E16: Find comfort in the skin you're in
This is a podcast transcript. If you would like to listen to the show in full, please find it on our podcasts page here.
This is my 3rd pregnancy in 3 years so I know what it’s like to be heavier and struggle to dress my body. But I refuse to hide it and remain uncomfortable in it, despite how my weight has fluctuated. It’s common to feel uncomfortable in your own skin for various reasons and the solution is deeper than just “loving your body.” It takes a mindset shift toward treating yourself well, instilling healthy habits, choosing positive self-talk, and allowing yourself to dress in clothes that make you feel good.
In today’s episode:
I’m pregnant again!
Feeling uncomfortable in your own skin
The solution isn’t loving your body
Treat yourself well
Instill healthy habits
Dress in clothes that fit
Well, I have some news. I am pregnant again! As of the time of recording this, I’m 13 weeks pregnant and just had an ultrasound so I could see the little gummy bear dancing around. I’m due in August and, when I have a new baby, Calvin will be just 15 months old! Send me your prayers! I will basically have two babies.
For the last several weeks, I have been so tired. Watching Calvin is a full-time job, which is exhausting to manage on top of first trimester symptoms. I honestly don’t know how I ever published anything on this podcast! It’s also been really hard to keep this a secret. I tend to share whatever topic is burning in my mind or whatever lesson I’ve learned recently. Well, the only thing that’s been on my mind is being pregnant! It’s been hard to talk about anything else so I’m glad I can finally share this now!
I promise that I won’t talk about pregnancy and mom things every week. And when I do talk about it, I’ll try to extract points that are helpful to everyone! But it is a huge part of my life and, after holding in my secret for so long, I have to put out at least one podcast on a mom topic that means a lot to me. This podcast is going to be about how you feel about your maternal and postpartum body, with its constant weight, size, and hormonal fluctuations, and how you can learn to be content with it by treating it better. First we’ll discuss how to adjust your mindset and then we’ll dive into an issue that can help young mothers feel better - how we dress.
And since we’re dealing with body issues, it definitely affects women who have never been pregnant or are far removed from that phase of life, too. So many women go through periods where they aren’t loving how they look and let it affect how they treat themselves. I wish I would have heard something like this before I ever got pregnant, back in my teens and 20s. I’m not sure I would have listened but, if I had, I could have saved myself years of discomfort and frustration.
Have you ever said anything like this to yourself or thought anything like this about yourself?
It doesn’t matter what I wear because I won’t look good anyway.
If I wear boring clothes, maybe people won’t notice me.
I look gross in cute or trendy clothes.
I can’t buy flattering clothes in a larger size because I need to lose weight.
Do you ever feel uncomfortable with your body? Maybe you feel like you aren’t fit or strong enough, maybe your clothes don’t fit right, or like your body doesn’t do what you think it should. Maybe you hate what you see in the mirror or on the scale. Maybe you wish you could get pregnant but can’t yet or maybe you have been pregnant but it affected your body adversely. Maybe it’s more generalized discomfort - just wishing you could be different, look different, or feel different. Most of us have been there at some point before.
If you have, then this is for you.
I can’t promise that you’ll get to a point where you’ll love what you see in the mirror. To me, this is about more than looks, though it’s great if you get to a place where you love your looks. I actually hope you’ll get to a point where you are content no matter what you see in the mirror. Instead of trying to flip that script and thinking that the solution is loving what you look like, consider that the solution has little to do with your physical self at all.
The reason I want to talk about this now, when I’m at my heaviest weight, is because, now that I’m a mom, I lament the years I spent not being kind to myself when I was younger. Now that I’m a mom, I feel more secure in my jiggly skin than I ever did in the taught, lean, toned skin of my pre-maternal self. I’m not more secure because of how I look - I’m more secure because of how I choose to respect my body. I spent years thinking my body satisfaction had everything to do with my weight or how I looked and now I see that it had everything to do with my mindset and respecting myself. I am not saying I never struggle. I have definitely had moments since giving birth where I wish I were still fit, wish my body were less “squishy,” and wish I recovered better from pregnancy. But it doesn’t occupy my thoughts. I’m still more comfortable in my own skin than I was before my pregnancy. My body is kind of awesome. It’s healthy, it has been pregnant 3 times in 3 years, and I need to be good to it. I need to be good to myself. I feel like I see that now.
I like to say that I’m in perpetual mom bod mode at this point - and that doesn’t bother me! It’s just the truth. I have been pregnant quite a bit lately and plan to continue to get pregnant so I can fit in the remainder of my basketball team in the next few years. I’ll be dealing with these weight fluctuations for a while longer, so instead of spending the next few years feeling uncomfortable in my skin and frustrated with my body, I intend to treat it well and dress it well.
I know what it’s like to be uncomfortable in my skin, no matter how I looked. In my 20s, I was constantly uncomfortable in my own skin for various reasons that I won’t go into today. My response was to become meticulous about how I dressed and my make up. I never even let my husband see me without makeup at first and certainly never went out of the house without it - not even to exercise. I had a narrow idea of what looked good on my body and constantly told myself I couldn’t or shouldn’t wear certain things. It didn’t matter if I loved what something looked like, I was convinced that I wouldn’t look good in it.
I had several problems. First of all, I cared way too much what anyone thought of what I looked like. I feel like that’s an age thing that I’ve been growing out of the last several years. No one - not anyone who matters anyway - actually cares what you wear, remembers what you wear, or considers your clothing a reflection of who you are. Even if people do notice that you wear an outfit twice or that you wear something amazing, they likely don’t give it anything more than a passing thought. It’s just not important in the grand scheme of things so I don’t let it occupy my thoughts anymore.
Second of all, I thought that I would feel more comfortable in my own skin if I looked a certain way. But, since I feel more comfortable now, at my heaviest weight, I know that my body security comes from how I feel and take care of myself and not how I look. You likely already know this. I think on some level, I knew it when I was younger, too. But I didn’t try to seek that for myself. It’s hard work working on yourself. It was almost easier for me to work out a ton and turn a blind eye to how I was really feeling than to deal with those feelings and give myself a little grace. I was hard on myself and hard on my body.
Now that I’m a mom, I focus on treating myself well. In a way, I’ve been forced to. Motherhood made me slow down and put things into perspective. Now, I give myself grace for my physical state - I have been through a lot in the past few years and it’s not reasonable to expect me to have 6 pack abs and to run a 6 minute mile. I’m ok without being as lean as I once was. I have reasonable expectations for my body now and focus less on how I look and more on how I can instill good habits. I ask myself questions like, despite my weight, do I still have healthy habits? Do I still eat well and exercise? Do I practice positive self-talk? Do I allow myself to dress in flattering clothes despite my larger size? If these things are all true, then my weight and looks matter less than how I take care of the only body God gave me.
Before we talk about your clothes, we need to talk about your mindset and your actions. This is the first principle of feeling more comfortable in your own skin: instead of thinking about how your body looks, think about how you care for your body. If you aren’t getting the proper care and rest, then it will be harder for you to feel good about yourself. This doesn’t necessarily mean weekly massages and pedicures, though those things can be good for you. It’s just about taking care of yourself and prioritizing healthy habits.
I feel like the popular advice is to tell women to just love their bodies without diving into how. I see it all over Instagram - just love your sagging skin and love the way you look, then you’ll take care of yourself better. That’s a backwards ideology. They’re putting the outcome, which is loving your body, first, without giving people the means to get there. They’re acting like it’s a means unto itself. I see it differently. I believe that you will probably end up loving your body if you first take care of your body - it’s the outcome of a healthy lifestyle and of treating yourself well. You love things you take care of. When I stopped thinking that I should see my every scar and fat roll as beautiful and became more concerned with my own wellness, I naturally started feeling more comfortable. I’m not sure I’ll ever be enamored with what I see in the mirror - I can’t lie to you about that - but I am certainly content and comfortable and want to take care of myself.
Dressing yourself better and in clothes that fit you well isn’t going to make you love yourself but it can help you feel more comfortable in your own skin. It’s a step. So is feeding yourself balanced meals, exercising regularly, and taking care of your mind and soul.
Which brings me to a related point - give your body what it needs to be healthy and instill good habits without focusing on weight loss or looks as an end goal.
When I was recovering from my miscarriage, I was wholly devoted to trying to lose the 11 pounds I had gained while pregnant instead of being focused on healing myself. I was mad that I had gained weight but had no baby to show for it. Some part of me must have subconsciously felt like, if I could lose the weight and remove the physical evidence of the pregnancy, I’d erase the negative impact of the miscarriage. I was fighting an uphill battle against my hormones, though, and soon realized that I was depressed. In that disrupted state, I couldn’t be content with my body. At some point I realized that I needed to stop pushing myself and instead take care of myself. My goal became feeling better, correcting my mood, and getting more energy rather than losing weight. Working out twice a day while my body, mind, and soul were suffering wouldn’t make anything better and might even result in raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which could cause my body to store fat and stay stressed. I won’t go into all of the hormone research I did, but I decided that, in an attempt to correct my wonky hormones, I would cut out sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, eat a ton of vegetables, do more yoga and relaxing exercises, read my bible daily, and spend a lot of time outside. Basically, I ate extremely clean and prioritized habits that were restorative and restful.
Within a month, I felt like a brand new person. I actually felt better than I had in years. People who knew me randomly told me I looked good and seemed rested. I could think clearly, felt positive about myself and most things around me, and literally couldn’t recall the last time I had thought about my weight. My weight wasn’t even on my mind anymore. I was laser focused on taking care of myself as well as I possibly could so that I could feel better. I started dressing in normal clothes again and barely realized when, all of the sudden, my old jeans fit. This is because my focus was off of what my body looked like and was placed wholly on taking care of my body and giving it what it needed.
Conversely, when I make looking a certain way or losing a certain amount of weight become my main focus, I am less likely to feel content or comfortable. I’m more likely to feel frustrated with my body. So, by taking the focus off of your bodily exterior and putting it on how you treat yourself and take care of yourself, then you might inadvertently actually start to feel comfortable in your body over time. Make sense?
This will look different for everyone. Beyond the basics of healthy eating, exercise, drinking water, and resting, you might need certain forms of self-care. You might need regular kid-free time, bubble baths, time outside, or the ability to read a good book. Think of what you need to feel centered and well and prioritize it in your life. I know it’s hard, especially with children. It helps me to recruit my husband in my plans. I tell him what I need to do and why and how I need him to help - by watching kids, doing more around the house, etc. If it’s clear it’s for my health, of course he’ll help out. Think of who in your life could support you in your healthy habits. Who could watch the kids or help with housework so you could take an extra 30 minutes a day to do something restorative that’s just for you?
The next principle I want to dive into is about self-talk. How do you talk to yourself?
Are you kind? Do you treat yourself like you would treat a friend? If you are unkind to yourself, even with your thoughts, then no amount of external change will help you feel better in your body. I want you to think about what your initial gut reaction was right after the last time you weighed yourself or looked in the mirror. Or, if you’re ok with your weight now, can you recall a time you haven’t been? What did you say to yourself? I can think of some pretty nasty things I’ve said to myself like, “I’m disgusting” or sad feelings I’ve had. Flip the situation around and consider what you’d say to a friend who wanted to lose weight. I would probably say “I think you look great. But if you want to lose weight, I’ll help you. Let’s make a plan.” Whatever you say, you’d probably be loving, objective, and accepting toward your friends. You’d never say to them what you say to yourself.
The challenge for you this week is to be kind to yourself in an area that is challenging for you. I have a constructive and unemotional approach to accepting circumstances I don’t like and making an objective plan to fix them. The goal is to train yourself to think constructively when you react to your body. Pick an area that’s a trigger area for you like looking in the mirror or weighing yourself. For me, it’s my fitness. I struggle with wishing that I were as strong as I was at the beginning of the last pregnancy. The next time you’re confronted with your trigger area - if you weigh yourself, or try on clothes, or try to exercise - you’re allowed one of two reactions. You can either decide that you’re ok with it as is and pat yourself on the back for being exactly where you intend to be. Or, if you’re like most of us and wish things were different, you can choose to accept it and make a plan to change it. If you choose that, you have to give yourself some objective, unemotional self-talk. For example, you can take a deep breath and say, “I know I’m not where I want to be but I think I can change a few things and see if it helps.” See how in that sentence you have accepted your situation, but also decided that you will try to change it?
What works for me is to make my mind up before I even start exercising. I know I’ll be confronted with negative self-talk while exercising so I preemptively tell myself, “I know I’m not as strong or fit as I once was, but I’m doing the right thing by continuing to work out and stay healthy.” Basically, I decide in advance how I will respond to any negative thoughts that arise. By priming my brain, I preemptively shut down unhelpful, unconstructive thoughts. Obviously, these thoughts might still creep in. It’s hard to keep them out entirely. If I have negative thoughts while exercising I’ll once again remind myself that I just had a baby and am pregnant so it’s not reasonable for me to expect my body to be any different than it currently is.
If you repeat these positive thoughts over and over, they’ll start to become automatic as you build positive self-talk into a habit.
Ok now we can actually discuss how you dress your body. The way we dress can’t make us love our bodies more but it is part of the self-care that we discussed previously. It is challenging to feel good about yourself if, everytime you open the closet, you are confronted with clothes that don’t fit you or that you don’t feel good in.
I won’t have a list of must-have clothing to buy or influencers to follow. I have nothing against people who do that but that’s not my cup of tea. This is less about what you wear and more about why you wear it.
I want to be clear because everyone has a different idea of what clothes make them look and feel good: traditionally frumpy clothes might not be bad if you wear them with the right mindset. I have no problem with leggings, flannel shirts, and oversized sweaters. I live in the Pacific Northwest so it’s practically our uniform up here! Some days I’ll wear my bathrobe all day or only wear sweats. I wear them because they are comfy! These things may be frumpy by the classical definition but I don’t feel frumpy because, if I wanted to wear nicer clothes, I could and I would. I have given myself the ability to feel good and look good and wear things that fit. I don’t wear these clothes because I have nothing good that fits or feel like I don’t look good or because I’m punishing myself for being larger. So if your uniform is leggings and big shirts but you wear them because you love them and feel like you look good, then rock on. It’s all about your mindset first. If your uniform is leggings and big shirts because you have nothing that fits or you don’t feel uncomfortable in more flattering clothes, then you need to work on how you treat yourself and talk to yourself.
Are you avoiding wearing clothes that flatter and fit you because you are operating under someone else’s definition of “flattering?” Or do you feel that you don’t deserve the clothes until you lose weight? What is preventing you from taking care of yourself in this way?
So you are dressing your body well or are you hiding it? Again, remember the point I made about how WHY you wear what you wear is more important than WHAT you wear. I know women who wear their maternity clothes for a year or even longer after giving birth. If that’s you, I think that’s fine IF you love the clothes and love how you look and feel in them. Additionally, they can be really easy to nurse in so, if you’re still breastfeeding or pumping they can be a practical option. However, if you are choosing to continue to wear maternity or really frumpy clothes long after giving birth simply because you haven’t returned to your pre-pregnancy size and you don’t feel like you deserve buy new clothes, you feel like you should just get skinny enough to wear your old clothes, or you don’t feel like you should buy new clothes because, if you do, then that’s like saying that you’re going to be that size forever, then you’re probably feeling a little insecure about your body. If you buy clothes in a size that is bigger than your ideal size - whether you are larger because of pregnancy or for other reasons - that’s not saying you’re going to be that size forever. Let’s say you were a 10 and now you’re a 14 but instead of buying clothes that fit, you live in suboptimal clothing because you feel like, if you bought anything in a size 14, you’d be committed to being a 14 forever. That’s not true though. That’s a lie and that’s like punishing yourself. If you allow yourself to buy something that fits and complements your body, then you are allowing yourself to look good and feel good for as long as you are a size 14. You don’t know how long you’ll be that size. It could be 6 months or 3 years. Life happens, more weight fluctuations might happen and, in the meantime, you need to take care of yourself. Are you going to continue to wear baggy clothes just because you feel like you don’t deserve better clothes or don’t deserve to look good yet? Especially if you’re postpartum and you’ve just gone through pregnancy, childbirth, and possibly breastfeeding, you have more than earned the right to look and feel your best. You won’t be the best mom and wife you can be if every time you look at your clothes, you feel like you’re letting yourself down and you don’t like what you see in the mirror.
If you are punishing yourself by not buying clothes that fit you, I want to challenge you this week to buy 1 item that fits you well. Just 1 item. Maybe pick a staple that you know you’ll get a lot of use out of like a pair of jeans. It will feel good to invest in one nice thing that fits you. It might get the ball rolling and help you decide to get more things that fit you. But don’t worry about what’s next - for now just buy the 1 staple item that works well for you and that you’ll get a lot of use out of.
In my last pregnancy I gained 53 pounds, way more than I thought I would gain even though I exercised the entire pregnancy, and was too big to fit into many of my maternity clothes by the end. At 8 and 9 months pregnant I was wearing men’s large sweatpants and t-shirts every day, even out to the store. I hated it and felt gross. I was waiting for the day I could put normal clothes back on, rather than ensuring I felt good about myself in the moment. I never had maternity pictures done because I didn’t feel like I looked good. After I had Calvin, I never lost all of the weight, but after a couple of months postpartum, I suddenly got tired of feeling gross. I decided that I deserved to feel like I looked good and bought a couple of dresses that fit at my larger size. Those 2 or 3 items of clothing gave me new energy and motivation to feel like I could look good if I wanted to. I do not regret doing this. Then I got pregnant at 6 months postpartum. I was still 10 pounds heavier and couldn’t wear many of my pre-pregnancy clothes. So I know what it’s like to struggle with finding clothes that fit and wondering if you should invest in clothes despite inevitable weight fluctuations. I know what it feels like to wear frumpy things because nothing fits and then what it feels like to buy larger clothes that are flattering because I believe I deserve to feel good at any size. I’d like to encourage you to adopt the latter mentality.
Now I’m back in maternity clothes and I am determined to feel comfortable and to feel like I look good this pregnancy. I have maternity clothes but they are mostly work clothes and I will be 9 months pregnant in August this time. So I’ll need things I can stay cool in. Instead of trying to make it work in things I’ll be uncomfortable in, I just purchased clothes that I can wear in the summer. I created a list of what I needed and spent very little by watching sales closely and going to thrift stores. Now, at only 13 weeks pregnant, I have a full wardrobe that I know will make me feel prettier at a larger size and I have the right clothes to wear postpartum this time. I also made sure to invest in one dress I really loved so that I’d take maternity photos this time. I’m carrying a baby and I deserve to look and feel my best. After the baby arrives, I deserve to look and feel my best. After buying the right clothes and removing what doesn’t work for me from my closet I can now open my closet and quickly find something that fits and that I feel good in. I’ll be in perpetual mom bod mode for a while and I shouldn’t have to suffer and feel unattractive while I go through it.
Every person - and every mom - deserves to be able to open her closet and only see clothes that fit and flatter her. Why are you punishing yourself with clothes that don’t fit? Allow yourself to feel good, no matter your size, and give yourself grace for the season of life that you’re in. If you are in a maternal season of life like me, be reasonable with what you can expect of your body and treat it well. If you are out of the maternal season of life, but still struggle with feeling comfortable in your own skin, focus on healthy habits more than you focus on your weight or looks. By taking care of yourself and staying healthy, you might find that you start to feel better about how you look. Because we love the things that we care for. So care for yourself and, by doing so, love yourself. Looks are secondary.
To get the full podcast experience, join my Facebook community. It's for listeners of the show to share tips, ask questions, and encourage one another. And follow me on Instagram at @hannah_uncommon_life