Author looking at stretch marks on her stomach
Credit: Mandi Em, HelloGiggles

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As a society, we have an obsession that needs an intervention: Postpartum bodies.

Everywhere you look, people are hyper-focused on postpartum bodies. It’s almost as if, once you’ve given birth, there’s this ravenous preoccupation with treating your body like a completely separate entity. Like some thing they give you when you were discharged from the hospital, that you’re cursed to lug around for eternity. Headlines on celebrity magazines and lifestyle websites don’t help: Check out so-and-so’s postpartum body! 10 ways to transform your postpartum body! How to dress your postpartum body for the beach!

Perspectives on postpartum bodies seem to fall under two categories: There are people who deem these bodies as inadequate, and emphasize the need to firm them up and vanquish sagging. Then, there are those who focus on the miracle of life and assert that postpartum bodies are beautiful and “magical.”

I get it. The process of childbirth and pregnancy is transformative in every way. Your physical body will go through an ordeal that will leave its mark forever. Perhaps it’s easier to view your altered form as some imposter that’s hitched a ride with you and your baby, a newfound intruder that you either learn to love or love to hate. However, for me, ignoring the messages from both sides is what has helped me finally find acceptance with my own body. I don’t see my body as horrible or magical either. The truth is, it is just a body, one that has had its experiences and is a visual testament to them.

That’s what my body positivity looks like.

“I don’t see my body as horrible or magical either. The truth is, it is just a body, one that has had its experiences and is a visual testament to them.”

I had my first child at 19 years old. Now, at 35, I have housed and delivered three children. My body bears the evidence of this not only on my tummy, but all over me. During all three pregnancies, I gained over 50 pounds, and have seen my weight fluctuate in between pregnancies over the range of about 70 pounds. I have read all the things about “bouncing back,” and I have looked in the mirror with horror at a body I didn’t recognize. Still, in my search for postpartum body positivity, I had difficulty relating to the “rah rah tiger stripes” narrative as well. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t help but stare at the deflated landscape of my stomach and struggle to see the magic.

When you hear people talk about their postpartum bodies, “ruined” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. Whether it’s in jest or not, there is an overall sense that we “trade in” our bodies for our babies. In the supermarket checkout aisle, we stand beside magazines that fixate on the differences in a celebrity mother’s stomach pre- and post-baby. I have met people terrified of birthing kids because of the toll it may take on their appearance. Motherhood is demonized for its potential to wreak physical havoc upon us, and it’s simply not fair. It’s no wonder that achieving body acceptance feels like trying to hit an ever-moving target.

But after years of cringing in the mirror at my reflection, I am finally in a place where I feel at peace with my body.

For me, starting to look at my body as whole was the first step. This meant ditching the concept of my post-baby body being a separate entity that needed to be tamed. I fought the urge to pick apart my postpartum body, and chose to look at what I was seeing in the mirror as a mere visual representation of what my body had been through. I made a conscious decision to view my postpartum body with the same objectivity as I would any other phase of life. That also means that, every day, I choose not to over-inflate the role that motherhood has played on the landscape of my body.

The truth is that my stretch marks started with weight gain from the meds I was given for mental health issues as a teen. I bear those scars, and many more from that time. I’ve made poor decisions, experienced hardship, and grown as a person. My body is the sum of its experiences, a life map. My mind is one, too, and although you can’t see it, the marks are there. My body is the same one that existed before I had kids, and it will continue to exist long after this season is over. My skin is a tapestry that’s documented the phases of my life, and each phase has no more weight than the others. Collectively, those experiences make me beautiful and magical—not because I carried children, but because I am alive. Because I have lived.

“Those experiences make me beautiful and magical, but not because I carried children, because I am alive. Because I have lived.”

Moving forward, I would love to see our society stop treating motherhood as a road that takes us to physical ruin. I’d love to see us accept all bodies for what they are: the vehicles that carry us through life. If we could just get to a place where we view our bodies as testaments to our unique experiences, then maybe we could stop this fruitless campaign against the changes that come with motherhood. And in the process, end the targeted campaigns we’ve waged against ourselves.