How many times have you heard a woman who has given birth to children lament the body changes? Her stomach and breasts are nothing like they used to be. Maybe her skin is looser. Her boobs are saggy. Her formerly smooth tummy is marbled by stretch marks.
For a lot of women, this is true. They once had a body that fit the cultural ideal of beauty, and carrying children changed that. Our culture holds all women, regardless of age, parenting status and genetics, to the same standard. It’s no wonder that it’s so common to see a woman feeling great disappointment in her post-baby body.
It’s also common to see a woman feeling a lot of pride in an unchanged post-baby body. Diet culture has conditioned us to be allergic to normal body changes — unless those changes take us closer to the impossible Hollywood ideal.
It’s all pretty bonkers.
Of course, pregnancy and nursing does change a lot of bodies. Since I’ve become a mom, I have noticed some differences. Let’s just say, I got my nipple stuck in the bottom band of my bra last week. I’ve also had a nipple pop right out of the top of the cup. Nursing has turned my sweater puppies into lazy old dogs. They wander to and fro. They have a life of their own now. My boob elasticity is at an all-time low.
But the truth is, I was fat, stretch-marked and soft before I ever had a baby. I’ve been a higher-weight person since I was a kid, and my body looks the way bodies look when they carry fat.
In the beginning of my motherhood journey, I was insecure and hated the body I inhabit. I found a lot of validation in my ability to reproduce. It was the first time I ever felt like my body did something right. I was also relieved to be able to blame some of my perceived flaws on my baby.
But I’ve moved past that kind of insecurity. I don’t feel like I need to blame any part of the way my body looks on having babies anymore. I’ve stopped begging for acceptance and trying to be a good fatty in a desperate attempt make people choose to be kind to me instead of cruel.
My body is what it is, and anyone who has an opinion about that needs to ask themselves why the size of another person’s body matters to them that much. It’s pretty weird, tbh.
Sure, pregnancy can change a body, but motherhood isn’t the only “excuse” for a changing body, because there is absolutely no need to make excuses for the size or shape of your body. Ever.
Plenty of people who have never carried a child and will never carry a child are soft, fat, or otherwise deviate from society’s idea of perfect. Don’t assume a person with stretch marks got them from pregnancy. Don’t assume a fat mom “let herself go” after having babies. (Whatever TF that even means.) Don’t assume a round belly is housing a fetus.
And don’t think “mom bods” are only for mothers. Not everyone who has carried a baby is a mother. Trans parents exist. Gestational carriers are a thing. Expand your mind. This is not 1950.
There are a million reasons any person might not look like a runway model, and they’re all valid. Weight gain and body changes are morally neutral, nothing to be ashamed of, and they’re normal for EVERY kind of body.
It’s easy to focus on the pressure society puts on women’s bodies, but we aren’t the only ones who struggle to find peace in our skin. Impossible standards of perfection extend to men, too.
Since COVID-19 has been keeping us home, my usually slim husband has put on some weight. Getting to the gym has been more of a challenge with COVID restrictions, so his body has naturally begun to store the energy he typically burns. For him, a naturally thin person, this is likely a season. When he resumes his normal activities, his body will almost certainly return to its typical state. Temporarily carrying some extra weight has made him confront his own fat biases in a new way.
This man lives with me, loves me, affirms all fat bodies exactly as they are, and instills body positive values into our children. He knows more about fatness than most people ever have to because it’s something I really enjoy delving deeply into.
Yet he has been struggling with his own body changes. Turns out what’s good for the goose is really bothering the gander.
I have gently reminded him that he doesn’t need an excuse to gain a few pounds. It is totally fine that living in a way we have never lived before has produced a body he’s never had before. That makes complete sense, and he needs no excuse.
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My big, soft belly. My earliest memories that my body was “wrong.” A site of torment and trauma that taught me that I, myself, was shameful. Self-inflicting harm in the hope that it would protect me. From a world that hates fat people and men who are soft, physically and emotionally. “Casual” comments, and their impact that I tried to ignore. To acknowledge them fully, would mean being too soft in both body and spirit. # My big, soft belly. As men, we must be hard and angular, like chiseled impenetrable statues. Unchanged by external conditions- seasons, quarantines, life events, traumas, systemic oppression and emotions. We are told that our bodies reflect our inner-state, and that we must always be in control. Of our lives, our emotions, “our women,” and our bodies. We are taught that a lean and muscular physique is the prize of self-control and that this is worthy of unending obsession as we sacrifice our joy at the altars of these lifeless statues that we worship. All of the trauma, self-hate, self-punishing exercise and food restrictions I put on myself had to be worth it, right? The more the better. Resentful of friends who got “credit” for their leanness when they didn’t have to harm themselves like I had in order to achieve it. Of course, I received some specialized awards for how dutifully I slit my throat and let the softness bleed out of me, as I watched myself harden to stone. # My big, soft belly. Bigger and softer than ever before. As my personhood and spirit blossoms and grows, my body and my belly does as well. Symbiotically, they support the growth of each other. As my healing takes deeper root, it supports me in growing in wild, uncontainable, and unknowable ways. What would be possible, if we could see the growth of our bodies as intricately connected to healing our our spirits, our relationships with our bodies, food, movement, and to the world around us? # My dad’s big, soft belly. Like mine. Too unique and beautiful to fit into the hard boxes created to contain soft men. I feel his pain, like I feel my own. My softness allows it. And he is gentle, kind, empathetic…soft. Our softness is magic. There is beauty in our softness.
I finally live with the understanding that I don’t need to use my babies to explain any of my perceived imperfections. I don’t have to justify my size to anyone. No matter how it looks, I am allowed to live in my body in peace.
The same is true for every single body. It is important that we all give ourselves the freedom to live in a body that changes. That’s just the nature of being alive.
I had a fat body before I carried babies, and that is okay.
Moms do see a lot of changes in our bodies after having children, but we don’t have the market cornered. Soft bellies, sagging breasts, stretch marks, rogue hairs, drooping, sagging and a million other body changes just happen when human beings eat and move and get older on a planet with gravity.
It’s normal for these body changes to happen to men. Women who haven’t had babies. Non-binary and trans peeps. Parenthood is not the only thing that changes a body. If we want to help everyone achieve a healthier relationship with their body and change the way society talks about body size and shape, we have to be careful to validate ALL bodies while we are having these conversations.
As long as we are all human, we are all subject to seeing and struggling with the same basic changes to our bodies, and it’s time to normalize that.