Feeling comfortable in my own skin: I've birthed and breastfed two kids and I'm happy with my body

July 30 | Guest post by Viktoria Bissett
By: Khairul NizamCC BY 2.0

I have a bucket list. I keep it written in a little journal and I get it out and stare at it once in a while. Some of the items on there are big, lofty experiences that I hope to have one day. However, many of the things on that list are simple, personal experiences I want to achieve. This week, I got to cross one off the list: feeling comfortable in a bathing suit.

Yep, sounds completely ridiculous, but I have never felt comfortable in a bathing suit and have always dreaded going to the pool. I am unique in many ways, but one way I am very typical is being a girl who is self-conscious and unforgiving about my body. However, when I took my kids to the pool this week I actually felt good about myself.

This feeling has nothing to do with some change in the way I look. I have not been working out or trying to lose weight. Everything I have loathed about my body was still there: cellulite, stretch marks, love handles, and deflated post-baby boobs. I was at the pool, in a swimsuit, and I didn't care if my body was not "ideal." I didn't for one second think about my physical appearance (okay, I briefly realized that I probably could use a bikini wax, but that doesn't really count). All I was thinking about was my baby girl splashing in the pool for the first time, and my five-year-old's big smile because he loves to be in the water. I was with my kids and with friends and I was happy — in a bathing suit.

This whole experience led me to do something else that I have always had a hard time doing: looking at myself naked in the mirror. When I get out of the shower I avoid eye contact with my reflection. I put on clothes or a robe as fast as I can, as if seeing myself naked would be the most horrifying experience possible. So today, when I got out of the shower, I took a step back and gave myself I good stare-down. And I didn't die of shame. In fact, I tried to look at things a bit differently.

I saw my stretch marks and remembered how I'd earned them. I looked at my poor, sagging breasts and thought of my beautiful, plump little babies. I looked at my thighs and thought, "Meh, it's really not that bad." This whole little epiphany was rather brief, of course, because the baby was in her Jolly Jumper in the doorway and looking up at me probably thinking, "Mmmm, breakfast." And then my son walked in and asked if I was getting dressed yet because he was hungry and wanted his second breakfast (I think my son may have been a Hobbit in another life). Anyway, the whole point is that it wasn't this horrible, awful experience that I had expected it to be. All this has led me to think about myself, my body, in a different light.

I used to always think that if I lost weight and got in shape that I would somehow feel comfortable in my own skin. The truth is that feeling comfortable in your own skin should have absolutely nothing to do with the numbers on the scale or the size of your jeans. Feeling comfortable in your own skin should come from knowing that your self-esteem and worth has nothing to do with your physical appearance. It should be about embracing who you are and living a genuine life, even if that means that others may not like it. It comes from being able to let your freak flag fly without worrying that others are watching. It comes from staring at yourself naked and realizing that what you see doesn't mean a thing.

When my son walked in on me this morning he didn't cry out, "Mom, look at those dimply thighs, you should really do something about that!" He doesn't give a crap what I look like. All that matters is that I take care of him and love him and make him Nutella sandwiches. I've always known that often, kids are much smarter than adults. Maybe I should start listening to my kids more and my insecurities less. I might find myself crossing off even more items on that bucket list.

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  1. A few weeks ago, I went to the beach and wore a swimsuit in public WITHOUT a t-shirt or other cover-up over it. I went in the ocean and walked on the sand, and even though I'm the heaviest I've ever been, I was fine with it. I think part of it was that it was my first trip to the beach in 3 years – a horrible ankle injury, which involved wearing removable casts and ultimately surgery last summer, meant that I couldn't walk on unstable ground (including sand) for that entire time. It felt so good to be able to walk barefoot, without fear of injury, and enjoy being in the sun (coated in oodles of sunblock, of course).

    1 agrees
  2. LOVE this. its a wonderful feeling, isn't it?
    (sidenote: i have a degree in english, and i'm not a teacher, either!)

    1 agrees
    • Haha… I had to put that in there, because every single time I've told someone I'm an English major they've always assumed I plan on teaching.

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  3. It's a wonderful liberating feeling, isn't it??? I've spent years feeling insecure about my body, and having a baby changed all of that. I was so incredibly proud of what my body did, I really don't mind that extra jiggle, those stretch marks. I went to the beach wearing a cute swimsuit but skipped the guy's board shorts I've worn swimming since I was a teenager. I feel so much more confident in who I am and what my body is able to do. Ahh 🙂

  4. Love this post. And horray for hobbit children! I have two who think that "second breakfast" is a thing. Don't even get me started on elevenses.

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  5. Love this!

    In my opinion, feeling comfortable in your own skin also has a lot to do with realizing that you can be both physically beautiful and "overweight". They are absolutely NOT mutually exclusive.

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    • Clicking "this" was not enough!!! Yes! I feel like this is finally a realization that I am coming to slowly. Some days are better than others, but man is this something I need to have tattooed to my forehead.

  6. Yay! This rocks. I feel more comfortable is my skin after having kids then I ever did before even though my body is less 'in shape' as before. I just watched my body carry, birth and feed a baby…who gives a shit about a few blemishes when your body just worked a miracle!

    3 agree
  7. I felt this the first time I took off my shirt to run in my sports bra. So what if I wasn't the same tight, toned 20-something I was in college. I've had a baby. I fed him for over a year. It's ok if my tummy has a little extra bounce, or if my breasts aren't so perky in the sports bra anymore. It was a lovely feeling.

  8. THIS!! JUST ALL OF THIS!! Love this post, the honesty, the beauty, the second breakfast. Just all of it makes me smile. 🙂

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  9. OH LORDY YES!!!! I also loved the first time I looked at my breasts and realized they had purpose! They aren't just for sexy-ness! They actually do something, and that something was feed my BABY!! THEY DO SOMETHING! Sorry, I was really excited by this.

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  10. Love this! I too feel better about my body having been pregnant, birthed, and nursed, twice now. I do find that I feel better when I am in shape somewhat — so, I felt better once I began exercising again after number one and hope to begin exercising again soon after recently delivered number two. But this is more about how I feel than about how I look. As a whole, I feel much better now about my body than ever, especially my breasts, which have always been very large and made me very self-conscious. I never pursued reduction because I knew it could interfere with future nursing, and wow am I glad I held off!

    Thanks for writing this!

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  11. I appreciate this post so much. I think we need to hear messages like this to combat the mass media messages we're bombarded with. Some time post baby, maybe a year after, it hit me that there was nothing wrong with the way my post-baby body was different than my pre-baby body. I had just internalized the message that my body is supposed to look a certain way and that it was wrong for it to change after child birth. Duh, hello! Why are we all upset about something that happens to most everyone who has a baby?

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  12. I try to remind myself that I worked really hard and I fucking EARNED those stretch marks.

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  13. I really love this piece.. and want to believe it. I would have an easier time, if I could see you in the picture. I am not trying to be harsh or difficult.. .it's just to really own what you're saying, it should include you front and center to back it up. I hope you get there. xoxo

    (wears maxi skirts in photos to hide copious amounts of spider veins 😉

    • Hey Shannon! I wanted to let you know that Viktoria isn't in the photo above at all — it's one I pulled from Creative Commons for the post. I did ask Viktoria to send me a photo of her to use for the post and can 100% confirm to you that she did and DOES "own it."

      Editorially speaking, Ariel and I decided that having a photo of Viktoria in the post may cause others to compare/contrast themselves to her. I am 100% fine with Viktoria linking to a photo of herself if she wants to, and I'll email her and let her know.

      1 agrees
    • I do have pictures of me in my swimsuit, and I definitely am proud of myself and own my body. I sort of feel like it's unimportant for others to see them, because this was about how I feel about how I look, not necessarily about proving it to anyone else. I agree with Stephanie and Ariel's decision to not include my picture, I think it may have detracted from the real point: that it's not about how you actually look, it's about what you feel about yourself.

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      • Just chiming in that my decision to ask Stephanie not to include a photo was based on years of seeing women online discredit each other's own body-positive messages based on comparing themselves to a photo. For example, "Oh of course you feel fine about your body — you're half my size/10 years younger whatever, so therefore this post doesn't apply to me!"

        When it comes to body positivity, I feel pretty strongly that the focus needs to be on the message — not the image.

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        • Totally agree! Furthermore, women of ALL sizes, ages, and body types can feel that kind of crippling insecurity, and it can be just as hard for someone who we imagine to have it "easy" (so to speak) to feel terrible about themselves. We should be celebrating this woman's breakthrough, not demanding proof the she fit into our criteria of what constitutes negative self-worth.

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  14. Yay! I'm lucky that I've always been comfortable with my imperfections (having a great mum and also having a massive scar on my left thigh since I was a toddler have been a big help in that, too). I loathe the, what seems to be recent, obsession with 'post baby bodies'. Yeah, post baby, they gave you a baby (or babies) and that's fantastic, who cares if they're a bit wobbly or saggy as a result? Your body's done something amazing. 🙂

    • You know, I was always so hard on myself until fairly recently (I still am sometimes, but it's relaxing a bit) but now that I have this giant scar on my abdomen (not a c-section scar, but from another surgery), I kind of have this feeling like "well, I'm never going to be the ideal now so I might as well just chill out about my body." I'm still active and take pride in my appearance, but the scar kind of took the pressure off in this strange way.

      2 agree
  15. When my daughter was born in November '10 I had gained 49 lbs. When the following summer came round I was still 23 lbs over where I was when my baby journey started. I decided that I was going to wear not only a swimsuit but a bikini when I went to the beach that season! The reason for me was that if I could embrace my body at its 'worst' then I could love and accept it even more when I continued to get back into the shape I wanted. It worked! Now another year and down to lower than pre-baby weight later I am very pleased with my body and don't mind wearing a bikini even with my mama flaws hanging out. 🙂

  16. I want to jump up and down, pumping my fist and whooping, but the pizza guy might show up in the middle of my celebration so… Cue Maiden Marian's whoops in Robin Hood (The one with Dave Chappel in it) as my expression.

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  17. So I have a real hard time with this. Thank you. I literally had tears in my eyes after reading this. I have three "perfect" sister in laws- two have had breast augmentations, one has had a tummy tuck. I am curvier than they are and I have many more stretch marks/dimples than they do. I go to Lake Powell with them in the summer and it is a lesson in self acceptance. As I have entered my 30's it has been much easier to accept myself, but it is still a difficult thing. The loose hanging skin doesn't compete with the flat tummies and tight thighs of younger women or childless women, but I know I am more than my stretch marks and my stretched out skin. I am a mother, a friend, a teacher, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a lover. Those are much more important than my body. Plus my body has given me 3 beautiful babies and fed them post birth. It is amazing.

  18. I couldn't agree more! I think a big part of this is not only appreciating what our bodies can do/have done, but also that our priorities have shifted. No longer are we the centers of our own universe–our children are. A little flaw here, a bit too much flesh there, really isn't all that important in the grand scheme of things.

    When I lost my baby weight I ended up thinner than I had been pre-baby, although not everything is in the same shape as it was 🙂 I discovered that not only was I grateful I could actually look halfway decent after having a baby, but that I'm happy with myself despite these imperfections… which is more than I used to be able to say.

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