This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada, which closed in 2021.

A Strong Body Image Isn't Just Good For Moms, It's Good For Their Kids Too

You don't need to "bounce back."
All bodies are beautiful!
Mariana Alija via Getty Images
All bodies are beautiful!

Welcome to HuffPost Canada’s guide to helping you pick up an easy, everyday ritual that can make your life a bit better, in a small but significant way.

Canadians are stressed out, anxious, and are feeling disconnected from each other. Once a week, we’ll share a tiny tip to help you feel good. We’ve got your back.

Today’s habit

This one’s for you, moms: learn to love your beautiful body.

What it is

My body hasn’t been the same since I had my first child. My son is 19 months old and not only do I have dark red stretch marks all over my belly and thighs, but I still have a paunch (which I lovingly refer to as “the flap”) that has refused to go away, despite repeated attempts at barre bootcamp.

To be honest, I’m so tired of hating all the changes that giving birth has done to my body. I gave birth! My body did that! So, I’m trying to be more kind to myself and make peace with my postpartum body by accepting and loving it.

For whenever you’re feeling ...

Learn to love your body when you’re comparing yourself to other mothers on social media; when you’re rocking your workout; when you can’t stop picking at the things you wish you could change; when you’re thanking your body for growing a little human.

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Loving our bodies is hard for anyone. We’re taught that our bodies aren’t thin enough, aren’t fit enough. We’re too big, too thin, too squishy, too jiggly, too bony, too imperfect. And this message comes at mothers tenfold. We’re supposed to “bounce back” as if we’d never given birth. “You’d never know you had children,” is supposed to be a compliment.

Unlearning this harmful messaging can take a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

You’ll have a lot more time back

How much time do you think you spend thinking about your body? A 2011 Glamour survey of 300 women found that on average, women have 13 negative thoughts about their body every day, “and a disturbing number of women confess to having 35, 50 or even 100 hateful thoughts about their own shapes each day,” notes

Another study, which involved 2,000 participants, found that women spend 12 hours a week thinking about how they look, with common concerns being “too fat,” “too thin,” and “too bloated.”

I don’t even want to know the countless hours I’ve spent thinking about all the ways my body isn’t perfect and picking at all the things I hate. But when we let go of the idea that our bodies have to look a certain way, we have so much more space in our brains to focus on things that bring us joy.

Whenever I catch myself thinking something negative about my body, I force myself to stop and focus on something else, like playing with my kid, finishing that book that’s been languishing on my bedside table for months, or working on a project. It’s a complete waste of time worrying about how I look, and I get no enjoyment from it, so I may as well focus on the things that really matter.

WATCH: Ashley Graham shared photos of her stretch marks to celebrate her postpartum body. Story continues below.

You’ll be a good role model for your kids

“The first time I saw my older daughter imitate me by scowling at herself in the mirror, I knew my relationship with my body had to change,” parent Susi May told Fit Sugar.

“No longer do I focus on ‘problem areas’ when I look in the mirror. Now I revel in the miles my body can run, bike, and swim. By ensuring that my girls love their bodies, I learned to love mine. It was certainly an unexpected gift of motherhood.”

Parents play an important role in how kids see themselves. Research has shown that children as young as three years old can have body image issues, and that parents — as well as peers — have the biggest influence.

“A lot of parents love to tell their children what to do … (but) we know that children are more impacted by what they see and their experiences with you and the behaviours that you model versus what you tell them,” Alice Wiafe, director of Positive Kids, told Global News.

WATCH: Mom reveals every postpartum challenge she’s dealing with and why they’re worth it. Story continues below.

So, model positive, healthy behaviours for your child, who will pick up your cues and have fewer body issues than those whose parents have negative body issues. This can look like pointing out how strong you are, rather than how much you weigh; enjoying healthy meals with your kids; and focusing on your and your child’s skills and abilities rather than appearance.

You’ll appreciate your body for everything it’s done for you

On the days where I’m feeling particularly unkind towards my body, I have to remind myself that I got these stretch marks from growing a human inside me. That’s badass!

So, if you find yourself saying negative things to your body, stop and think about all the great things your body has done: it made a child! Bodies are beautiful!

How to start

It can be hard to unlearn decades of negative messaging that promotes an impossible ideal for women and mothers, but there are a few things you can do right away.

1. Reframe negative thoughts. As soon as you catch yourself saying something negative about your body, stop, and say something positive. For example, instead of, “My stretch marks are ugly,” say, “My stomach had to stretch to make room for my baby, and that’s amazing.”

2. Unfollow social media accounts. I’ve had to do this, and it has made a noticeable difference to my mental health. I unfollowed Instagram accounts that feature “perfect” moms, accounts that promote weight loss and fitness specifically geared towards mothers, and accounts that just make me feel bad about myself.

3. Follow diverse social media accounts. After you’ve unfollowed the people who make you feel bad about your body, follow those who make you feel seen. Look for accounts that feature a diverse range of body types, that don’t promote weight loss, and who praise strength and smarts over looks.

4. Do an activity that doesn’t focus on your physical appearance. There are lots of possibilities: dancing, writing, drawing, making music, coding, crafting. As long as it makes you feel good about your abilities, do it!

And that’s your habit of the day.

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