On beauty and self-love

by Grace Ko

Confession: I have been having an awfully difficult time loving my postpartum body. 

My wonder and amazement at my body during pregnancy, being able to grow and birth a baby, quickly turned into a self-condemnation, a self-loathing. "My hips are too wide, my stomach is so flabby, my legs are still swollen, my face is still puffy."

My body did not (still does not) feel like my own, joints weakened and vulnerable, back and shoulders aching from the constant hunching over to nurse and hold baby. Once I hit the 12-week-postpartum mark and began exercising regularly again, I was met with even more frustration that I couldn't do simple things I once was able to. I tried doing the famous BBG program and began following many moms on Instagram who "got their bodies back" in hopes of getting motivated, but truthfully, I would often only feel discouraged and overcome by a spirit of comparison. 

One day, as I was sitting in my rocking chair nursing baby, I looked over at our all-purpose cart that houses all the necessities: diapers, baby lotion, burp cloths, swaddle blankets, thermometer... On it, held up by a magnet, was a piece of cardstock with a verse my husband had written: 

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
— Proverbs 31:28-30

I got choked up, reading and rereading this verse... because though my husband had told me over and over again that I was beautiful, I hadn't believed it myself. And rather than focusing on fearing the Lord, I spent much of my day obsessing over my weight and my appearance. Rather than being patient with and grateful for this body that grew, nurtured and birthed this beautiful baby boy, I was so anxious to get my body back. Working out was not about getting healthy and fit but solely about losing weight. I would step on the scale daily in hopes that the number had gone down. I got frustrated at myself and even angry at all those that had said the weight would melt off with breastfeeding, because it wasn't. I even avoided going out for quite some time in fear of what people would think of my postpartum appearance. And most recently, with postpartum hair loss, I have found myself frustrated with the strands, clumps of hair left behind in my hairbrush, on the floor, in baby's hand. 

For Baby J's 100th day, a dear friend gifted him a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit. Despite it being a classic, I had actually never read it. While baby napped, I read it and was struck by a passage in it that seemed so appropriate, so relevant, so raw and real. 

When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt... Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
— The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

As of late, baby has started this thing where he looks up at my face in the midst of nursing, almost as if to check that I'm still there. He'll look into my eyes, give me a smirk, a smile, sometimes a chuckle and go back to nursing, only to do it again a few seconds later. It's become a "game" of his. 

The thing is, baby doesn't care if I'm losing my hair. Or if I still have quite a bit of baby weight to shed. He looks up at me with amazement and love so real. And he's teaching me to love myself, not for how I look, but just because of who I am. I may be "loose in the joints" and looking a bit "shabby" with dark under-eyes and all, but I am still deeply loved.

I'm still tempted to step on that scale from time to time. I'm still tempted to base my worth or beauty on my outward appearance. But I'm learning. I'm learning to love myself.