someone’s weight loss or weight gain, or talking about how someone should go on a diet because they need to lose weight. I could spend hours coming up with all the subtle ways that we as a society comment on, and judge, other peoples’ bodies. Instead I’m going to leave it to your own interpretation.
As a dietitian, I am someone that get’s judged on my body all the time. General thinking is that it goes with the territory of the profession, and all dietitians should be skinny and fit. Now I will say that I’ve never been concerned with my weight my entire life. I had never personally come across being on the other side of people’s expectations, either. Until the months after I had my daughter, that is.
Body Change is Hard!
I’m not ashamed to admit that I truly struggled with my body image while I was pregnant and for several months postpartum. I looked in the mirror and didn’t see the person I was used to seeing. My body had completely changed. I knew that everyone was watching me to see what I did, and what my body did, after I gave birth. Or at least it felt like it to me.
From a professional standpoint, I’ve talked with many people about body image and how our society views weight and fitness. I know all the ins and outs it seems. And now I can say I’ve been there. I still look at myself in the mirror and see a body that isn’t what I’m used to. If you are also a woman who’s had a baby, there’s a chance you can say the same thing. I am able to acknowledge now, though, that this body birthed my daughter. It takes time to get used to such a drastic change.
What Does Body Image Have to do With Nutrition?
So why am I talking about this on my blog that primarily focuses on childhood nutrition? Because as a mom, I am a gatekeeper of nutrition for my child. I (along with my husband) decide what to serve my child, what we will eat as a family, and the overall attitude towards food that we’ll practice. It’s important for moms (and dads) to have a healthy relationship with food so they can teach their child how to have a healthy relationship with food. This comes not only from what is said about food, but what food is served.
I am also a model for my kid. If I spend time looking in the mirror, squeezing my belly, thinking about how I wish I didn’t have this stomach or those thighs or that butt, my child will notice. Kids see everything! And if they notice, they will internalize it, and think it is something that is normal and something that they should do, too.
The Vulnerability of the Postpartum Period
You are likely visiting my site because you have a child. Perhaps you are a woman just into the postpartum period, or maybe you’ve had multiple children. Either way, someone who has given birth to a baby is in an incredibly vulnerable period of life. One where bodies are changing while at the same time you are receiving pressure to return to the same body that you had before you gave birth to a human! Not to mention the stress of actually caring for and raising said human. And in a vulnerable time, it is very easy to fall prey to habits that are not healthy for you, or your family.
When you have a child, it means you have someone who is looking at you for cues on how they should treat their body, and how they should feel about it. If you go on a diet, and talk about how you can’t eat certain foods because they are bad, or will make you fat, or whatever other reasoning you have, your kid will think that is normal, too. And whether you have a 3 month old or a 13 year old, kids are observant. Babies take in their whole world, and see so much that we don’t give them credit for.
There are some shocking statistics about kids and body image and dieting out there. Things like around a half of girls and a third of boys between the ages of 6-8 feel that the ideal body is thinner than their own. (1) Or that by the time your child is 7, there’s a 1 in 4 chance that they will have participated in some form of dieting behavior. 7! That is insanely early!
And while I am not saying on any level that a child’s dieting and body image are 100% tied to their parents’, they most definitely have an influence on it. Eating disorders are a real problem in the world, and I’d think we can all agree that we’d like to do anything we can to help prevent our child from having one.
How Do I Help My Child Have a Good Body Image?
So what are some actionable steps you can take to get yourself, and your family, started on the right foot when it comes to body image and healthy habits?
- Don’t talk about bodies. When you’re out and about, avoid commenting on how other people look. Don’t comment on your own body, especially in front of your child. Every body is beautiful in it’s own unique way, and there isn’t one right body type. Even for kids. Teach them to respect their body by respecting yours.
- There are no good or bad foods! All foods can be a part of a healthy diet. You, or your child, aren’t a bad person for enjoying cake. Or chips. Or whatever the food may be. It’s natural for children to enjoy sweet or salty things, don’t make them feel guilty for wanting them. Don’t talk about feeling guilty for eating them yourself, either. Talking about needing to work off the food falls in this category, too.
- Take the weight out of the compliment. Whether it’s to your kids or a friend, instead of saying “you look great, did you lose weight?” trying saying something like “You look happy, how have you been?” By complimenting someone on weight loss, you are validating that they were lacking something before they lost the weight. Instead, focus on personality traits, moods, experiences, really, anything but weight! It will help teach your child that gaining or losing weight is not the basis for compliments and accolades in your family.
If you are interested in learning more about body positivity, check out these great instagram accounts for inspiration:
Some of them address how to talk with kids, most are more about learning to respect your own body and needs. All of which are incredibly important to not only your well being, but your child’s, too.