This story is part of our series, "But Really, How Are You?" where we share first-person essays about real motherhood: the highs, lows and everything in between. Today's piece is by Jessica, a self-proclaimed type B new mom in LA reclaiming self-love and self-worth in her postpartum body. Sound familiar? Here's her story...
I love my body in the nude. A soft s-curve on my lower belly where my baby used to live. Shimmery whispers of stretched skin on my hips as I grew during pregnancy. Familiar scars on my knees from the mundane—shaving—and the inappropriate—drunken nights splattered on a college sidewalk. I notice the muscles in my arms, grown from picking up a twenty pound baby, throwing her in the air with glee, over and over and over. My butt is firm and dimpled and when I lay down on my side I feel like a renaissance painting, waiting for her moment on canvas.
This love for my body isn’t fueled by vanity, but rather the comfort of a vessel I have grown into over thirty-three good and bad years. I remind myself to stop and look lovingly into the mirror before I get into the bath. There is power in looking. There is power in speaking tenderly to yourself in these most vulnerable moments.
As soon as I get dressed, the renaissance is over. Suddenly, the hips and thighs and softness that were ready to be painted and exalted are squeezed and sucked into various contraptions designed to shrink and diminish. I fret over whether everything is “flattering.” What does flattering even mean? Have I stopped to consider this? Is flattering another word for “small?” Maybe it’s code for hourglass and plump in the right places? What happens if I—gulp—wear something unflattering? Might someone see my lumps, bumps and humanity. I shudder.
There is power in looking. There is power in speaking tenderly to yourself in these most vulnerable moments.
I have been thinking about how I can love the same body in the privacy of my bedroom and resent it in the fluorescent glow of a dressing room. In a dressing room a body is a number; a size. These numbers are loaded with expectation, of course. I tell myself, “Who cares what size you wear? Clothes are made to fit your body, not the other way around.” This sentiment is a cozy blanket of truth but there are also thirty-three years of self-judgment and social conditioning sitting gingerly on my shoulder. They whisper niceties like: “Wow, you’re two sizes bigger now, imagine the judgment; You are not someone who ‘bounced back’ after baby; Ugh, don’t you wish you were the same size you were at your wedding? Remember when you never ate sugar and you got shots of cayenne pepper in your butt to boost your metabolism? Remember how much better the clothes fit then?”
I recognize these thoughts as what they are: fear. They represent the fear I have that a shift in the shape of my body will result in a shift in my physical attractiveness which ends in a lessened “worth” in the eyes of others. Isn’t it interesting when you write down the essence of what you fear so clearly? When you rip the clothes off fear it looks shriveled and silly.
I consider it the blessing and curse of humanity to witness the face of creation as your baby comes roaring out of your body, bloodied and screaming and here to live and then three months later, mourn your widened ass in a Bloomingdale’s dressing room.
I once attended a writing workshop with the majestic author, Elizabeth Gilbert, and she suggested that you greet all emotions—including fear—as if they were benevolent neighbors. Let them sit at your table and say, “Hey fear, I know you’re here to protect me from the judgment of others at this moment. You’re worried about me, thank you! You really are looking out for me. Here’s the thing. I have expanded my mindset and I am working to care less about those opinions. So you’re free to go, my dear fear. Thank you for your service here.” I love that visual. In my mind I like to picture fear with a sweaty upper lip and a comb over.
Anyway, I don’t think there is something I can do to fix this cocktail of mixed thoughts, unfortunately. I consider it the blessing and curse of humanity to witness the face of creation as your baby comes roaring out of your body, bloodied and screaming and here to live and then three months later, mourn your widened ass in a Bloomingdale’s dressing room.
It’s the life work of womanhood and motherhood—untangling ourselves from what’s beneath us; unlearning; grasping our worth back out of the grips of other’s opinions of us. Looking at the creation that came through our bodies or simply the life that was lived, breathing deeply, and saying “thanks.”
And so this is my rambling way to say, if you’re making sense of your postpartum body, or your womanly body in general, I understand where you’re at. My friendly little blessing for us is this: “May we find tender moments to look in the mirror and love what is; May we find our minds calmed by intrinsic worth outside of our body’s appearance; May we feel grounded in the life lived in our bodies, the steps we take, the foods we taste, the babies we birth and feed, the pleasure we feel, the world we see. May we accept that this is a life’s work and do our best so that our daughters have less fear on their shoulders than we do.”
We want to hear from you. Share your experience with learning to love your postpartum body with us and join the Perelel community in our Village on Geneva.
Written by Jessica Lopez. Jessica Lopez is a freelance writer, digital content creator, and new mother. She has covered all lifestyle topics ranging from bridal to beauty for publications including Brides Magazine, Byrdie, THE/THIRTY, and more. Walking wide-eyed into motherhood has inspired her to connect with other parents through her writing and shared experience. You can follow more of her journey @Jessica.H.Lopez.