The top photo was taken three years before my son was born. The bottom picture was taken 12 weeks after Beauden was born. I hated my body equally in both photos.
In the first photo, I was trying my absolute hardest to look “skinny”. I genuinely loathed the body I wore. I was desperate for that elusive bikini beach body and was resolved to the idea that "that" girl would never be me. I was obsessed with the food I ate, validating my self-worth by my ability to stick to a diet of restriction and the number on the scales.
In the second photo, my self-esteem was at an all time low. My body still felt raw from carrying a baby and birth. There was a softness to it that I wasn't used to, and my hips and ribs were wider. But, the cause of most of my pain - and it felt like a physical pain - were the stretch marks on my belly, tearing across my skin like red angry claw marks. Every time I looked down at them I hated myself for somehow allowing my body to get this way. I saw my stretch marks as some sort of failure on my part to live up to this self-imposed bullshit societal standard about what a woman should look like, not just post-pregnancy, but in general.
I tried everything to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy.
I used coconut oil and miracle creams twice daily - sold to me by companies who played on my fears. I was constantly monitoring my weight and was incessantly preoccupied with what I ate so I didn’t gain weight. But my body, in all its wisdom, had its own ideas. I tried to tell myself: “I will not get stretch marks” but I didn't believe it. The thought was laden with fear and had such a powerful energy that I now believe I manifested them into being.
I remember the first stretch mark I got - I was seven months pregnant and on holiday when I noticed it in the mirror.
“I will never be beautiful now," I told myself.
After Beauden was born, and my belly shrunk back down, the shame deepened as the severity of my scars revealed themselves to me. As my mum friends' bodies bounced back to what I considered "normal", I could only look on in envy. I threw out my bikinis, joking emptily that I would never wear another again and gave up any hope of ever having the ideal body I so deeply desired.
Life coaches can help you remove old blockages so you can move forward in areas of your life where you feel stuck, have little growth, momentum or change. My own coach (and personal friend) decided for me that it was time to work on my self-love and ditch the body shame. She walked me through a process whereby I make statements about my body that feel good emotionally and I believed to be true.
Listen: Should women stop posting post-birth bikini photos? (Post continues...)
It started off small… 'I like my frizzy hair', 'I like the shape of my nails', 'I like the colour of my skin'. Soon it evolved to 'my body is strong', 'my body grew a human on its own', 'my belly cradled my son for nine months', 'it gave birth', 'the milk my body produced nourished my child'.
It was hard to accept that I didn't create stretch marks or a soft belly, this wasn't my punishment. The fact is that they were created in the process of creating life - that is it. A simple fact made dramatic only by the emotional attachment I placed on it because of how I chose to think of them.
Slowly - slowly - my mindset started to shift.
Acceptance and love for my body wasn’t as simple as just making statements about what I liked, I had to say things I truly believed and soon realised that my feelings towards my body weren’t actually about my body. They were about acceptance and judgement from others and my fear that I would receive neither. That I wasn't enough and that I didn't deserve to be enough. So instead of waiting to be rejected by others, my mind protected itself by rejecting me before anyone else could.
I am a strong believer that happiness is generated from the inside out. Seeking validation from something external never ever works and only leaves us feeling frustrated, depressed and as if we have somehow failed. Your body is just an example, you could apply the same to concept to money, to your job, to your relationship. When we tidy up our thinking around that which we desire, not just the what but the why, then the rest will soon fall into place.
The marks on our bodies are not something to be ashamed of. They tell a story about our weight loss and weight gain, of our illnesses and surgeries, of depression and struggle, of our transition from maidenhood to womanhood.
We shouldn't feel pressure to erase these rites of passage from our bodies.
I’m still learning to be comfortable with the new ideas I have about my body, my sexuality and my beauty. But my body - all of our bodies - are so much more than the reflection we see in the mirror. They don't define who we are despite us putting the pressure on ourselves for them to be some sort of symbol of our success.
So I will keep loving myself until I can say with confidence and sincerity that I love my body. But, for now I can say with confidence and sincerity that I kinda really like my body.
Watch: Let's love our post-baby bodies, ladies...