Dear Maxine,

I know this isn’t necessarily on the topic of ‘mum guilt’ or even parenting, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how I could make peace with my post-baby body. There are parts of my body that I used to be quite proud of and now they look totally different and are much bigger or fleshier than I feel comfortable with. I feel like I’ve lost a part of my identity and I find it really upsetting.

Dear Follower,

Thank you for getting in touch. I’m sorry to hear you’re having such a difficult time with the changes your body and am certain you are not alone in this.

Patriarchy and diet culture have done a fantastic job of dangerously interfering with our relationships with our bodies and this can mean that conversations exploring this can feel challenging. Sometimes, when we feel challenged we may feel increasingly attacked and like we need to defend ourselves. Often this looks like shutting down and not listening to outside views. So I invite you to go easy with this. Take your time, keep breathing out, if you notice your curiosity fading, take a break, come back when you’re ready.

It sounds like there’s some grieving to be done

for the body you once had and for your past identity. Firstly, I wonder what that body meant to you. What it symbolised. How would it be to really acknowledge that that has gone now? That you have a different body, that looks different and does different things?

What comes up for you when you read that? What do you fear you’ve lost? Is that reality or is it diet culture talking?

I wonder whether, in some ways, the loss of that body is a symbol for the loss of the things you had before you became a parent. Whether this is a wider issue than just your body. What’s changed in your life since you’ve become a mum? What’s changed in your relationship with yourself? How do you see yourself now? How do you think other people see you?

What do you think of when you think of a ‘mum’? Does that fit with how you think of yourself? What are the similarities? What are the differences?

Which parts of parenthood are you embracing? Which parts are you resisting? For each, why do you think that is? What would it be like to embrace the bits you don’t like? What do you think might happen?

And yet, it can’t be denied, our world dictates that our bodies and our worth are intertwined

So, I’m also curious about the parts of your body that brought you pride. Where did that pride come from? What do you think influences your beliefs regarding what’s something to be proud of and what isn’t? Do you think they’re inherent within us or do you think it’s based upon cultural beliefs that have been dictated by the diet industry?

What would it be like if your body did not reflect your worth? Can you imagine that? If it didn’t matter how you looked, you are still loved and valued by those you love and value. Is that true in your world? Or have you surrounded yourself with people who are only interested in you because you look a certain way? How do you know?

Often, I find that when we focus on changing our bodies, it’s because we believe that if our bodies looked this way or that way we would then find happiness. Is that what you think would happen for you? Were you only happy when your body looked how it used to? Or did you still have hang-ups about it? Has there ever been a time in your life that your body looked exactly how you would have wanted it to and you were only blissfully happy? If not, why do you think we hold onto that belief so strongly? Where does that come from?

How about your assessment of other people? Do you believe that the happiest people look a certain way? That if they look that way they are only happy and anyone who doesn’t look that way can’t possibly be happy? Is that what you see as reality?

My experience is no. Once we change our bodies in a certain way, there becomes something else we need to change to be ‘happy’.

So I wonder what the feelings are that you’re trying to avoid by focusing on your body.

What’s so difficult right now? I can imagine many things. You’re a new mum. Just this is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Becoming a parent can be full of joy. It is also mind bending. There are so many factors and elements involved. So much fear and uncertainty. So many people telling you that you need to do it this way or that way. It’s easy to lose yourself. And it’s easy to think that if this one thing was different, your life might be a bit different.

Not only this, but you’re parenting in a pandemic. You’re also just living in a pandemic. How do you think that’s affecting you? What do you think the impact of not seeing other mums in person is? On your self-esteem in general. On your body image. How about the effect of not seeing friends and family in person? So there’s fewer people around to give us the validation we need. Who allow us to forget the 394202 things we hate about our bodies and, instead, remind us that we are worthwhile humans, who can make people laugh, do kind things and connect with others.

I’m also curious about how you want your child growing up feeling about their body.

Have you internalised the diet culture beliefs enough to believe that if your baby gets ‘too big’ at any point in their life, they deserve to feel the same levels of shame you do about it? That they should be on a diet and restrict themselves, punishing themselves whenever they ‘fail’ at this?

Can you imagine a world where our bodies do not determine our sense of selves? What would it be like if your child were able to feel safe in their body, no matter its size? Where will they start learning this if not from you?

Of course, that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself and, ideally, we are kind to ourselves because we deserve kindness, not because our children need us to be kind to ourselves. And, it seems worth considering, if this was your child, what would you think? How would you like them to think about themselves? How would you help them make sense of what’s going on for them? What do you think they would need to soothe them?

What do you think about this?

What’s struck you as you’ve read it?

How are you feeling now?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please do share them below, on Facebook or on Instagram. And share the article with a parent you think needs to hear it