Postpartum Bodies:

Looking Forward, Not “Bouncing Back”

I saw a friend recently who was about two months postpartum, and the first thing I said to her after “hello” was, “You look so tiny!” It just slipped out, and I kind of hated myself after I said it. It was the truth, but why did it even matter how tiny or not tiny she was? It surprised and saddened me that of all the things I could have said or asked, her post-baby appearance was the first that came to my mind.

Normally I am outraged when I hear stories about people commenting on women’s bodies—pregnant, postpartum, or otherwise.

My friend was nine months postpartum and someone asked if she was pregnant. I couldn’t believe it. Apparently some people still haven’t gotten the memo that you should never ask a woman if she’s pregnant. If she is, it’s extremely personal and she will share the news when the time is right. If she isn’t, you could really offend her.

My friend is a fit person, so I found it especially baffling that someone asked her if she was pregnant. The fact that she’s fit is irrelevant—no matter what someone looks like, it’s never okay to assume they’re pregnant (see above). But it got me thinking: why would someone even jump to that conclusion? Their reality must be pretty skewed if they looked at my friend and assumed she was pregnant.

I guess I’ve always known this, but hearing her story confirmed that in our society, there’s little middle ground when it comes to women’s bodies.

If your body doesn’t meet our culture’s narrow standards of beauty, you’ve got work to do and shouldn’t be happy until it does. If you don’t have a perfectly flat stomach, you must be pregnant. There’s no way you would have a squishy belly 9 months (or 9 years) after having a baby—you’re supposed to “bounce back” right away, aren’t you?

Part of the problem is that we still don’t see enough real women’s bodies in the media, especially postpartum ones.

They are out there more than ever, thanks to movements like the 4th Trimester Bodies Project. But we still glorify moms, especially celebrities, who appear post-baby looking exactly as they did before pregnancy. I recently overheard another mom gushing over the fact that our friend’s stomach was so flat so soon after giving birth. And I was guilty too when I called my friend tiny—as if that was the highest compliment I could bestow on a new mom. Ugh.

Moms who don’t “bounce back” feel the pressure to do so, but most of us don’t have the time or resources that celebs do to help us.

Even if we did, for many of us, our bodies will never look the same as they did pre-baby. And that’s okay, because we grew humans, but we need to hear that it’s okay more often. There is no bouncing back, there’s only moving forward and trying to embrace all the changes we’ve gone through as mothers.

I haven’t been the best at embracing postpartum changes.

I loved being pregnant, but less than three weeks after having my son, I complained that I looked “big” in a family photo. Now that seems ridiculous, but at the time my whole identity was in transition and I just wanted one thing to go back to the way it was. Also, having lived in a society that places great value on women’s physical attractiveness, my postpartum appearance made me feel like I’d lost some worth, at a time when I needed some extra self-love.

I’m in a much better place now, 25 months postpartum, but I still pick myself apart sometimes. I look at things that changed post-baby and wish I could change them back. (Of course, the irony is that I thought my pre-baby body was far from perfect, too.) What I want to do is appreciate my body for the amazing journey it went through of creating, carrying, birthing, and feeding my precious son. I do feel proud about that journey, but I’m not completely at peace with the physical changes that came with it.

It does help me when I see women who are brave enough to share their postpartum bodies and talk about their experiences.

I wish more people would see that and understand the enormous changes women go through when they have a baby. Maybe then we could finally put a stop to the awkward “Are you pregnant?” questions and just appreciate that we all come in different shapes and sizes, postpartum or not.

We’re all in that middle ground of imperfection. And despite what our inner voice or anyone else may say, that’s a beautiful place to be.


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