with Cofounder of Beauty Redefined Lexie Kite, PhD
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
- Learning To Love And Accept Our Body
- Defining Body Image
- Disruptions To Our Body Image
- Changing The Way We See Ourselves
- Struggling With Shame About Their Body
During pregnancy, your body is changing so much! It grows through so much in the span of 9 months and grows an entire human being in the process! It is truly mind-blowing to think about! After our baby is born, we are met with so much pressure to snap back and look like we never gave birth.
Our body is more than an ornament. It is an instrument that as moms, we need to embrace. It’s important for us to realize that how our body looks does not define who we are as a mom. Joining us is Beauty Redefined Cofounder Lexie Kite to discuss body image, share examples of our own journey with body image, and how we can love our body just the way it is.
When I think about all of the people I respect and admire, none of it has anything to do with what they look like. But as women, we’re often told nothing we do matters if we’re not beautiful while doing it, and because of this, we limit ourselves. I can remember being afraid to start an Instagram account, because I didn’t think I looked like everyone else on Instagram.
Lexie explained this is the idea of self-objectification. When we worry about how we’re showing up and what we look like as we move through life is what self-objectification is. Because we’re so worried about how other people may perceive us, we can’t be 100% in our lived experiences, and women often pass up opportunities because they don’t think they look right. “I’m too fat to go to the gym. I look funny when I work out.” Or, “I can’t run for office. I’m ugly. Who’s going to vote for me?” The list goes on because women tend to do this with a lot of things.
Defining Body Image
“Your body image is your relationship with your body,” Lexie said. “Your body image is how you feel about yourself, but it goes beyond your appearance. Positive body image isn’t just believing your body looks good. It’s knowing your body is good.”
Sometimes when we’re trying to help someone struggling with body image we say things like, “You’re beautiful just the way you are.” Lexie gave the example, “You’re so cute you’re going to change the world one day.” But all that does is reinforce self-objectification. We don’t bring up the way a man looks when he’s struggling with self-esteem.
Disruptions To Our Body Image
As new moms, our bodies have changed so much it can be disturbing to our body image. Even if you’re not a new mom, women face disruptions to our body image every day from comparing ourselves to other people or being bombarded with media messages of what we should look like. “Body image resilience is the ability to call out those disruptions as they happen and choose a new path, a new way forward,” Lexie said.
Lexie explained that Kim Kardashian doesn’t leave her home for a year after she has a baby. It’s tempting to chalk this up to celebrity culture, but it’s not that unusual. A lot of women don’t want to be seen with all the changes to their body after having a baby. “Body image resilience is the ability to rise in the face of that pain,” she said.
We have a bank of data in our brains, and from the time we’re old enough to take in data, we’re bombarded with messages about what a woman should look like. Body image resilience is deciding if we’re going to use that information or discard it because it’s not serving us.
“In the U.S. in the average household women control up to 90% of the dollars spent. Women don’t make the most money, but we’re in charge of spending it,” Lexie said. This means marketers know one thing: if they can convince a young girl that beauty is her path to happiness and sell her what she needs to achieve that look, they’ve made a lifetime customer.
While women have always been targeted with ads for cosmetics, clothes, and accessories, postpartum moms are a new target for marketers. “It’s been the last 20 years at this point that new moms have been targeted with these really dehumanizing unrealistic ideals. Before that moms weren’t preyed upon. Now marketers know they have this incredible opportunity to get a woman when she’s at her most vulnerable,” Lexie said.
Changing The Way We See Ourselves
A lot of moms don’t know how to process the desire to be at their pre-pregnancy weight after baby comes because they’re being bombarded with social media images and commercials. Constantly, they are being told they should be embarrassed if they aren’t back to their pre-pregnancy weight. It doesn’t help that healthcare providers often encourage this too.
“Start with anger,” Lexie said. She’s careful to point out you shouldn’t direct your anger at yourself or your body. Instead, you should be angry that an entire industry exists to prey upon the vulnerabilities of someone who just brought a life into the world and then sell them “the solution.” Just like you’d get mad at your ex to get over a bad breakup, get mad at the media and their sexist messaging and break up with unrealistic beauty standards.
Once you understand the way you feel about your body isn’t because of you, but because of predatory capitalism and sexism, you should be able to be more gentle with yourself. Lexie has two suggestions for beginning to work through this. You can write a letter to your new baby and tell them about your childhood and your experiences with objectification. Another option is to remember back to a time before you worried about what you looked like—a time when you were just comfortable in your body— write a letter to that little girl. Tell her that her flaws are okay, and what she weighs or what she looks like doesn’t matter.
I was putting my oldest son to bed one night, and he saw the stretch marks on my tummy. He started playing with them, and he was so curious about how they got there. Then he started naming them. “This one is from me. This one is from Gabe!” He was so proud that there was evidence he lived in my tummy once. I’ve never looked at a stretch mark the same way again.
Struggling With Shame About Their Body
“Your brain on body shame tells you you’re disgusting,” Lexie said. Of course, the coping choices we make in flight or fight aren’t usually the healthiest and might not help us. “The things your brain tells you to do in that fight or flight is to fix it. Fix it in any way possible. Until you can fix it, hide it,’” Lexie said.
To disrupt that feeling of disgust, focus on your 5 senses. What do you see? Can you feel your own heart beating? Everything about your body is all evidence of the life you lived.
“Your body is an instrument, not an ornament,” is Lexie’s mantra. This is a powerful reframe. If we can think of our body as an instrument all of the sudden, scars are mementos of experiences collected and stretch marks are reminders of the lives we’ve brought into the world. Even lost weight or gained weight can be evidence of our body—our instrument—bearing the brunt of coping with things we weren’t ready to handle.
“What can you control that doesn’t have to do with your body as an ornament?” Lexie asked. Focusing on your mindset and reclaiming your body as your own will help you get to what you’re trying to accomplish. “Go after that goal directly,” Lexie said.
“The more you can just show up as you are in this world, you give people permission to show up too,” Lexie said. We’re not here to be objectified, and we can’t bring the value we have to offer to the world if we’re worried about hiding our bodies.
If you’re struggling with your postpartum body or to feel like yourself again, contact the wellness center. We want to help you!
Identical twins Lexie Kite, Ph.D. and Lindsay Kite, Ph.D. are co-founders of the non-profit Beauty Redefined and experts in the work of body image resilience. They reach millions worldwide via research-backed online education available on their website, social media, and through speaking events to tens of thousands across the US. Their forthcoming book More Than a Body, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. While many well-intentioned people promote positive body image from the basis of helping women realize and embrace their beauty, Beauty Redefined changes the conversation about body image by telling girls and women they are MORE than beautiful. Lexie and Lindsay assert positive body image is about feeling positively toward your body overall, not just what it looks like.