My youngest daughter was recently with me as I was changing for the day, and as normal, curious children do – she made some observations about my body.
“Your tummy is so squishy, mama”, she said. She proceeded to reach up with her hands and squeeze my stomach. Then she kissed it.
It was one of those moments that caught me off guard – just a little. I’m always amazed what honest reflections come out of my children’s mouths – not just about bodies, but about food, about themselves, and the world at large.
On one hand, her honest observations poked at the tender parts of my body’s changes that still feel vulnerable at times. After growing, birthing and feeding five children with my body, it’s sometimes hard to recognize this shell of what I once knew.
By society standards, my body is “flawed”. I have sagging skin, stretch marks and scars. My daughter’s observation of me having a squishy tummy is spot on – that’s how I would describe it too after having five babies.
But through my own eating disorder recovery journey and body image healing, I’ve come to embrace my body for so much more than how it looks. It’s an instrument that has served me as my one and only home in this journey called life.
It’s carried me through years of an abusive eating disorder, through the trenches of postpartum depression, and on the many highs and lows that come with motherhood.
There was a time when hearing the word “squishy” being used to describe my midsection would throw me into a tailspin of self-loathing and hatred toward my body; but today, I embrace it with gratitude.
I placed my hands over my daughter’s head as she kissed my tummy and told her, “You know what, baby? Mommy is proud of my tummy. Did you know you grew inside mommy’s belly?”
Her eyes widened with disbelief. “Me?”
“Yep!”, I proclaimed proudly. “Mommy’s body grew you inside my tummy. I’m so thankful my body was able to grow you and give you to me.”
She may not fully understand, as a newly four-year-old. But saying those things out loud does something for me.
It reminds me of the gifts my body has given me. It reframes my thinking toward my body from a place of gratitude, rather than judgment. It helps me remember that even while I may be unfamiliar with the changes my body is undergoing through life, I am safe within it. And even in the moments where I don’t feel like I love my body, I can still show my body love.
I’m thankful for the healing I’ve had on my own journey that has allowed me to get to this place. It wasn’t always like this. And there’s always room for ongoing growth.
But when I think about my children, I want them to grow up knowing their bodies are good too and worthy of love and respect, regardless of how they might feel about their bodies on any given day.
Because the truth is, feelings are fickle. They’re constantly changing. I realize the same is true around feelings about our bodies. Maybe you’ve felt this with your body, too? One day, you might feel neutral about your body. Other days, you wake up feeling not so great about your body.
And the truth is, how you feel about your body on any given day is not the criteria on which you need to base how you treat your body.
You can choose to care for your body and show your body love, even when you don’t feel an ounce of love for the body you live in.
I know this can be easier said than done. As a mother who’s been there, believe me when I say I understand. It’s not something that happens overnight, but over time, the actions you choose shape a narrative in your mind.
When you take intentional actions to show your body love, you send a message to your brain that your body is worth respecting.
With that in mind, here are five practical ways you can be intentional about showing your body love, even (and especially) when feelings of love toward your body aren’t there.
5 Ways to Show Your Body Love
Practice Gratitude Toward Your Body
This idea of needing to “love your body” can feel arbitrary, and quite honestly, out of reach. And you know what? That’s okay! Remember, you don’t need to “love” your body in order to build a more positive relationship with your body.
Instead of focusing on learning to “love” your body, try practicing gratitude toward your body instead. What are aspects of your body that you appreciate or are grateful for?
Maybe it’s your creativity or courage. Maybe it’s gratitude toward your body for growing, birthing or feeding your babies.
Maybe it’s gratefulness for the air in your lungs that allows you to live and function for another day. Maybe it’s thankfulness toward your body for its resiliency and everything it’s carried you through over the course of your life.
Nothing is too small for appreciating, and recognizing the aspects about your body that you’re grateful for can help you be kinder toward your body.
Try writing gratitude notes for your body and sticking them in places where you can easily see them and be reminded of the aspects of your body that you feel gratitude for.
Practicing gratitude can shift your perspective and strengthen your resolve to be kinder toward something you feel appreciation for.
Research studies have actually found that writing about and expressing gratitude improves your mental health. This practice alone, when done intentionally and specifically about your body, can support you in building a more positive body image and in feeling better about yourself in general.
Remember – you don’t have to feel in love with your body in order to practice gratitude toward your body. You can get started exactly where you’re at – TODAY.
Try setting a timer for 5 minutes and jot down the things you feel grateful for about your body – the more specific, the better.
For another journal prompt idea, try writing a letter to your body, sharing gratitude toward your body for what you’ve experienced on your journey together. Or write a letter to your younger self, telling her what you would want her to know about your body.
Start small and stay consistent about this gratitude practice to show your body the love it deserves.
2. Wear Clothes that Fit Your Today Body
There’s nothing like clothes that don’t fit your body that can make you feel more self-aware of and uncomfortable in your body.
The reality is that our bodies change, especially on this motherhood journey.
It’s not realistic to expect that your clothes will fit your body in the same way over the course of time, particularly during seasons of more intense body changes, like pregnancy and postpartum.
Yet so often, you might find yourself forcing your body into clothes that don’t fit or perhaps, keeping a closet full of clothes that don’t fit the body you’re living in today.
Perhaps you keep those clothes on hand for “someday” and continue to play this tape in your head: “Someday, when my body is smaller or fitter or when I’ve lost all this baby weight, I’ll try fitting in these clothes again.”
But this type of mentality can actually worsen your body image, especially if you’re holding yourself back from living because of an arbitrary standard you’ve set for your body.
So many moms I work with don’t realize how keeping a closet full of clothes that don’t fit their bodies actually deters them from caring for their bodies in meaningful ways.
Every time you’re going in your closet to get dressed, you’re reminded of what you can’t wear; or you feel miserable because the things you want to wear don’t fit your body today.
Do yourself a favor and take the time to do some inventory in your wardrobe and with the clothes you currently wear (and yes, this includes undergarments, too!).
Just like you have to do for your kids – it’s important to regularly go through your closet, part ways with things that no longer fit or that don’t match your current lifestyle/season, and find gaps where you might need some additional pieces of clothing to help you feel more comfortable in your body TODAY.
If parting with some of your clothes feels too painful, consider removing them from your closet and packing them in a box that you can revisit for later.
Having some clear space in your closet can actually help free up your mental space, too, and when you go to get dressed and can actually find clothes you like that fit your today body, you’ll feel better in your body.
Especially now, there are so many awesome online second hand shops where you can sell old clothes and find some great pieces at discounted prices.
Do yourself a favor and wear some clothes that fit your body.
Your body will feel the love, and you’ll feel better, too. For more help with this, be sure to check out this blog here: “Postpartum Wardrobe: How a Closet Edit Saved My Motherhood”
3. Ditch the Scale
A turning point in my healing journey with food and my body began when I broke up with my scale.
At first, the thought of not having it was terrifying. It had become so ingrained into my routine and food rules that I couldn’t even imagine functioning without it.
But once it was gone, I began to realize just how much of my precious mental space it had taken up.
For too long, I let it dictate how I felt about my body & the way I should feed myself. It was a vicious battle I was never going to win, because no matter what the number on the scale said, it was never good enough.
I gave it up because I wanted to stop obsessing over my weight and body size.
I wanted to enjoy food freely without needing permission from the scale to eat. I didn’t want to feel like I had to punish my body unnecessarily because of the numbers reflected back at me. I didn’t want it to consume so much of my life anymore.
Getting rid of my scale was one of the best decisions I made for my food and body healing journey.
It has been so liberating to reclaim life from the scale and to learn to live in alignment with my body and values, not fight against them.
If you too want to reclaim your life from diet culture and heal your relationship with food and your body, I want to encourage you to consider the role your scale plays in your life.
It doesn’t have to control you ANYMORE or take up your precious mental space or energy.
As a recovered scale-addict, I can tell you with complete assurance that giving up your scale will be one of the best things you can do for yourself (and your kiddos!). Will it feel strange at first? YES. Is it possible to live without it? Also yes.
Not just live but THRIVE and take a powerful step forward in reclaiming your life from diet culture. It starts with awareness of the role your scale may be playing in your life.
Then, it’s a matter of acknowledging enough is ENOUGH and deciding how you want to get rid of it for good.
Trust me on this one, you will not regret your decision.
4. Nourish Your Body, Eat Foods You Enjoy
SO many mothers I work with unintentionally and even subconsciously restrain themselves from eating the amounts of food their bodies actually need to feel satisfying or from eating foods they actually enjoy eating.
This can play a huge role in body dissatisfaction and general discomfort in your overall body. Much of this restraint can be influenced by diet culture, past dieting behaviors and food rules, or even disordered eating habits.
However, eating in tune with your hunger and satisfaction and learning to trust your body as the best expert of what you need can not only dramatically improve your health and well-being but give a boost to your body confidence as well.
Just eating ENOUGH food is more of an issue than you might think, especially for moms.
Take an honest look at how you eat throughout the day.
Are you making nourishing yourself a priority? How do you feel after eating? What can you add to your meals and snacks to make them more satisfying and enjoyable?
What does hunger feel like in your body and how can you respond to your hunger more appropriately? What does satisfaction feel like in your body and how can you build meals and snacks to support this?
Working through these questions can help you be more attuned to your body’s needs and eat in a way that is more healthful for YOU.
You don’t need to compare your needs to what other people are doing because no two bodies are built alike.
What’s most important to improve your relationship with your body is to learn and listen to what your own individual body needs are. For more on this, check out this blog post here: “5 Reasons Why Intuitive Eating Might Not Be Right For You as a Mom”
5. Practice Self-Compassion, Ditch Comparison
Have you ever paused to examine what your inner monologue looks like?
What are your regular thoughts about your body or toward your body? Are you shaming yourself on the regular? Are you constantly comparing yourself to other people?
Are you “shoulding” yourself, like: “I should be working more like her”, or “I should be doing this or that”.
This type of mindset is common for a majority of women, and often, there is little awareness of the negative thoughts you’re constantly trapped in throughout your day and how this berates your view of yourself.
As a way to show your body (and brain) some love, try to find and practice self-compassion toward yourself.
Studies show that people with self-compassion skills have a higher sense of self-worth, have better body image, and have improved mental health, including lower rates of depression and anxiety.
Self-compassion is a skill you can grow and build, even if you regularly fall into a downward spiral of negative thoughts toward yourself.
One of the first steps toward practicing self-compassion is to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings.
Learn how to pay attention to the present moments without making any judgements regarding the things you are thinking or experiencing.
Learn how to befriend yourself by becoming a curious explorer of yourself: your thought patterns, your tendencies in engaging with yourself and others.
The default is to live so disconnected from your own body, that you might find this easier said than done. The more you begin to practice mindfulness, the more opportunities you will have to build self-compassion in your everyday life.
For example, if you’re having an overwhelming day and feel as though nothing is going right, some default, bullying thoughts might pop-up, like: “I can’t believe you can’t pull yourself together. You’re such a failure. You’re a terrible mom.” (PSA: Once you’re actually aware of these thoughts and when they pop up, it’s much more possible to examine them more objectively).
You can then choose to take on a more compassionate view of yourself and reject the toxic narratives that pill you against yourself.
Instead, you might reframe this to look like, “I’m human, and I’m allowed to make mistakes. Today was really difficult. Having a hard day doesn’t make me a bad person. What can I do for myself at this moment?”
This practice can help you adopt more compassion toward yourself, which in turn, can help improve your body image and ultimately, support you in treating yourself with more kindness and self-respect.
Gratitude and Grief in Body Image
In closing, I hope these tips give you some ideas of ways you can practice being kind and loving toward your body, even on your worst days.
You are deserving of such love and compassion, and by doing these things for yourself, you can also model these behaviors to your children as well, which will help them adopt behaviors of body kindness for themselves, too.
One last concept to be aware of is that of gratitude in grief – both in motherhood and in how you engage with and relate to your body.
We often live with the idea that we can’t hold more than one emotion at a time or that certain emotions will cancel out others.
No where do I hear this more than with moms who are learning to accept their changing bodies through the process of growing, birthing, feeding and raising their children.
On the one hand, you may feel gratitude for all that your body has done for you and the things it has brought you through. But on the other hand, you might feel resentful or uncomfortable with your body for all the ways it’s changed.
You might feel grief for the ways your body has changed. You might grieve things you had hoped your body would do but perhaps wasn’t able to. Whatever this might look like for you, know that your grief and feelings are valid.
It’s also important to know you can hold multiple emotions at once, and all of them are true. You can feel grateful for your body and the children it brought you while also feeling grief around how your body has changed. One doesn’t negate the other.
Holding space for your emotions can help you work through and process what you’re feeling more effectively.
Keep this in mind as you navigate through an ever changing body image, especially during your motherhood journey.
As always, I’d love to hear from you: in which way will you begin practicing showing your own body love?
Cheering you on always!
Need more support? Check out our free virtual support group for Mom’s, Lift the Shame!