Back in 2014, days after giving birth to my first child, I stood bleary-eyed and naked in front of the bathroom mirror, trying to make sense of my newly postpartum body. Overcome with disbelief and exhaustion, I remember clinging to a fragile hope that the physically unrecognizable parts of me would find their ways back to their original, early-20-something settings.
Subsequent postpartum journeys in 2016 and 2019, proved otherwise. Each time my body came out on the other side with portions of it looking and feeling even more unknown.
In the thick of the body positive movement, I attempted to embrace and appreciate the newfound changes to my physical appearance. I censored my thinking, drowning out all of my negative thoughts with self-love mantras.
But, even still, my inner voice would find a way back to the berating self-talk that left me feeling unworthy and ashamed of how much my body had changed from what it used to be. The positive affirmation statements felt fraudulent. They didn’t match what I felt when I looked in the mirror. It wasn’t that I hated myself, I just wasn’t totally in love with the current phase of my appearance. I needed that to be OK.
In pursuit of a more compassionate and realistic mindset, I stumbled upon the concept of body neutrality.
Body neutrality has been a life-changing middle ground for me. Here are a few reasons why:
De-centering the focus on my appearance
At its core, body neutrality challenges me to accept my body for what it is, a vessel that gets me from one place to another while allowing me to experience what life has to offer. In turning the focus towards what my body does rather than how it appears, I am able to value myself even if I’m not always in love with the way my body looks. It’s OK to be somewhere in the middle, yet still have appreciation for what my body is capable of.
Recognizing and prioritizing how I feel IN my body
A few weekends back, while the kids played in the backyard, my husband and I threw the frisbee back and forth to each other. While in the past, I would have obsessed about what I looked like while doing this, I was instead able to find appreciation and joy in the physical activity because it felt good and I was having fun. The body neutral movement has helped me to gravitate toward physical activity that feels more like joy and less like punishment. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to force my body to do it. I can engage in what suits me. I am learning to practice mindfulness when it comes to the food I eat. I nourish my body with the essentials while also indulging in cravings without guilt.
Authentic gratitude and respect for what my body does on a daily basis
As mothers, we are frequently in a state of doing. It can be exhausting and often the “thank yous” are minimal. Lately, I have been taking a moment to thank my body for what it helps me to achieve in the day to day. I thank it for aiding me in washing dishes, loading up groceries, cooking countless meals, and caring for my daughters. I thank it for supporting me as I teach my students each day, as I connect with loved ones, and even as I write this article. Most of all, I thank it for all that it has done in the past year to carry me through the abundant challenges of a pandemic. While these messages of appreciation only take a moment, they go such a long way in reframing my perspective of my body’s worth.
As the weather warms and the world opens up, if you find yourself feeling anxious or frustrated about your appearance, I hope you are able to find solace in this neutral, yet, healing mindset. With all of that we achieve just by waking up and being ourselves, the way we look should be the least important detail about who we are.