BY Hannah Miles
Living by the beach, it is always really exciting when the first wave of Summer heat hits and the chance to spend evenings at the beach and eat in the garden is very inviting. It seems a shame then that inevitably when the sun comes out mid-May, I’m generally struck with the same panic that a lot of women feel at having to expose a little more of their bodies.
In the last few years, I have preferred the hibernation of the Winter months and cosying up in layers of jumpers and scarves. The Winter disguise is so much more forgiving to the average woman, particularly once you have had children. There is something about giving birth that makes us all focus on our shape and berate ourselves for never getting back to how we were before. It works both ways too. The mothers who gain a little weight or extra curves are envious of anyone who snaps into back into pre-pregnancy shape, whereas the mothers who slip back into their pre-baby jeans often feel cheated that there is no physical evidence that they had a baby. I was 20 when I had my first child and I am now 29 with 3 sons. This means I haven’t been happy with my shape since I was a teenager. It isn’t just a case of ‘thinking I look fat’ and sulking everytime I catch a glimpse of my reflection, I don’t feel like my body actually belongs to me – it seems alien.
In your 20s, the idea is that you should be able to get away with wearing whatever you want and take fashion risks. Clash colours and wear crazy super-high heels. However, when you spend your 20s making a family, it can be difficult to make that a priority, but you should! The alternative is that you stay indoors more, making excuses not to go to the beach or that BBQ because the reality is you are scared of how you will look next to everyone else. It’s not healthy for mums to feel this way and it’s sad that so much emphasis is put on trying to look how you looked before. In my case, I was 19 before I had babies and realistically I am never going to look 19 anyway, babies or no babies! So why do women like me get so worked up over it?!
I know that for me, one of the main reasons I find it so hard to break through to me and see myself as a whole person and not just a mum is that on two separate occasions I have had the mortifying “when’s the baby due?” experience despite not being pregnant. That is enough to send anyone back into hibernation. Coupled with a terrible habit of thinking I look okay and catching sight of my reflection and not recognising it as me, I can definitely say I have struggled with this issue as much as anyone!
Since my youngest son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I have pushed my appearance and well-being further down the priority list and focused entirely on his development. Instead of being me, I have been a wife, mother and now a carer. My little boy is due to start school full time this Autumn, and I have to start thinking about heading back into the world of grown-ups with no baby or pushchair for protection.
I’m starting to realise that in order to be happy and enjoy experiences with my family and by myself, it is important to realise that I’m not the 19 year old single girl I was before I had kids. I’m still me, but I’ve had experiences that have affected how I look. There is no point being miserable at how I look because it makes my whole family unhappy too. When you stop looking in the mirror and criticising yourself, it frees up so much time to get outside, blow bubbles with the toddler, run along the beach with the kids, go out for ice cream, hang out with your friends. You’ll look back at all the photos and you won’t think “urgh look how fat I was” you’ll say “look how much fun we had”.
It’s exciting now to daydream about what I’m going to do when all my children are at school. I can get back to being me and rediscover what I love doing. I won’t be wasting my 9-3 childfree hours crying over my chubby arms, that’s for sure!
Featured Image via Boston Public Library on Flickr