My journey with body image (and how pregnancy is changing it)

Pregnancy has affected parts of my life I never expected it to, although now that I think about it, its obvious that something like pregnancy would affect my body image. I never really took the time to consider it, but body image plays such a huge role in our mental and emotional well-being that its necessary to discuss it. 

Body image has become an increasingly popular topic among a variety of groups, so its no surprise that I would have my own opinions about it at some point. It’s not something that I’ve ever specifically taken time to think about before, nor have I ever compiled my thoughts on it – so this is a first. Also, I’m placing this in the health & beauty category because I believe it has more to do with mental health and our views of beauty than everyday lifestyle.

In society, body image seems to have greater implications for women than for men, although the truth is that both deal with the issue. I’ve seen this in many men in my life and wish that there was a greater awareness for how we go about dealing with it (especially with men). Too many times I’ve seen guys get degraded for looking a certain way, not being tall enough, or not having a 6 pack. Who cares? If they are happy and healthy, that’s all that matters. It’s not our place to make anyone feel bad about their body, period. This is not to say, however, that we can’t encourage someone to engage in a healthy lifestyle if we notice it becoming a legitimate health issue. In my opinion, that is where it is ok to say something – but that the way we go about it is of utmost importance. Directing negative thoughts and words at someone who we believe needs to change their lifestyle is very unlikely to cause any good change in their life. Instead I believe it’s a combination of both positive encouragement and being a good example.

 

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I’ll be honest, it was hard for me to get out on the beach and take my jacket off. Not because I cared what other people thought, but because I am still struggling with feeling proud of my pregnant body. You may not see the stretch marks, the added pounds, the cellulite, etc., but I do. I notice it all the time and it’s a consistent battle for me to think positively about it all. This is an attitude and struggle echoed by many women, both pregnant and not pregnant – which is why it’s so important to be careful with how we approach these issues. Everyone is at a different point in their walk in life and how they view themselves.

Although its pretty common to hear “I used to have major problems with body image”, it’s true. I disliked almost everything about myself, which contributed to me believing the “you deserve it” lies my emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend fed me for over two years. It was only after I got out of that relationship that I was able to find myself again and learn to start thinking of myself in a positive way. I began working out at the gym at college every single week day and was proud of the results it produced. I recommitted my life to God and found myself and my worth in Him. When I met my husband, my body image issues and self confidence issues were still present, but had severely diminished. It was through my relationship with God and my new, loving relationship with Tim that I overcame pretty much all of the issues I’d previously struggled with.

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This is not to say that finding contentment with one’s appearance is only found through another person, because it has to come from within. Since I’m a Christian, I also believe that it is a goal only reached through communion with and commitment to God; a renewing of our life and identity in Him. I’m simply saying that for me personally, it was another person that helped me to begin seeing myself in a positive light.

Since becoming pregnant, some of those issues have begun to resurface as I see my body change each week. The number on the scale is higher than it has ever been in my entire life and that’s something that has taken some getting used to. I know that a healthy weight gain (25-35 lbs) is expected and desired during pregnancy, but it’s still something new that I have to deal with. I’m currently on track to have gained around 26 lbs by the time I give birth and I’ve learned to be happy with that! Initially, the climbing scale made me freak out a little – when will it stop? Why did it jump so fast in one week? (One week I gained 4 lbs instead of the expected 1 per week). I asked myself all these questions, frantically trying to decide how I was going to lose it all and get back my pre-baby body. Since then I’ve really decided that there’s no point in worrying – it only causes stress to me and baby. The best thing to do is eat healthy, stay active, and just keep track of how much you are gaining. As long as you’re within the healthy range, you’re good!

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My husband’s continued support through this journey has been invaluable! He constantly reminds me that I’m beautiful and I know that this would be a lot harder for me without him. I give major credit to you women out there who had to go through a pregnancy and/or post-partum period alone. I know that it’s going to get even harder for the first couple weeks after I give birth, especially because I won’t be able to work out and I’ll be dealing with a whole different set of struggles. I believe that body image is a huge contributor to post partum depression, and having a good support system (even if the husband/father is not in the picture) is necessary! I’m hoping that by continuing to strengthen my relationship with God, my husband, and a positive view of myself, I’ll be able to diminish any negative feelings I’ll have after birth.

Although there are still plenty of days when I look in the mirror and start picking out things I don’t like, they’re much rarer than they used to be. Instead of saying “wow, look how ugly my cellulite is” I say “wow, look at how amazing my body is to be growing another human inside it!” – its all about changing the point of view. The biggest thing I’ve learned to do is to dismiss the negative thoughts when they arise – this is one of the hardest things to do, but one of the most important. When you can dismiss the negative thought as soon as it enters your mind, you aren’t giving it time to grab hold of your mind and affect how you feel about yourself or your body. Most importantly – we should be encouraging each other. I’m confident that every woman struggles with aspects of body image at some point in their life – why not uplift every woman we come in contact with? Who knows how it might help them.

Stay positive,

Madeline

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