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Body image
12 Minutes

Body image pre and post baby: you’re not alone…

Body image is very topical. Particularly when it comes to conception, pregnancy and early years. It can be a very stressful time, particularly when you overlay a body that may not be doing what you want it to do. Or a body that you feel like you’re no longer in control of. 

On top of that. In our modern, superficial and image based society. How do we teach our kids to be comfortable with how they feel about their own bodies? We sit down with leading psychotherapist and body image specialist Holli Rubin to talk everything from how to tackle your body changing, to instagram, to feeling guilty, to the relationship with a partner to how we can help our kids have a health body image in our image obsessed world. (Plus lots more in between!) 

For the full podcast conversation click here to listen. Or read on for some of the highlights/key takeaway points…

‘I learnt about body image very early. From an accident I had which changed my appearance’: 

Holli: My own experience of body image started when I was only 5 years old. I had an accident which left a scar and meant I had to have a splint in my mouth. This of course drew attention to the fact that I looked different. Children can be pretty cruel and it was tough for me. It definitely made me look at life in a different way from a very young age. 

Working at Montreal General Hospital’s Gender unit: 

I was working with clients who were wanting to have gender reassignment surgery. Part of the process is to live in the gender for at least a year. I watched people struggle with gender identity, physical changes and changes in personal perception. It showed me these decisions cannot be made quickly. It is an enormously complex topic and needs to be processed. This also had a big impact on me and added a layer to how I understand body image and the challenges that can crop up. However… 

Ultimately we all go through things with regards to the perception of ourselves. Just at different points of our lives. At one point or another we will all likely have questions about ourselves, our appearance and how we feel about ourselves: 

Conception, pregnancy and early years is one example of times in our life when we can start to be very aware of this and when these questions can come up. Of course there are many others. However, this is typically a time of major change and transition. 

How you perceive yourself and your own body image matters from the very start: this is crucial for our kids and future kids: 

It starts with you. The good news is more recently what society considers ‘beautiful’ has expanded. Diversity and difference are tolerated a lot more than in the past. Which makes it a bit easier to an extent. Although we are not there yet. The future generation are important however. 

The age piece is very important: much earlier than you may think… 

The ages between 0-5 are a crucial time. The messaging we give to a child about our own appearance can be really powerful. So one positive thing we can do is to be conscious and think about how we as parents (or future parents) talk about our bodies, our appearance and how we approach food. It is more important than most people realise. 

Questioning and criticising your own appearance and in front of your child will shape how they see the world. Being conscious about your messaging and attitude towards your own body image can be really powerful and positive to setting the foundations for a healthy body image in a child. 

Key messaging for the next generation: what you look like is wonderful, but what you look like isnt the only thing. Who you are as an individual and what lies beneath is really important

In fact, being conscious of how we view ourselves and our bodies even during pregnancy is really important and can make an impact. Particularly as our bodies change. We wrote a paper on this entire subject for the government: Two for One focusing on pregnancy and how body image can make an impact during and beyond. Click here to have a look. It demonstrates how getting your own body image into a positive position can be a real benefit for both you/your child even as early as during pregnancy. 

Pregnancy can represent being ‘out of control’: 

Some women really struggle with the lack of control over their bodies during pregnancy. Even worse it can then leave people feeling anxious and guilty for feeling that way on top of this. 

Talking about it and acknowledging that it happens is a really good first step. It has not been part of the conversation much previously, but it should be. It is something many women struggle with. Often in silence. 

Awareness….  

How to actually tackle it often starts with awareness. Self awareness specifically. Simply acknowledging that you are having negative thoughts about how you feel. Accepting the thoughts without judgement as much as you can. This is a time to be more gentle. That being said, being gentle is often hard to do! It is a big transition, particularly if you’re used to being a certain way. 

Permission: 

Pregnancy will likely impact how you feel and how you see yourself. It is a big change.The trouble is that the more down you are on the thoughts you have, the worse it is. So, give yourself permission to feel the way you feel. Be kind to yourself. Every moment of your pregnancy does not need to be blissful. 

Society’s image of pregnancy is often not very realistic: 

People talk about ‘blooming’ during pregnancy and a lot of lovely words and there are people who do have a lovely time. However, there is another side. You won’t always wake up feeling fantastic. It is not unusual to feel challenged by the way your body is changing.  

Being honest with yourself:

Social media can be quite toxic for many people. The trouble is (as most of us are now more conscious of) this is often only really looking at a person’s appearance. It is a one dimensional image. A highlight reel. It does not show what lies behind. Looking at perfect images of pregnancy/celebrity post-partum does not show all the hours it took to get to that image. It doesn’t show the team behind the images. Most of it is not necessarily how a regular person is living. It can put you on the back foot during a vulnerable time. So you need to be careful and honest about how things like that are really making you feel. 

Taking an inventory: is this actually an opportunity?! 

Take an inventory of what makes you feel good, not good. Honesty and awareness of yourself. It is the best place to start. It can be difficult, but feeling vulnerable and anxious during pregnancy can actually be an opportunity to start to understand yourself better. Sometimes its not easy to take the first step. It takes time and vulnerability but working out more about yourself and what makes you feel positive/negative can be very powerful. 

It can impact everything including the relationship with a partner: 

Relationships are another area that people can really struggle with as your body changes. However, it is all about communication. Sounds obvious, but simply having an open conversation with your partner and being honest and brave enough to share how you’re feeling can be a relief. 

Open up a conversation, but also be curious to listen….

A lot of the time body image is about how we are experiencing ourselves. Much more than what other people think. In fact, you may find that your partner will think entirely differently to your perception. So, just sharing and opening it up can give a different perspective.

This does not discount how you are feeling, but it can be relieving to share and listen. Hear another person’s perspective. Just stop to think about whether you’re worried about how someone else thinks about you or is it about how you feel about yourself? 

Being gentle: you can’t talk away how you feel: 

Ultimately, you cannot talk yourself out or rationalise away feelings. Really. So, it is about acknowledging your feelings and accepting them. Knowing that they will change and will shift. 

The celebrity post baby ‘bounce-back’: 

Whilst there is now much more of a backlash against celebrities who have a baby and then ten minutes later appear to be a size zero the media still does focus on it to an extent. It can make people feel pretty horrible. Particularly when you’re dealing with big shifts in your body, your hormones etc. 

But is this much deeper than simply about being able to fit back into skinny jeans? 

Although we intellectually know that getting back to being a certain size is not the real goal. At a deeper level it is usually about something else… 

Body image, your identity and pressure: 

The desire to ‘snap back’ can in fact be much more about your identity vs your size. Having a baby is a big transition and can be a very scary time. You are venturing into a whole new world. If it is your first baby, or even if it is your second/third etc. It is a big dynamic shift. 

There is also so much pressure to ‘get it all right’. There is a huge pressure on a new mother. Her previous identity, career, role as a friend, partner etc can change. So ‘getting your body back’ can be a lot to do with getting your identity back. About clinging to what you know. 

However, if your focus is there it will be less on bonding time with your child which can slip down the list. Relinquishing control and prioritising bonding as much as you can is hard to do but can be really positive. 

’Should’ is such a hard word: I try to banish that word – it tends to simply put more pressure on: 

We are constantly being told what we ‘should’ be doing. Well, you shouldn’t! You should be going through what you’re going through. So if we can remove that judgement a little bit even that helps. 

It IS a stressful time and that’s ok. Get your support team on side: 

People do say it, but for a reason. Having supportive people around you is really powerful. You will need, and probably want: help. However, the early days you probably won’t know (yet) what works best for you. You can’t know straight away. It is unchartered territory. Another reason why people like to go back to the familiar and back into previous ‘identity’…. 

Having support can help you accept this uncertain time. Finding a group who can nourish you and help you through the early days allowing openness and communication of how you feel is really positive. You just have to be a bit brave to let people in. Which can be a struggle at first. 

Community: communication vs connection? 

There is a place for online forums – I realise that is a source of support for many – especially when you cannot get out of the house so easily. But, if you’re asking me for the best way then it is live. Looking and connecting with people. There is something that is very powerful about being in person. Often more so than behind a screen. This connection with others will help you when you are connecting with your newborn. The more in person time you have, the more you will be able to give. 

We are communicating but we are not connecting…. 

Sometimes as much as we can be ’communicating’ online, it can ironically contribute to loneliness. We may feel like we are interacting, but you are essentially missing that fundamental connection. You can be left ‘full’ but not left ‘satisfied’. So, be mindful about what will feel satisfying and real to you. That will be different depending on the individual 

You’re not alone: 

It may feel like you are sometimes. Even when you’re surrounded by people. However, so many people face a hard time in the early days. Being honest with yourself during this time can also be really hard. Particularly when you’re at your most vulnerable. However, having the courage to say you’re having a hard time can be a great first step. Asking for help. Sometimes people can even feel guilty or even indulgent about needing ‘help’. However, it is not just ok, it is actually important and necessary. 

Asking for help can even be really helpful for your children/future children: 

By acknowledging and being ‘ok’ with negative feelings we are teaching our kids that it is ok to not feel fantastic all the time. Which is life! It also enables open conversation. Rather than shielding kids from any emotion that isnt positive and brushing things under the rug. To close off from negativity shows a child that it is not ok to have that range of emotion. They dont have permission to do that. 

Being honest with this helps you family too and can let go of some of the guilt attached with asking for help. 

We want to give our kids a ‘perfect childhood’: but being open about highs and lows can be a better way: 

Parenthood can be a competitive game. It is so hard on new parents even as early as with conception. The next generation need to manage the modern lifestyle pressure. That means good and bad. Being honest with that. 

How to prepare our kids for such a ‘visual’ image based society? 

Simply acknowledging that everyone’s ‘normal’ is different is a great start. If people can understand that early on, it can be profound. Acknowledging that we all do things differently and we are all different is a really important first step. 

Being able to appreciate our bodies for what they can do vs what they look like: 

This is an important disctinction. Luckily it is being talked about more. It’s not about being an ornament. It is recognising what your body can do and starting that really early with our kids. 

Praise for what your body does vs the way it looks: 

Probably without realising, the language that we use and what we notice is the message that our kids take on. Most of us will look at a baby and talk about how cute they are (or pretty/handsome) small kids are cute! However, changing the language and what we notice about our own bodies and our children’s bodies can be another powerful tool. Highlighting activity vs appearance – celebrating that. Being conscious and consistent can be really positive. 

But we don’t have to let the pendulum swing too far… 

We can sometimes have a tendency to go to extremes. Talking about appearance is ok too! Of course it is ok to say that a baby is cute! It is just about moderation. About being sensible. A middle ground. Appearance matters and exists but in relation to what lies beneath. It also starts with us as parents. If you can shift your own mindset it will come much more naturally. 

Mindfulness is another word for awareness: 

Sometimes its just stopping a moment. Pausing and be thoughtful on comments. It’s hard though! We are conditioned to comment and judge on appearance. Learning who a person is requires time and commitment to conversation vs the immediate culture we have become used to. Which is then about how we look. 

The act of meditation – is really to sit with yourself. It is not about getting rid of the thoughts. Our brains are programmed to think. Meditation is being aware of those thoughts. It is being aware so you can let them go and the notice sometyhing else. Acknowledging it – letting go with acceptance. 

The beauty of ‘modern meditation’: 

The good news is we can do this anywhere, anytime. It can be as small as pausing and being aware of what we are doing. You dont need to be in the lotus position. You just need to get out of autopilot and into a more aware state of your thoughts and how you are feeling. Not always be focusing on the next thing. Being in the moment of that. 

Don’t try and do too much all at once: give yourself a break! 

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This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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