This is my body. It isn’t perfect, and I have no illusions that it is. I don’t always love it, but it’s mine. It’s healthy, but it could be healthier. It’s strong, but it could be stronger. It’s the shell for my mind and my soul, and bears the burdens of their weariness. It’s tired. It’s a machine. A work of art or a disaster, it feeds and nourishes a baby. It’s the aftermath to a pregnancy, and the evidence of a life well-lived. It is mine to feel good or badly about. Mine to judge. Mine to celebrate. Mine to feel ashamed and proud of. Mine to improve and mine to carry.

I was recently asked if I am pregnant. I am not. I was recently asked why I look like I am dying. I do not, and I am not. I have received offers for body wraps and diets, methods to better conceal my post-baby body, and unsolicited suggestions on how to “feel healthier.” It isn’t a compliment to say we look great “considering,” and it isn’t appropriate to suggest we give ourselves a few weeks before “getting back on the horse.” Body image is already an enormous battle without others telling you that you are somehow not perfect enough. That you could do better. That you could be more ideal. Yes, we all could, but our bodies are not up for debate. They are not publicly owned. They are not talking points. They are ours.

It was nearly two months ago that I was asked if I was pregnant. My face fell and my heart sank. I tried to shake it, but the tiny seed of doubt and self-loathing kept growing until it became this constant voice telling me I wasn’t good enough, or beautiful enough, and consequently not as worthy of love as I once was. It’s silly of course, that a thoughtless question could rattle me so intensely. But three days ago, while getting ready for a date with my husband, I found myself staring into the mirror—feeling afraid to leave our bedroom in a dress that I no longer felt beautiful in.

We don’t have to recover our bodies on someone else’s predetermined schedule. In fact, we don’t have to recover at all. As a friend said, “Yes, my body changed, but so did my heart and that’s okay.” It’s a dishonor to mothers to take away from the depth of childbearing with the shallowness of physical judgment. New mothers are tired. They are in love and they are weary. They are suddenly confident and simultaneously worried about every choice they make. Their hormones are going through an incredible rollercoaster, and their bodies are changing. But we have a deeper capacity than to simply be focusing on our bodies, to simply give in to judgment as if there is nothing else more worthwhile.

“Body image is already an enormous battle without others telling you that you are somehow not perfect enough. That you could do better. That you could be more ideal.”

My friend Nora gave birth to twin boys ten years ago. They wreaked havoc on her abdomen and left her with permanent scarring. In the early years after their birth, I remember her being afraid of becoming too intimate with anyone, for fear that they may see her stomach and become deterred. A fear that scars from a life-altering event would be enough to conquer potential love. That’s body-shaming for you. That’s what we perpetuate with suggestions to conceal the evidence of our battles. That’s what “you look good considering” does. It makes us unsure, and ashamed, and afraid of judgment. So much so that we create an inner dialogue of repetitive self-doubt and self-loathing.

Nora recently had another mama comment, “I’m lucky I didn’t get any stretch marks with any of my three kids” upon seeing Nora’s scarring. It was innocent enough, and unquestionably not ill-intentioned, but the statement implies that to have stretch marks is unlucky. That to be imperfect is somehow less valuable. That it’s okay to divine worth from physical differences out of our control. As Nora says, “It has been a long trip to where I am now in relationship to these marks. Being a young mother I went from a somewhat ‘ideal’ body to one that some may find to be undesirable. This was not easy as a single 22-year-old. But it has taught me how to love myself more than I ever did before and probably more than I would if they never blessed my body.”

Be careful how you relate to those around you. Our words are powerful, and we naturally incorporate the negative or positive feedback we receive into our own definition of self-worth. No one needs the extra push to feel a little bit worse about themselves. No one feels so great that negativity doesn’t chip away at their armor. We all can use a push toward greater self-love. We all can use a compliment. We all can use a kindness.

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