When You Hate Your Postpartum Body

Faith based encouragement for the new mom who struggles to see her postpartum body as beautiful.

I went shopping recently and bought a whole new wardrobe. I couldn’t wait to wear my new clothes, to show off my style. But every morning I put something on, stood in front of the mirror, and thought to myself, “is this it?” I thought the clothes would make me feel beautiful, but instead I still felt big, which is the nicer version of what I call myself in secret. Fat. 

Last week I celebrated my birthday by getting my hair done. I had photos of the hair I wanted saved in a Pinterest board for years and I was finally ready to go for it. I sat in the chair at the salon for three hours, awaiting the moment I’d look in the mirror at my brand new hair and feel like a model. But when I saw my reflection, I again thought, “is this it?” I thought this would make me feel beautiful, but instead I still felt unattractive, which is another nicer version of what I call myself in secret. Ugly.

I went home and cried that day because I had run out of ideas on how to look prettier and thinner and trendier. I expected to be filled with confidence, but at the end of the day, I only felt empty. There was no quick fix for my poor body image. And so the daily battle rages on.

Welcome to postpartum. 

I know it well, as many new mamas do, too — that having a baby can so drastically change our bodies and even more drastically change our views of them.

I think there was a past, naive version of many of us that liked to believe that we would be accepting of our postpartum bodies, that we would simply marvel at how it carried our sweet babies and nourished them both in the womb and beyond. We told ourselves that there would be no pressure to get the weight off, that we would give ourselves grace for the changes our bodies would endure. 

But if you're like me, your postpartum body lost most of its luster sometime after the "fourth trimester." Now it’s difficult to accept this is really how you look, how you fit, and how you jiggle. You feel hopeless and defeated. And at the same time, guilty. Because you expected better from yourself. You thought you'd rock your new body with confidence — if not for your sake, then for your someday adolescent daughters. But now you just want to hide away, go back in time to the smaller version of yourself that you had even once thought could lose a few pounds. If only we knew then how good we had it, right?

I’ve been battling this out with God for a while now. How does my negative body image impact my faith and ability to walk out my calling as a follower of Christ? The insecurity has become so crippling at times, I can no longer pretend the two are not related. There is something dark, probably even demonic, about the hatred I have developed toward my body. It’s as if there are supernatural blinders covering my eyes and keeping me from seeing my beauty. What a sneaky way for the enemy to make me ineffective. He knows that as long as I’m fixated on my looks, I’m not fixated on Jesus. 

And that’s the secret to beating this, really. I know it because I’ve experienced it. 

The morning after my meltdown, I found myself at the park. And as I pushed the stroller with music blaring through my earphones, I was moved in worship.

What a beautiful Name it is

What a beautiful Name it is

The Name of Jesus Christ my King

What a beautiful Name it is

Nothing compares to this

What a beautiful Name it is

The Name of Jesus

Jesus. My King Jesus. I was in awe of his beauty, his majesty, and his grace. And as I sang aloud with boldness and delight, the fears of not measuring up and of being too big or too plain or too ugly melted away and were replaced by pure joy and peace. At that moment I didn’t care that people might be staring, that I was a sweaty, out-of-shape mess trying to belt out a song between gasps for breath. Because it wasn’t about me. It was about him.

You didn't want heaven without us

So Jesus, You brought heaven down

My sin was great, Your love was greater

What could separate us now

What a wonderful Name it is

What a wonderful Name it is

The Name of Jesus Christ my King

This was what I needed -- a brief moment of victory when I no longer cared about how I looked, when I was able to see beyond the unshed fat and unchanging pant size and finally think about something other than myself. This was the answer to the questions my heart had been asking. If I want to stop looking at my scars, I need to look at his. If I want to stop obsessing over my beauty, I need to be consumed by his.

I used to think that God couldn’t change the way I saw my reflection. I told myself there's no way he could make me believe in my beauty again. That whole "fearfully and wonderfully made" thing didn't seem to make a difference, and I was too stuck in my pity party to pray and cry out to God for help in my dark moments of insecurity. To be honest, I didn’t think Jesus could truly be my Savior. He saved me from death, sure. But saving me from the lies in my head? I just didn’t see it happening. I really hadn’t considered that maybe he is just as invested in my restoration as I am. Only it isn't my beauty he seeks to restore; it's my heart.

But now I know that there is hope. I was reminded of it that day at the park and I've been catching glimpses of it every day since then. There is a Savior, somebody to lift the blinders from my eyes and show me the beauty in all things, not just myself, and especially in him. There is victory to be had in this war with my reflection and it starts with saying, “Jesus, you are so beautiful. And I want to trust you to make me beautiful, too.” Whether or not I choose to listen, he always whispers back, “My darling. you already are.”

Does this give you a glimmer of hope today? That maybe the battle in front of the mirror can be won? My friend, I know it’s been a long time since you’ve felt truly beautiful and comfortable in your skin. I know the lies that bounce around in your head, telling you to do better, work harder, suck it in, suck it up. Maybe you’re at the point where there is no striving anymore. You’re wondering if you’re just destined to feel this way for the rest of your life. You’re thinking about giving up. Not fighting the battle anymore, but not walking in victory either.

My encouragement for you today is this: Sometimes the best way to learn to love your body is to get your eyes off of your body. At least until you are ready to take it all in with love. Fresh perspective comes when you fix your eyes on Jesus instead. Do this until you feel his beauty becoming yours.

This is not a quick fix. There is no quick fix. There are wounds in our heart that need healing and that takes time. But the Healer knows what he’s doing. If we would only look to him, he would remind us of the things we’ve long forgotten, like how our hair shines in the sun, how our eyes sparkle when we laugh, how our curves delight and invite our husbands, how our bodies lovingly carried our sons and daughters.

We bear the scars of motherhood, and I believe it is the Lord’s desire for us to bear those scars well, just as Jesus willingly and humbly bore the scars of suffering and death on our behalf. Our body image and our faith are related because we have been made into his chosen, redeemed vessels. And how can we raise our children to walk with confidence when we aren’t walking in our own? How can we raise our hands in worship when we are bowing down at the altar of consumerism and envy? How can we love our neighbor as we love ourselves when we are consumed with despising and hating ourselves?

It's time to stop looking in the mirror, desperately waiting for the moment we finally see our beauty. We need to be looking at the Son, "the radiance of God's glory" (Hebrews 1:3). Because when we do this, "we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image" (2 Corinthians 3:18). With eyes fixed on Jesus, we become radiant, too.

As I write, I still have a heavy heart longing to know what it’s like to feel truly beautiful again. But bigger than that longing is my desire to know, taste, and experience the Lord’s beauty in its fullness. Because then, and only then, will I be freed from the shackles of insecurity and despair. Only then will I see my body for what it really is: a temporary, changing, aging vessel for a spirit destined to come alive and rejoice in his presence forever.

This is what our bodies are meant to be. Could there be anything more beautiful than that?