This year, as part of our Take Back The Beach program, we are asking YOU to tell us about your experiences with body talk and self-perception. Below, one reader's story.
"That's Not What A Mom Wears"
It started with a joke.
"What about these?" I asked, pulling a metal-studded pair of black skinny jeans from the rack and flashing them at my sister. We were shopping at a thrift store and I was looking for pants that would fit in the coming months, my sister tagging along.
She rolled her eyes after a brief glance and resumed flicking through the hangers. "That's not what a mom wears..."
My fingers tightened on the thin metal hook as I looked at her with a raised eyebrow. I was three to four months into my first pregnancy, a somewhat new 22-year-old, and a tad hormonal, which might account for the confrontational tone I took after hearing her words. "Whatever I wear is how a mom dresses, because I am a mother." I replaced the hanger and moved along, though the conversation continued. And even after it ended, those first words stuck with me.
Normally, I don't get too up in arms about things. I'm not bothered by most people's opinions on my clothes or appearance, and I typically just shrug when others try to tell me how I should or shouldn't be taking care of myself. But at the time, I was tired of not being able to physically wear some of my clothes, tired of all the comments about my life and health (because everyone has something to say when you're pregnant), and tired of hearing all about the changes and things to expect of my body post-pregnancy.
I very rarely struggle with my body image. I've always focused on what my body could do rather than how it looked. I took pride in my physical accomplishments more than my weight, skin tone, or any other aspect. But pregnancy was throwing me for a loop. I was feeling for the first time a sense of helplessness when it came to my appearance and physicality. I couldn't do many of the things I wanted to be able to do, so I started to actually focus on how I looked and what I could or couldn't wear. And perhaps it wasn't my body image that was changing so much as my physical identity.
I started to rebel against the idea that there was a right or wrong way for a mother to dress. I questioned whether or not I'd be able to retain and wear some of my pre-pregnancy clothes. I worried about how my body would appear under those clothes and if I could get back to how I used to be. I wondered about how I would be looked at or treated differently. Those thoughts didn't consume my days, but they did slowly chip away at my confidence in the mornings getting dressed, for dates with my husband, and outings with my friends.
Eventually though, I realized that my initial response to my sister was my consistent and empowering outlook on things. So when those insecurities creeped in, I reminded myself that my body and my appearance and the clothes didn't matter so much as my attitude. That however my body was post-pregnancy was because it was doing something amazing and healthy, and that it made me more capable, not less. That my appearance may never go back to how it was before, but it was always changing anyway. That my clothes are a reflection of my spirit and personality, not the other way around. And I eventually found peace in all of those reminders.
Now, my baby is about to turn one year old. My body is not how it was before, but I am strong and healthy, and I wear what makes me comfortable and happy. Yes, I still have some insecure moments. Some days, yes, I dress like a "mom." And some days I dress like I did before my daughter was born. But every day, I dress like the kind of mother I choose to be.
#TakeBackTheBeach essays are meant to reflect individual women's experiences. They have only been lightly edited (if at all) by Refinery29 and do not necessarily reflect the company's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.
Have a story of body image and self-perception that you want to share? Submit your essay to our Take Back The Beach contest here.