Track star Bianca Williams says postpartum changes sent her into a 'dark hole': 'My body just went to mush'
It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
As a professional athlete and a mother, Bianca Williams, 29, has developed a unique appreciation for her body and the wondrous feats it has allowed her to accomplish, both professionally and personally.
"Your body is your tool. Your body is powerful and can do so many beautiful things and I feel like women should appreciate their bodies a lot more," tells Yahoo Life.
And powerful she is. Balancing world-class races and a rambunctious two-year-old means there is seldom a dull moment for the smartwater ambassador, who was recently tapped by the brand to be one of the faces of its new alkaline water.
But when physical strength and appearance play such a big role in your livelihood, any change or shift in physique can be a lot to grapple with on both a physical and emotional level.
"It is quite hard to navigate that without being too harsh on myself," Williams explains, addressing the influx of physiological changes she experienced after giving birth. "Postpartum was really tough."
Williams welcomed her first child with her partner, Portuguese sprinter Ricardo dos Santos, in 2020. And as amazing as her journey to motherhood has been, she admits that the physical experience did a number on her self-esteem.
"I didn't feel confident in myself," she says, explaining that as a professional athlete, many people assumed she would "bounce back" to her pre-baby body quickly. "Because I'm so slim and I didn't gain much weight, everyone would just say, 'Oh, you're gonna snap back and you're gonna look like you didn't even have a baby.'"
But instead of serving as a source of comfort, these lofty expectations worsened her post-baby insecurities.
"I'm so used to my body being so stiff and just being strong and having muscles," Williams says, explaining that the differences in her body post-baby caught her off guard. "I would say maybe even a couple days after having him, my body just went to mush. I just felt like my belly had jelly inside. And I started to get cellulite and all these things that I never had before. So it was definitely hard to feel positive about myself, although I just had a baby."
Postpartum societal pressures and snapback culture affect people in every arena of life. But for Williams, her concerns surrounding her body stretched beyond just her appearance.
"Physically, I just didn't feel good. I felt awful, I didn't feel strong," she says.
Williams began training again just six months after having her son and competing again when he turned one. But it wasn't until she hit two years postpartum that she began to feel "good" in her body again.
"I only started to feel really confident after, like the second year of having him. That's when I was like, 'Yeah, my body feels strong, my body feels so much better,'" she says.
But it wasn't just a physical shift that helped Williams feel more comfortable in her skin. She says external affirmations played a vital role in her self acceptance.
"I've always just needed that extra validation from other people," she explains. "No matter how many times I could talk to myself, I think it was just the support from my partner or my coach and friends, family, just saying, 'You know what, Bianca? You're doing a good job.' Because sometimes you just go into a dark hole because postpartum is so hard," she says.
Now, Williams is able to look at her body and reflect fondly on all of the changes that took place, with a new found appreciation for all of its capabilities.
"I appreciate my body now a lot more since having my son. I feel very confident with my body because I know that it's been through so much and it's so strong," she says, explaining that having her baby boy has even healed some of the body image issues she had as a teen.
"In the past, it has definitely been a bit of a love-hate relationship, especially being a young athlete," she says. "You start going to the gym and you get all these muscles and sometimes it's just not seen as beautiful. But since having my son I definitely absolutely value my body, you know? It's OK to be strong, it's OK to look strong. I'm just so grateful that my body was able to allow me to have a baby and be in a position where I can go back to elite training after having a baby as well."
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