If becoming a mom is something you’re considering, what comes to mind when you think about the possibility of that life-changing experience? Do you wonder about what your baby would look like, how it might feel to hold him or her? Do you feel excited about raising a child and anxious at the thought of sleepless nights and parenting decisions? Or, are you feeling anxious about the changes that will take place with your body? Do you worry a lot about what you would look like pregnant, how much weight you will gain or how quickly you will lose the weight afterwards?
If you are like a lot of women, when you think about becoming a mom you probably experience a combination of both excitement and worry, some of which might revolve around the potential changes to your body. However, if you find yourself mostly occupied by these thoughts and fears about weight gain or other body changes, its important to address them. When negative body image thoughts or an overarching fear about weight gain are preventing you from otherwise enjoying a journey towards motherhood, or if those fears are the primary reason that you are postponing important things in your life, it may be a good time to reflect on and work towards a more positive body image. If having children is something you are considering or if it is a possibility at any point in the future, developing a foundation of body acceptance before you go through the emotional and physical changes of pregnancy and motherhood is ideal.
Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei, authors of “Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?”report that 78% of women they surveyed who don’t have children yet or are not planning to have children, said that they had concerns about how pregnancy and motherhood could change their bodies. Furthermore, 79% of the ones who expressed these fears said that gaining weight and not being able to lose it after delivery was their number one fear. Clearly, this is not an uncommon thought, especially as media outlets continue to shine a spotlight on pregnant bodies and proceed to publicly judge women based on their rate of return to pre-pregnant form. This pressure can be a lot to contend with but we want women to know that it is possible to feel good about yourself and your body – it has nothing to do with changing your body and everything to do with changing how you think about and treat your body. Learning about and working towards a positive body image now, will not only prepare you to accept and appreciate the changes that come during pregnancy but will also help you to be a positive body image role model for others, especially any future children that might come along.
There are a lot of on-line resources claiming to provide helpful hints for improving body image pre and post-pregnancy. While perusing these resources, remember that the definition of positive body image is not dependent upon being a specific weight or size, nor does it require any physical deviation from the way your body is right now. If you ever come across “helpful body image hints” that encourage you to do things for rapid weight loss, or if they are very focused on fitting you into your pre-pregnancy jeans as soon as possible, it’s probably not a helpful resource for body image or for your health.
If you are thinking about or planning a pregnancy, or if you are currently pregnant or parenting, these are some strategies that can help you resist negative cultural messages about women’s bodies and move towards acceptance and appreciation for the body that you have!
Focus on your health, not your weight. Healthy can come in any size and shape and the same goes for unhealthy. Attempt to stop judging your health status (and other people’s health) based on weight or outward appearance. In fact, research shows that focusing on health – without regard to weight – consistently leads to better physical health outcomes.
Throwing out (or donating) your bathroom scale can make it a lot easier to focus on incorporating healthy behaviors for health’s sake as opposed to perpetually being tempted to strive for an unrealistic or unhealthy number on the scale. Leave the weigh-ins for the doctor’s office.
Evaluate your reading material. After just 3 minutes of looking at a women’s fashion magazine, 70% of women feel significantly worse about themselves. Remember that pregnancy and parenting magazines are not immune from our retouched and photoshopped culture – many of the pregnant bellies and even the babies (yikes!) in these magazine photos have been significantly altered to appear “flawless”. Do some self-check-ins occasionally to make sure you aren’t comparing your own real body to those that have been digitally created.
On a daily basis, attempt to consider and appreciate the utility of your body instead of simply placing value on how it looks. Instead of labeling wrinkles an unfortunate byproduct of aging, consider them proof of all the smiling you have done and wear them proudly. This will be an incredibly important mindset to adopt prior to, during and following pregnancy when women’s bodies go through natural and amazing changes in order to support a baby. Widening hips during pregnancy are often the focus of much discontent among pregnant women who no longer fit into their jeans. But if you take the time learn about how and why your hips are widening, you will be better able to develop an attitude of understanding and gratitude for your body and move away from the loathing and self-criticism that has, unfortunately become so normalized among new moms.
Close your eyes and picture five to ten women who have been the most influential in your life. Perhaps you look up to them for their strong morals and values, their attributes as a parent or as a professional, or because they inspire you to reach your own goals. They might be relatives or friends, famous or not famous, younger or older than you. As you visualize these women ask yourself a few questions…Do they all look the same? Are they shaped the same? Do they all wear the same size or have the same skin color? Are they all exactly the same height? In most cases, the answer to all of these questions is going to be no. No, because beautiful people come in all shapes and sizes, including you.
If you continually struggle with negative thoughts about your body, have persistent or intense fears about gaining weight (related or unrelated to a pregnancy), or experience significant distress as a result of a preoccupation with your weight or size, you may want to consider seeking professional support. If you have any questions about therapy to help improve body image, please visit www.eatingdisorder.org or call The Center for Eating Disorders at (410) 939-5252.