If you've never had a child and only read the tabloid press and celebrity gossip sites, you might have a strong impression of what a "post-baby body" looks like. The supermodels and Hollywood A-listers that dominate the media are praised for their taut, lithe physiques that look virtually identical to their pre-baby frames.
But one mother, who was blindsided by the reality of her own body after giving birth, wants to debunk the myth that every woman magically "bounces back" straight after labour.
Elise Raquel, from west Australia, posted a candid picture of her belly following the arrival of her daughter, Willa, to "celebrate postpartum bodies, in all their glory" and challenge the shame many women feel about theirs. The image shows Raquel, who also has two other children, in her "rawest and most vulnerable state."
"It's a strange feeling to look down and still see a bump, even though you're holding your baby in your arms, even after doing it three times," she wrote to more than 31k followers. "It's not easy to go home with a baby and still have to wear maternity clothes."
She added that while she had been adamant that her body would just "bounce back", it has never returned to what it was pre-baby and she's learned to be proud of it. "With each baby I've gained a few more kilos and a few more stretch marks."
Raquel continued: "I used to feel the need to cover up in this newborn stage, I didn't want to see my body in this state, so why would anyone else? It's taken me three babies, but I've finally realised this postpartum body isn't something to hide! I am beyond proud for what this body has given and sacralised."
After realizing her image, originally uploaded in July, had gone viral earlier this week and been largely celebrated, Raquel posted a series of images and answered some of the questions she'd received about the photo.
"No one told me the reality of the fourth trimester," she wrote. "I had no idea you could still look so pregnant even after giving birth. Everyone told me I was young, I would bounce straight back, and I believed them."
"Just like many women do, I too used to look up to the media, celebrities who would show off their supermodel like post baby bodies just weeks after giving birth! I thought that's how it would be for me too. So when I went home from hospital four days after giving birth, still looking six months pregnant, I thought I must have done something wrong."
The media's portrayals of women's post-baby physiques is unrepresentative of most women's realities, she continued. "There’s so much pressure from society and from ourselves to look a certain way post baby, but for many that’s not the case, and that’s ok! I posted that photo because I wish someone had posted a photo just like mine when I was pregnant."
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