Building Positive Body Image and Self-Esteem: Lessons From Motherhood
Kids are our greatest teachers. Their untainted outlooks on life bring us back to a simpler way of living, and most days, we need to be reminded of the basics. They help us remember that love is not based on a pant size, that softness is not weakness, and that aging is a privilege.
Our kids can teach us a thing or two about body image and self esteem.
Most kids are free to be themselves. They choose clothes they love, no matter if the patterns are clashing or the style is awkward. They move their bodies in ways that bring them joy. They don’t nitpick their bodies apart or scrutinize the way they look. They wholly and fully embrace who they are and are free to live in the present.
Can you remember a time when you felt the same way in your own body?
Body Image and Self-Esteem Issues Among Moms
The reality is that a majority of women are unhappy in their bodies and struggle with low self-esteem. Research studies have made connections between poor body image and low self esteem among women. One study found that among almost 10,000 women surveyed, nearly 90% of participants reported feeling dissatisfied in their bodies, with the vast majority wanting to be thinner. Poor body image is often an influencing factor on maternal mental health, leading to more severe issues, like eating disorders, depression and anxiety.
Building a healthy self esteem is even more challenging in our digital age, where we are constantly exposed to the highlight reels of everyone’s lives on social media. Chronic exposure to a media that glorifies a thin-ideal has been linked with body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviors.
Lessons About Body Respect Through Motherhood
If you are a mama reading this, there is a good chance that you might also struggle with how you feel in your body. But this wasn’t always the case. You too were once a carefree child who loved your body for all that it allowed you to do.
Somewhere along your journey, you learned a different story that frames how you feel about your body today. Maybe you can’t remember the last time you liked anything about your body. Maybe you regularly feel disgust, guilt, or shame in your own skin. Wherever you might be, you are not alone.
I understand mama, because I used to be there, too. I struggled with poor body image and low self-esteem for a long time alongside my eating disorder. One of my greatest motivators for healing has been my children. My five kiddos have also taught me invaluable lessons about what it means to care for and respect my body, even through the changes that have come with pregnancy and postpartum.
Slowly, I learned to respect my body that has been a vessel for growing my babies. I learned that I can still treat my body kindly, even if I’m not feeling positive or likable toward my body. That has been one of the most important lessons motherhood has taught me about caring for myself: it is not based on a feeling.
Let me explain.
As mothers, there isn’t anything we wouldn’t do for our kids, right? I love my children more than anything, I would lay down my life for them if needed and wouldn’t think twice about. That is the love of a mother.
But let’s be real. No matter how much we love our kids, it doesn’t make motherhood easy.
In fact, I would venture to guess that mothering is the hardest thing you’ve ever done. Heck, it is for me, and I have no shame admitting it.
There have been so many days where I wake up and feel like I’m living in Groundhog’s day - the same day on repeat, over and over again. Life is one poopy diaper, and well, that’s just the season of life I’m in. Even though I love my kids more than I ever thought possible, there are some days where I am not in love with motherhood. But even on those days, I persist in doing the things I know are important for my kids and will continue to take care of them, no matter how I feel that day. I’m sure you do the same thing for your kids, too.
Do you want to know why? Because love is more than a feeling, and caring for our kids isn’t dependent on the way we feel. Feelings come and go, but love is a commitment, a choice to be present, to choose kindness, even if there are feelings of frustration, aggravation, or annoyance.
Making a Commitment to Body Kindness
Caring for our bodies works in a similar way.
I think a lot of us are waiting for our feelings to change about our bodies before we start being kinder to them. The reality is, those feelings might not come until we act first.
If you think you have to wait to be kind toward your body until you’ve lost that baby weight or until you get into your goal jean size, you have already waited too long, and with that, lost too many precious moments in your life.
Building your body image and self-esteem begins with the commitment to treat yourself kindly and with respect and should not be based on how you feel about your body. Because those feelings will ebb and flow, but the choice to respect your body should be unwavering.
Just like motherhood, there will be days where you wake up and don’t feel great in your body. There will be times where you don’t like the way you look or how your body feels in the clothes you are wearing. But those feelings won’t last forever, mama. You can still do the next right thing for yourself by treating your body with the kindness and respect it deserves. Tangibly speaking, this might look like:
Nourishing your body well, not skipping meals or snacks
Paying special attention to hygiene, like taking a shower or brushing your teeth
Wearing clothes that feel comfortable on your body
Engaging in activities and movement that you enjoy
Drinking enough water to stay hydrated
Getting outside for fresh air and sunshine
Going to bed earlier to catch-up on sleep
Sometimes loving your body means doing hard things and parenting yourself because those are the right things to do. As you stay consistent with your commitment to respect your body, regardless of how you feel, you will find yourself building a more positive relationship with your body.
A healthy body image is more than the absence of negative thoughts about our shape or size.
Building a positive body image means cultivating an appreciation of what your body allows you to do and broadening your notion of beauty to accept all aspects of your body.
You know what they say: “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.
So if the thought of transforming your own body image feels beyond your reach, don’t lose hope, mama.
Take it one day at a time. Plant yourself firmly in an unwavering commitment to treat your body with the care and kindness it deserves. As you act on that commitment, you will bloom into the gentle gratitude of a mama at peace within her own body.
Do it not only for yourself, but for those sweet kiddos who adoringly look up to you. They are learning from us, and by respecting our bodies, we will teach them to do the same for themselves.
You’ve got this, mama.