During pregnancy, the female body goes through immense amounts of change. Excess skin, stretch marks and weight gain are all natural post-partum experiences – but can have a detrimental effect on women’s confidence.
Here, for WH's The Skin I'm In series, part of Hearst Beauty Month 2020, Olivia Akesson, a 27-year-old executive assistant and first time mum to Gunnar, who she gave birth to in December 2019, details her journey – and how she’s learned to love her new body.
After giving birth to my first son, it's fair to say that my body changed – as is the case for the vast majority of people who have babies. I had a pretty big bump and, without it, the texture of my stomach settled in a way that was completely different than before. There's a lot more skin there now, which isn't taut, as it was previously.
I didn’t think too much about how my body would alter before I gave birth. I have always been quite a go-with-the-flow kind of person and just took it as: this is happening, go day-by-day and see how it goes.
In terms of how the changes to my body have made me feel, it's a bit of a mixed bag. At first, I felt pretty confident–up until probably the third trimester when I could really feel the extra weight on my thighs. Growing up I did a lot of gymnastics and I've always been sporty, so I’ve sort of ridden the wave of my childhood physique until what feels like now. The absence of that, which I'd taken for granted, felt odd.
Of course, how you feel about your body has a lot to do with how you use it. After I gave birth I went through a period during lockdown where I was quite active and I was feeling good about that.
But I think it's only natural in this day and age, especially with social media, to feel a bit... imperfect. After giving birth, as well as the extra skin on my tummy, I was self-conscious of the stretch marks on my bum. Even though they're under clothes most of the time, if I was wearing a bikini you’d see them. And with my stomach, as well as the alternation in texture, there is just a lot more skin, there, now. When I sit down I have rolls and that's fine. When I stand up, I don't, but it does feel weird. I can tell that I have a real new appreciation of my body, now – if that had happened to me before having my son, I'm sure I would be very overly critical of myself.
I also think social media is very double-edged. On one hand, you get people who look like how I would before I was expecting when they're six months pregnant – and that was difficult for me. When I was pregnant, I'd look at some social media stars who looked so glowing and amazing while they were pregnant and think: 'I'm enormous, I’m gaining all this weight, how does someone look amazing like that?' So that's definitely hard. But you have to remember that they’re just one person.
Perhaps it especially affected me because I was big, I had polyhydramnios [the excessive accumulation of amniotic fluid] so I constantly got comments like: 'You're huge, are you having twins?' Someone once told me that I looked like I had a beer belly. It really upset me at the time.
Then, on the flip side you have the body positivity pages on Instagram, and it’s important to follow those as well. I like [social media star] Megan Rose Lane, she posts so many body positive posts about her post-pregnancy body: stretch marks, rolls, everything, which is amazing. And I know she’s having an impact. At one point she asked loads of people to send in pictures of their stretch marks and she did a massive post about it.
I definitely have a newfound respect for my body after seeing what it's done, what it's been through and what it's capable of. I've always been very harsh on my own body, and I think now I'm much quicker to catch myself and say: 'Stop being ridiculous, you’ve had a baby! Your body is fine, you don't have to be perfect.'
From my stretch marks to my tummy skin, I've accepted the changes pretty quickly. I think you have to and, honestly, I’m in a good space about it all. I think my body is incredible, given everything it’s been through and what it’s ultimately created.
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