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The only supermodel who will ever make you feel good about your post baby body

Image: JJ Keith (Instagram)

Nothing fully prepared me for the horrors of my early post-partum days. It felt like I was going through puberty again, but at a terrifyingly accelerated rate.

I certainly never expected to immediately snap back into shape, but I so badly wanted to feel like myself again that I begrudged my body for not being on board. Though I knew better, I read tabloid news stories online about whichever celebrity had the hottest “post baby bod” at the time and felt like a big ol’ lump of mum-shaped goo.

I felt grouchiness about my body that I simply couldn’t talk myself out of, not with all the feminist rhetoric in the world. I hadn’t gained a lot of weight with my pregnancy, but not quite as much of it came out with the baby as I had hoped and it felt unfair somehow.

No matter how many times I read “nine months on and nine months off ” and other such assurances about the slow reliability of postpartum weight loss, I felt icky. It was a purely cosmetic concern as I was surprisingly energetic after my baby was born. I went on daily walks with her tucked in a carrier, gardened, ferried laundry to and fro, and generally went about my business with a fully-capable, albeit lumpy, body. I ate healthfully, though dieting seemed impossible because of the desperate depths of my hunger while I was breastfeeding.

I felt grouchiness about my body that I simply couldn’t talk myself out of, not with all the feminist rhetoric in the world.

I lost the weight after about nine months by being a bit careful about what I ate and exercising. When I was pregnant again, I swore that I would relax about my postpartum fluffiness. And yet, the second time around I was just as anxious and self-doubting until I lost the weight, again at about the same rate. I would very much like to blame the tabloids’obsession with featuring lithe new mothers for my insecurity, but ultimately it was me who sought out those images in order to torture myself. It was me scoping out all the other mums at playgroups, begrudging those who were trimmer than me and feeling quietly superior about those who were struggling more than I was. I know this is a gross admission, but I had the kind of anxiety about my body that led to me being the kind of person I always try not to be.

Strangely enough, what freed me from this thinking was the queen of “post baby bods” herself, Heidi Klum.

via @HeidiKlum (Instagram)

In a 2008 interview with Marie Claire she said, “I always think, look at how people were before they were pregnant. If you were a toned, healthy, energetic person, most likely you will be like that again. [. . .] A lot of people come to me, and they’re like, ‘Will I look like you after I have the baby?’ And I say, ‘Well, how were you before?’ You can’t kid yourself.”

It reminds me of the old joke about the patient who asks his doctor, “Will I be able to play the violin after the bandages come off?” The doctor says, “Well, I don’t see why not,” and the patient says, “Great! I couldn’t before!”

As it turns out, I did not look like Heidi Klum before I got pregnant. I was not toned per se, but I was healthy and energetic and that’s exactly what I was after I had my babies.

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I will age. I am lucky to age. I look like a mum. I am lucky to be a mum... even if it means it looks like I’m four months pregnant every time I eat a cheeseburger.

I gained a few stretch marks, my rib cage widened, and my waist grew a little, but I was still me, just mumified. I wasn’t as thin as some of the mums at the playground, but I wasn’t thin going into pregnancy, so I was doing myself a disservice by comparing myself to other mothers instead of being okay with being the somewhat doughy, pear- shaped woman I’ve always been.

Everyone’s experience is different. Some mums escape pregnancy with nary a change, and some women are thoroughly altered. There’s no accounting for the variables of genetics, age, and circumstance. Now that I’m on the other side of it, I baulk when I hear younger women talk about not wanting to have kids because they’re scared of how their body will change. Admittedly, I had the same concern, but now that a few years have passed, I see that worry for what it really is: A desire to never change. But no woman, regardless of if she has kids, gets to never change. The onslaught of ageing is as inevitable as death.

Living in Los Angeles gives me a front row seat to the lengths some women will go to avoid looking different at forty-six than they did at twenty-six. There are few things more startling than a face that has been frozen and forbidden to change, or the pinched look of a body locked into thinness by any means necessary.

JJ Keith and her daughter (via Instagram)

At a certain point, these women look like their faces were drawn onto a mask of skin stretched over their skulls, and it’s a little unnerving for a pre-menopausal woman to have the body of a gangly twelve-year-old boy. That’s some crazy-ass Katherine Helmond in Brazil shit. That look, for all its tidiness, seems less like beauty and more like the physical embodiment of determination. It requires so much effort, more than I have to give, which is something that I have to remind myself of almost daily when I freak out about the crow’s feet clawing in around my eyes.

Certainly, ageing and birthing children aren’t synonymous for women: The former will happen without the latter, though the latter may accelerate the former. Hair grows back, milk dries up, and usually the extra weight goes away on its own eventually, but sometimes being a mum comes with physical changes. I will age. I am lucky to age. I look like a mum. I am lucky to be a mum... even if it means it looks like I’m four months pregnant every time I eat a cheeseburger.

This is an edited extract from Stop Reading Baby Books! by JJ. Keith, published by Nero books and on sale now. You can visit JJ Keith's website here and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

In celebration of the beauty of pregnant and post-birth bodies, check out these stunning images from Jade Beall's photography book project, A Beautiful Body. 

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