Written by Abigail Burd, MSW, LCSW, CPRP
Happy January! The cheery month when the media tells us we need to start our New Year’s Resolutions to exercise and lose weight. Meanwhile, the Award Season is in full swing with gorgeous Hollywood actresses showing off their post-baby bodies. In the movie “Knocked Up,” Katherine Heigl’s character is told by her work that they can’t legally ask her to lose weight, but that she needs to “tighten” it up. We may not aspire to be red carpet ready, but how many of us want to tighten up or change our postpartum bodies?
This time last year, I started writing a post with tips on how to achieve goals and change. I stopped midway through writing it, realizing no one needed it. We need to hear that we are beautiful just the way we are . We need to tell ourselves that we are beautiful. And believe it. So when Robin asked me to write about body image after having a baby, I knew I wanted to share.
Put Comparisons in Check
It is human nature to compare. Social comparison theory explains that we look to those that are similar around us, how we rate and where we stand, in order to know ourselves. We determine our own social and personal value based on how we stack up against others.(1) According to research, more women than men compare themselves with the unrealistic standards presented in the media.(2)
This is isn’t anything new. After reading “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolf in the 90’s, I purposely stopped looking at fashion and “women’s” magazines, in an effort to feel better about myself. And it worked.
Rationally, most of us know that it isn’t fair to compare ourselves to a Hollywood A-Lister, with a full-time trainer, personal chef, nanny, and a team of 5-6 stylists. But what about when the comparisons are closer to home?
Do you know what the most commonly felt emotions are when scrolling through Instagram and Facebook? Envy and shame.(3) You can read more about a recent study and how to feel better while scrolling through your feed here. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201511/what-do-when-social-media-make-you-miserable.)
Something to remember is that we may think we are viewing our friends’ lives through social media, but we are actually seeing a very filtered (literally) version. People by nature, tend to post only the best moments, at the best angles, in the best lighting. We only think it is daily life because we see it on a daily basis.
Every Mom is Different
Rachel Rabinor is also a psychotherapist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in Maternal Mental Health in San Diego. She shares:
“It's important to remember, that just like all babies are different and they reach different milestones at their own pace, all moms are different too. Sounds cliché but it's easy to get caught up in comparing yourself to other women even though everyone is indeed different. Some women who are breastfeeding are back to their pre-baby weight in just a few months, while others seem to hold onto the weight until after they wean. It's so important to be gentle with yourself, to remember you are nourishing a baby and there's a reason your body is built the way it is. Another thing I try and remind clients is that they are already a role model for their child from day one. Young children are like sponges; we need to be mindful of how we talk about our bodies and the importance we as mothers place on looks. This doesn't mean we can't care about our health, but simply to be mindful of what we say. We want our babies to grow up feeling they are good enough and they will learn this from you- their most important role model.”
What is Realistic Postpartum Weight Loss?
I asked Lindsay Stenovec, MS, RDN, CEDRD, the owner of Nutrition Instincts, a nutrition counseling private practice in San Diego, who specializes in eating disorders, intuitive eating, and prenatal and postpartum wellness.
“Postpartum weight loss looks different for every woman and often does not align with our expectations or the cultural expectations imposed on us. I always remind women that the postpartum body changes are just as slow, intentional, and necessary as the ones experienced during pregnancy - think months and years - not days and weeks. When a woman expresses stress and concern about her postpartum weight, we need to understand that responding with weight loss and dieting advice is only making postpartum harder for her. At a time when she so desperately needs to be getting acquainted with her changed self, restrictive diet and exercise regimens pull her further and further away from her own body's needs and self-care. This can interfere with the overall healing process and add immense stress to an already challenging time. The best thing a mom can do is to make sure she is getting consistent, adequate meals that satisfy her taste buds and hunger (which, if she is breastfeeding, is going to be much stronger than she is used to). If moms can work towards eating based on their internal hunger and fullness cues, their bodies will have the nutrition and strength they need to heal and mom won't be dealing with the added stress that dieting can bring.”
Subvert the Dominant Paradigm
I love the movement to celebrate postpartum bodies for what they are. Instead of hiding stretch marks, women are recognizing their “tiger stripes” as earned reminders of the miraculous journeys of their bodies. In “A Beautiful Body Project”, photographer Jade Beall and her troops document real women so that they “heal, find others who have journeyed through similar challenges, realize they aren’t alone, and show future generations of boys and girls a source of media that isn’t controlled by corporate interests, using digital body alterations to change how women look, and actually build healthy self-esteem in future generations of women.”
Find your inspiration to love your body for what it can do, and what it has done. If you are stuck, “ask a baby!”(4) What would your baby say about your body?
Abigail Burd, MSW, LCSW, CPRP is a psychotherapist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in Maternal Mental Health. Drawn to helping others, Abby has worked in the mental health field since 1998. Struggling with an initial low milk supply following the birth of her first child led her to amazing postpartum support groups, including the San Diego Breastfeeding Center’s “Boob Group” where she found her “mama tribe.” After the birth of her second she briefly contemplated having more and more babies, but decided instead to integrate her passion and profession to support other pregnant and postpartum women. Abby has a private practice in the Clairemont neighborhood of San Diego, with a focus on the anxiety and emotional challenges of pregnancy and new parenthood. Her website is AbigailBurdLCSW.com.
(1) https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/social-comparison-theory; retrieved 1/22/16.
(2) Strahan, E. J., Wilson, A. E., Cressman, K. E., & Buote, V. M. (2006). Comparing to perfection: How cultural norms for appearance affect social comparisons and self-image. Body Image, 3(3), 211-227.
(3) Lim, M., & Yang, Y. (2015). Effects of users’ envy and shame on social comparison that occurs on social network services. Computers In Human Behavior, 51(Pt A), 300-311. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.05.013.