Loving the shape of a mother: the beauty of a postpartum body and the struggles it can spark

Women in today’s society are sent message after message about how they should look.  What generous gifts these messages are!  According to Western society, women “should” be not too tall, have tanned, unblemished skin or perfectly alabaster skin, shiny modern hair, and of course, you can never be skinny enough.  When a woman becomes pregnant, an event that is the most natural and beautiful process a woman can embody, the messages she is sent about her looks are intensified:  you can’t gain more than xxx amount of weight!  You must wear pregnancy-flattering clothes!  You must not ‘let yourself go’ (my favorite)!  When is a woman just allowed to be?  Allowed to experience the magic of another person growing inside of her without being told she needs to “do this and be that” for the whole nine months?  There also appear to be rules that change when a woman gets pregnant — I have had several pregnant friends lament about the way complete strangers come up to them and put their hands on their belly.  Would anyone do that to you if you weren’t pregnant?

I was recently introduced to the site The Shape of a Mother, which is an inspirational, and amazingly real forum where new mothers “of all ages, shapes, sizes and nationalities can share images of their bodies so it will no longer be secret. So we can finally see what women really look like sans airbrushes and plastic surgery. I think it would be nothing short of amazing if a few of our hearts are healed, or if we begin to cherish our new bodies which have done so much for the human race. What if the next generation grows up knowing how normal our bodies are?”.  The intent of this site’s creator is to throw away the shame that be felt when a new mother is not comfortable in her new body — often due to the influence of society’s messages.  When actresses and celebrities are “losing the baby weight” within a few weeks of having a child, it’s difficult to not feel insecure about your own post-baby body.  But this is not Hollywood, and this site is a safe place for women of all backgrounds to share their stories.

The site is filled with photos of “real bodies”, adjusting to life after giving birth.  These pictures might shed light on parts of the body that would normally be hidden by clothes out of shame or embarrassment.  Here, they are proudly expressed, openly celebrated, and joyfully worshipped.  Women of all ages share their stories — not only of body insecurities and observations, but of what their pregnancy and birth experience was like.  Women share photos of their children, their bodies, their families.  They emphasize what is most important to them: health, family, love.  Some share about wanting to hide their post-pregnancy belly or stretch marks, and with encouragement from other new moms, these women find support for being thankful for the gifts they have received from their experience.

One new mom shares: “The only message I have from this post is to love your body, not matter what size and shape.I realized how much time I wasted on wishing I was thinner. Because when I look back, I dont think about how much I hated the way I looked, I think about how my daughter has grown and how smart she has become and how beautiful she is growing up to be. Be your own kind of beautiful, because we are all beautiful!”

The Shape of a Mother is a light amidst a swirling and menacing hurricane.  The honesty shared here is hard to find; society doesn’t talk much about the reality of accepting a post-baby body.  I am inspired by these women and know that this website is a wonderful resource for women who are thinking about getting pregnant, who are pregnant, or who are adjusting to life as a new mother.