Alexandra is a 25-year-old mother of three. After having her first baby at 21, she was unprepared for the changes in her body — specifically, to her skin — and accepting them was compounded by postpartum depression. Now, through connecting with other women and some spoken word self-care, she’s decided that a perfect post-baby body is attainable — and it’s the one she’s in.
I had body image problems even before I had my son, so all the physical changes that came with pregnancy and childbirth gave me immense anxiety.
I was not prepared at all, which made it feel very isolating. Everybody told me that labor was going to be intense, that breastfeeding was going to be difficult, that not sleeping was going to be extremely hard, but nobody told me, “You will get stretch marks.” “Your stomach skin might sag.” “Your boobs might sag.” I had no idea that at 21 years old my body and skin would not even be recognizable to myself. I had postpartum depression — and this anxiety about my body and skin never being the same just deepened it.
After my second son, my skin insecurities got even worse. My butt had stretch marks all over it. My breasts were covered in stretch marks. And I was… just extremely sad. I felt like a failure. I was afraid to go to the beach or even be naked in front of my husband. And I was constantly comparing myself to other women, which is so unrealistic and damaging. I remember seeing a picture of a model who was about three weeks postpartum, and she was just drop-dead gorgeous. It was kind of the last straw for me. So I posted a picture of my body on Instagram, stretch marks and all. I just wanted to reach out to the other mamas out there, the ones who also have stretch marks and cry sometimes, and say to them, “You aren’t alone, and we will get through this.” And it got a huge response.
People said, “My belly looks exactly like yours.” And “I love you so much for posting this.” It was so healing. The only way that we can normalize that there are a lot of women who look like me is to talk about it and to show it. Every single time I upload a picture on my Instagram, I think, “That’s one more time that somebody’s going to see a body like mine.” I honestly think that is the best thing I’ve ever done — I connect with other women instead of comparing myself to them.
Since then I’ve been figuring out what makes me feel more empowered about my body. For the longest time I wouldn’t wear a bikini, even though I wore them all the time before I had children. When I decided to do it, I prepared for weeks. Every day I would put my bathing suit on, look in the mirror, and tell myself, “You look really good. You’re beautiful. There’s nothing wrong with your body. Wear this bikini, Alex. Just wear the F-ing bikini.” Even with all of that, I still cried in the car when we got there. It was such a battle. I truly thought people were going to point and laugh at me. I mean, we live in a time period right now where you open Instagram on your phone and you see a thousand girls, women, who are flawless in bikinis. As a woman, you cannot escape it. So it was a battle to learn to love myself the way I am and put myself out there.
A big part of what helped me do that was to prioritize self-care and to make sure I do things for myself. I’m so busy with the kids that I need to consciously build in time to rest. A big part of my self-care routine is to sit outside in the sun for 30 minutes in the morning. I take the kids outside and let them play, and just sit there and relax. The other thing that I’ve got on lock is exercise. I can’t just go to a yoga studio whenever I feel like it. But twice a week my husband comes home early and I go to a cycling class. I leave my phone in the car, I clip into that bike, and I go, like, full-on savage. Just pedal until I cannot pedal anymore. When I go there, I just let it all out — any negative thoughts I have about myself, my frustration throughout the day, anything that made me feel upset. I just let it all go when I start pedaling. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I cry. People probably think I’m crazy, but you just need an outlet.
Scrapbooking is also something that I do for myself. I gather my favorite photos and build timelines for each of my three boys. I love to look back and see how far we have come and how much we have evolved and grown. It’s the greatest feeling to look back over the last four years and think about how much I love the boys and how grateful I am for each of them. Being in a better place with my body means that I can look at myself in the photos and cherish the entire experience, and not beat myself up over the way I look.
Too-small-to-fail steps anyone can take to challenge perfection anxiety
I can’t sit here and tell you that I completely love my body right now. It is something that I have to learn every single day. I use that technique of talking to myself in the mirror a lot. When I am feeling down I will stand in front of the mirror and list the things that I love about myself. Like, I love my collar bones. I love the way that my arms look. I think I have great legs. I feel gratitude for my body because it gave me my children. I say it out loud. This is where I’m at right now. Learning to love myself the way I am.