Your postpartum body image: is it just a physical issue, or a spiritual one, too?
Have you ever felt disappointed with your postpartum body? Today we’ll be discussing how God wants us to view our postpartum bodies.
Recently, my mom and Finn were reading a book called “My Amazing Body,” and they were on the page where it shows how mothers carry their children before they’re born. It had an image of a pregnant woman with a flap to lift so that you could see the growing child inside.
My mom told Finn, “God made our bellies to stretch and grow so that we could fit a baby inside! Isn’t that amazing?!”
From across the room, I commented, “Yeah, and those bellies never go back to normal.”
We laughed, but the interaction made me pause: I realized that my comment was actually detracting from God’s glory in the childbearing process. It is amazing that our bodies can expand to hold another living being! And by grumbling about the flaws in my own body, I was diminishing God’s incredible design.
This realization, as well as the chapter on postpartum body image in Risen Motherhood, encouraged me to dig deeper in the scriptures and in prayer to figure out how God wants me to view my postpartum body.
This is the fruit of that investigation. Here are 5 questions for us to ask ourselves about our postpartum body image:
#1: Why do I want a better-than-before-baby body?
Before we have kids, we think, “I’ll be the bounce-back mom! No one will ever know I had a kid!” But once we actually have a child, life doesn’t look the way we thought it would. Our bodies don’t cooperate the way they used to. Our schedules aren’t as neat as we thought they’d be. We find ourselves disappointed in ourselves and the bodies that just carried us through the miracle of life-giving.
I want to feel good in my own skin. I don’t want to look at myself and feel ashamed. I don’t want to cringe when my husband wraps his arms around my belly.
I’m going to be really honest here: I also want a great body because I want to feel like I’m better than others. This is called pride.
For me, attempting to have the body I want is a control issue. If I could exert control over my own body, and it responded in the way I wanted it to, that would make me feel less out-of-control in other ways.
Except, God doesn’t want me to be in control, because HE is in control.
The problem with this line of thinking is it’s all about me. Which leads to my next question…
#2: Who is the star of my postpartum story?
I’m standing in line at CVS, and I glance over at the magazines on the counter. One headline reads: Mom of 2 Rocks Postpartum Summer Bod – Overcomes Chronic Pain Struggles to Look HOT!
I pick up the magazine, and whose picture is on the cover?
Ha. Ha. Ha. Right, in my dreams.
But, let’s be real: how many of us would love for that to be us? For people to comment on how great we look after baby, or for other moms to be envious of how we dropped the pounds overnight?
However, this is all missing the point. Who is the star of my story? If it’s all about me, then I’ve forgotten my Savior who died and raised for me.
If we had a headline in a magazine about our lives, what would it say? Forget the hot mom bod, how about: Mom of 2 Reflects Jesus with Her Impatient Kids? And instead of a close up of our not-so-lithe body, it’s Jesus’ face superimposed over our own.
If Jesus is going to be the star of our stories, we have to know: what’s important really to Him?
#3: What’s important to God about our postpartum bodies?
The Bible says very little about body image. But here’s a few verses:
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”1 Samuel 16:7
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.1 Peter 3:3-4
One thing is clear: God does not value the same things that we as humans value.
What does He value?
Hearts that seek Him. Lives that reflect Him. Mouths that honor Him. Hands that do His work.
I love this verse in Micah that distills what God wants for us and what’s important to Him:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.Micah 6:8
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Mamas, let’s make it our goal to seek justice, to cherish mercy and to walk humbly with God. When we are tempted to judge ourselves or others through a physical, worldly lens, let’s instead draw our attention to what God values. Let’s retrain our thoughts by drawing near to Jesus.
#4: What is Jesus’ example with body image?
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.Isaiah 53:2
This messianic prophecy states that Jesus wouldn’t be physically attractive in a way to draw people to Him. That’s very interesting to me – and gives us a glimpse into what God values in us. He didn’t even make the Savior attractive or beautiful.
Nothing is mentioned about Jesus’ disciples and their outward appearances. The only times in Scripture (that I can think of) where it mentions what Jesus’ physical body looked like is during or after His Suffering. He sweat drops of blood. He wore a crown of thorns. His clothes were ripped from His body. He displayed His scars to the doubting.
What this tells me is that physical appearances are just not that important to God. And, what’s important to God should be important to us. This is hard for me because I value physical beauty. But it’s just not something that God chooses to focus on.
Life-giving is costly. Jesus paid the way for our eternal lives and His body displays the consequences of that through the scars on His hands and His side, which He showed to Thomas (John 20:27).
In a similar way, our bodies show the consequences of life-giving through stretch marks, mommy pooches, bags under our eyes and extra love handles.
I wonder, when Jesus looks at those scars on His body, what does He think? What does He feel? Does He feel ashamed – or proud? Is He annoyed, or do they remind Him of the joy set before Him in eternity with us (Hebrews 12:2)?
#5: Am I being a good steward of the body God gave me? If not, what are some practical, realistic ways I can be a better steward of my postpartum body – without losing my focus on Jesus?
For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.1 Timothy 4:8
I don’t want to downplay the importance of exercising, eating right, getting enough sleep (ha!) and generally taking care of our bodies. Those things are important, too. God gave us these bodies that we have and we are temporary stewards of them. Are we being good stewards of the bodies God has given us?
I know that eating healthy and exercising regularly help me to ward off pain, stay energized for my family and overall keep me functional. We should prioritize these things without making them our gods. The scripture differentiates between physical training, which has value in this life alone and godly training, which has value in this life and beyond.
So, mamas, instead of focusing on what our bodies look like in this life, let’s instead fix our eyes on Jesus and His body which He sacrificed for us. He did this so we could be with Him for eternity. Jesus is waiting for us so that He can wipe away our tears and take all of our sorrows from us (Revelation 21:4).
One day our struggle with our postpartum body image will end – and we’ll get a new body in heaven. Our heavenly bodies will have a type of perfection that we can’t even fathom in this life.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.Philippians 3:20-21