Few people suggest starting a workout routine by walking into a gym and haphazardly jumping from one machine to the next. You might get your heart rate up, which is better than sitting on the couch, but you will take longer to improve your fitness than if you followed an actual plan. Luckily, fitness plans are easy to find, even if the sheer number of options is overwhelming.
But what if you want to improve your body image? How does one even do that? Do you find lots of body positive Facebook pages? Do you get a book? Do you see a therapist? You could do all of those.
However, a Facebook page isn’t a plan. Memes and unfiltered advice might make you feel better (or worse) in the moment, but then what? A long book might help, depending on your personality, but I haven’t found many. And, a therapist can be great, but requires large time and financial commitments (necessary commitments if you need a lot of help, but overkill if you simply want some direction).
Frankly, body image resources are hard to locate. You can find scores and scores of advice about building a better butt, but nary a body image roadmap. Indeed, an app that bills itself as creating a “better body image” is all about losing weight. Sigh. Of course it is.
This is why I created a stand-alone body image resource– to provide a little organization for our confused body images.
Focusing exclusively on your body image may feel new to you, especially if you have tried other postpartum solutions for diastasis recti or prolapse or weight loss. Therefore, I’ll explain my rationale for creating a stand-alone body image resource.
First, remember, body image is not a state, but rather a process. Bodies are always changing. You will not reach a certain acceptable body, and you will not reach a perfect body image. The goal is better enough.
The Broken Body
Coming to terms with the postpartum body can be especially hard for women (ahem, me) who didn’t even know pregnancy and childbirth could result in excess skin, diastasis recti, and prolapsed organs. I honestly thought stretch marks were the worst that could happen (you can read more about my story here).
For years I approached the broken body from a place of needing to find the fix for x, y, and z, without realizing I could find evidence based ways to alter my mindset, even as I tried to heal physical traumas.
Much of my body DID improve, but I never “got my body back.” After the zillionth program failed to make me look like what I thought I needed to look like, I decided to add a different goal to my planner: Work on my body image.
Sadly, my body image woes weren’t a motherly exception. The psychological literature refers to generalized body scorn as a “normative discontent.” In other words, most of us are screwed up.
After having babies, women don’t often talk about getting their body images back. Body image is implicitly predicated upon first fixing the body. Postnatal women talk a lot about getting a waist back, losing the baby weight, and reclaiming lost mojo, all fine thoughts, but I consider them subheadings to a much larger goal: Being able to live in the body you have right now without dehumanizing that body, without connecting your self-worth to your body.
I have always been bothered by the visual and verbal dissonance of the postnatal exercise world. We women are aware of this normative body discontent. We get that hating our bodies = bad, so we place a lot of emphasis on “loving our bodies.”
But, often the advice to love our bodies is part of a fitspiration meme attached to a picture of a ridiculously thin and fit woman. Not only is this “love yourself” talk confusing because of the contradiction between the message and the image, but the advice lacks teeth.
Exactly HOW does one learn to love a body? Just by going to the gym? Losing weight? Lifting weights? Striving for that fitspiration image?
Or, perhaps the approach should be more zen, maybe by meditating on our earned tiger stripes? Telling ourselves that our bodies are glorious baby making earth goddesses no matter what they look like?
None of those options are necessarily bad. Exercise and psychological reframing are absolutely useful tools. Nonetheless, memes don’t give much body image direction.
I’m not ANTI-positive body image. However, stand alone “be positive” or “love yourself” phrases never worked for me.
The Motherfigure approach to body image is based upon an amalgam of proven therapeutic philosophies.
I found the most help in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, specifically Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, as well as the more recent Solutions Focused Brief Therapy. These approaches are all focused on exploring behavioral and mental solutions, not on plumbing the depths of your past body image, nor on promoting ungrounded positive thinking.
Therefore, I place less emphasis on emptying the mind via body based meditation than I do on cognitive meditation, but there is some cross over (and both types of meditation are useful).
What is a “good body image”?
What does a good body image look like? This is a surprisingly hard question to answer, and your answer will differ from other moms’. Although a “good body image” is highly individual, here are some commonalities:
Having a “good body image” doesn’t mean always thinking positively about your body, but it does mean you don’t spend all day “checking” or letting thoughts about your body manifest themselves as crankiness, depression, or an inability to enjoy your life.
It means not obsessing about your weight or the size of your diastasis or the state of your pelvic floor.
It means accepting what is present, but also striving for change. Acceptance is not resignation or complacency. It is acknowledging that the body is always changing.
Are you ready?
Good, let’s get started.