Written by: Sydney-Ellen Cooke, Student Occupational Therapist
When we think back to a time where we felt our most confident, I believe that a lot of women automatically recall the time that they felt their skinniest. However, when looking back at this time, a large portion of individuals may not necessarily consider that time to be their most confident self. For many women struggling with their body image, the time in which they were their slimmest may also have been associated with severe diet restrictions, rigorous exercise plans, and mental exhaustion. So why do we believe that we should feel the most confident with our body image when we are our slimmest? Recently, a significant amount of research has been published highlighting the relationship between pregnant women and mothers experiencing body image issues and postpartum depression. Although I personally am not a mother, I understand and relate to the struggles that the majority of women face on a daily basis regarding their body image and the severe damage it can have on our mental well-being. Mothers especially are vulnerable to experience fluctuations in their self-esteem as a result of the physical, psychological, and emotional changes associated with pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. It is essential to have conversations with mothers and soon-to-be moms, about body image and highlighting the ways we can educate and support each other to feel our most confident self.
According to research, 36% of women do not accept their physical appearance after giving birth. In addition to this, mothers who have a negative perception of their body image are 50% more likely to experience postpartum depression. Throughout pregnancy, labour, and postpartum, it is evident that women’s bodies change immensely. Weight gain throughout pregnancy and postpartum is inevitable and can be attributed to several physiological changes including uterine enlargement, elevated maternal blood volume, additional breast tissue ,and potentially increased stress levels.
So why do many mothers experience body image issues if the weight gain throughout pregnancy is considered to be normal and healthy? A recent study conducted among mothers found that the primary cause for body image issues stemmed from the thin-ideal body type portrayed within the media. Regardless if you’re a mother or not, everyone has come across an advertisement promoting a diet detox or innovative fitness plan highlighting the different strategies that women can utilize to return back to their pre-baby body. Oftentimes, these fitness and diet plans are accompanied by a picture of a beautiful and skinny woman looking happy and healthy. But in reality, pregnancy, labour, and the postpartum period doesn’t always look this glamorous. The majority of moms will develop larger breasts, differences in their skin type, hair loss, swollen feet, stretch marks, loose skin, and ultimately gain weight. As a result of these advertisements and images, many mothers interpret their changed physical appearance throughout motherhood as unhealthy. Oftentimes this will lead to a sense of guilt and insecurity among mothers for failing to embody this specific body type. The extent of this influence is evident as researchers reported that the average woman expressed interest in having a goal weight that was 12lbs lower than their pre-pregnancy body. Clearly, the media has influenced women’s perception of what health and happiness truly looks like. It is important for all moms to be aware of the possible negative effects participating in these fad exercises and diets ma