March 5, 2015, 7:17 p.m.
The experience of childbirth taught me how miraculous women’s bodies truly are. Yet, as I settle comfortably into my new role as a mother, I wonder why there is such social pressure to strip the body of the physical evidence that a baby once inhabited it? I feel frustrated about the body image rollercoaster that women experience during an already vulnerable time, and I hope for a change.
Throughout my pregnancy it seemed as though a collective truce had been called between society, my body, and my mind. I was going to grow larger and this change was, for the most part, beyond my control. Society’s beauty ‘rules’ no longer applied and I was at peace. I smiled when the numbers on the scale increased, I wore a bikini without hesitation, and I met my reflection with curiosity and excitement instead of critique. Strangers offered me compliments and grinned at my bulging belly. It was as if I had been given a free pass to look however I wanted and, regardless, to be met with positivity from others and myself.
My embodied postnatal experience was completely different. Truthfully, losing weight was the furthest thing from my mind when I returned home from the hospital. I was in immense pain, and felt exhausted, delirious, and scared. I spent time trying to figure out how to take care of my baby (because previously my body did the hard work for me). A couple of months after giving birth, I noticed the media featured a celebrity in lingerie mere weeks after having had her baby. “Oh, I should get on that,” I thought. Two seconds later I decided I was too tired to care. But soon enough, I saw blog posts from other new moms asking which diets were most effective, and I heard others lament about how their thighs now touched (FYI, mine always did and always will), and how their bodies would never be the same. Although I wasn’t paying much attention to my physique, the rest of the world seemed to feel that postnatal bodies needed to be whipped into shape. Consequently, there were times when I felt judged and insufficient.
Our society does a disservice to women by placing them on a pedestal during pregnancy and then admonishing them for their appearance after birth. The body of a mother should be worn proudly, as if to say, “Look what I did – I created life, I’m amazing.” Women’s bodies shouldn’t be expected to return completely to their pre-pregnancy shapes because they are now very different; they have experienced a miraculous metamorphosis and have grown, carried, and nurtured. We must nurture them in return.
I certainly have days when I feel less than stellar about not meeting socially prescribed ideals of beauty. Nonetheless, as a role model for my son, I endeavour to exemplify positive embodiment and esteem by focusing on the wonderful machine that my body is – what it has done, what it can do, and not how it looks. Motherhood has allowed me to embark on a journey of greater self-compassion and acceptance. No matter where you are on your journey, I hope you can find the strength and courage to join me.
Dr. Michele Foster (MEd., PhD.) received her doctorate in Counselling Clinical Psychology from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. Her research assesses differences in the depictions of boys and girls in children’s media. Clinically, she has worked with adults and adolescents at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, SickKids Hospital, Toronto General Hospital, and in private practice. Dr. Foster is extremely passionate about fueling prevention efforts for disordered eating and body dissatisfaction in girls and women, and she strives to help clients find greater self-compassion and confidence. She is currently pursuing registration with the College of Psychologists of Ontario and has been involved with NEDIC in a variety of capacities since 2006.
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