In my experience body image concerns do not discriminate across gender or age. As a Clinical Psychologist, I have worked with many people experiencing body image concerns. This has included men and women of varying ages, jobs, marital status, fitness levels, etc. This has made me realise that body image issues can affect any one of us. One population that I have witnessed often experience body image concerns is that of mums.
I imagine this is for a number of reasons. Potentially, the nine months of pregnancy where our body is stretched and changed in ways outside of our control? Perhaps it is our hectic schedules post having a baby, that combined with unrelenting tiredness often makes it difficult to get into any form of routine around exercise and eating well. Whatever the reason, the issue is real. The number of mums I have spoken to who struggle to look in the mirror and be satisfied with the image they see is astounding. Since having two children (my youngest of which is 7-months) I have become very passionate about working with mums to change their negative body image. I find it incredibly difficult to hear mums who have had one or multiple children talk so negatively about themselves and their image. It takes every ounce of self-control not to grab them and yell “You’re amazing! How can you not see this!?” But I refrain from doing this as I can relate to the negative voice that tells these women they look “ugly”, “fat”, “saggy”, “washed-out”. Because I too have had these thoughts. And telling a woman that she’s “being silly” or that “she’s amazing” unfortunately is not going to cure body image issues. A different approach needs to be taken. Women need to learn to love their body from the inside-out. Women need to learn to be able to look in the mirror and speak to themselves in the same nurturing, compassionate tone that they would use with their child or another loved one. Women need to learn to embrace their amazing body for what it has done – created, grown, delivered, and kept alive another human being! And all of this has to come from within the woman…this is when it will more likely stick. This is way more powerful than getting reassurance from our partner or friends.
So how do mums go about doing this? Here are my top 3 tips to start loving your body from the inside-out. These are tips I have personally put into place. I hope you will find some benefit from them as I have.
- Notice that internal chit-chatter for what it is…just internal chit-chatter. We have thousands of thoughts a day. But they are just that…thoughts. Not necessarily fact or reality. When we get caught up in them they can certainly do a lot of damage. To assist with this, try and bring awareness to some of your internal chatter. When you notice the thought “I’m fat” pop up, see if you can instead say to yourself “I’m noticing I’m having the thought that I’m fat”. This can help create some much needed space from your thoughts and subsequently reduce the damaging impact they can have on your mood and self-worth.
- Have some self-compassion. You know all that love and kindness you show your child? See if you can turn some of that back towards yourself. What would you say to that little bundle of joy if they were saying some of these harsh criticisms to themselves? What language would you use? How would you respond?
- Refrain from comparing yourself to other mums. Oh how hard this one is. We’re so good at comparing ourselves to others. The grass always looks greener right? Yet, in reality we usually have no idea what is going on in the other person’s life. We don’t know what their home life is like, what supports they do or don’t have, whether they’ve struggled with postnatal anxiety or depression. There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect mum’. We’re all trying to do our very best with the resources that we have.
See if you can take one or all three of these tips and start implementing them in your life today. My final message is this: The time for loving your body image is now. Not when you lose ‘X’ number of kilos, or when you can run ‘X’ distance. If you can’t love your body the way it is today then you may end up running a never ending race of always wanting to be skinnier, leaner, fitter, browner, or whatever the next trend is.
Dr Danielle McCarthy
Clinical Psychologist / Clinic Director
Mind Potential Psychology