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“The Body Image Movement That Helped Me After Having a C-section”

Writing by Brooke Borgfeldt // Illustration by Jessie Gu

I have always struggled with body image. I remember comparing the size of my thighs to my friend’s at age 9 and I suffered periods of disordered eating up until my early 20’s.

When I had my first baby at 25, my body pretty much “bounced back” within the first year postpartum, most likely because I was *25* and I also lived in a city where it was beyond easy to walk to nearly anything you needed.

My son would pretty much only sleep if I was moving, so we traipsed around our local suburb multiple times a day in the early months of his life, meaning I didn’t have to put any active effort into getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight.

I’m not someone that has a particularly strong affection for exercise and I have a major sweet tooth, so when I moved to a different, less walkable city a few years later, I found it a bit harder to stay the same size with the absolute bare minimum effort I was used to putting in.

And then I got pregnant again. My pregnancy was physically and mentally tough. My morning sickness lasted well into the second trimester, I had back pain, pelvis pain and awful heartburn. It was the middle of the pandemic, and it became clear that my family wouldn’t be able to meet my baby for a good while. We were also living with my mother-in-law while trying to buy a house and while I have a great relationship with her, I was very much wanting my own space before the baby came.

And so I relied a little too heavily on chocolatey treats to get me through. When my 4 year old was finally in bed at the end of the day I would try to relax my sore body and enjoy a little bit (or half a block) of Whittakers. I have zero regrets, but after I ended up having an emergency c-section, my body felt utterly foreign to me in a way it never had before.

As I slowly recovered, my body still looked very different to how it had post-pregnancy. I had gained some weight but it was more than that. Everything seemed to be in a different shape, and I couldn’t help but focus on the way my tummy sat differently now that I had a scar running across my lower abdomen.

I vacillated between wishing I could lose weight and attempting to be body positive. Either way I felt like I was failing. I’m a huge believer in the body positive movement and I have attempted to immerse myself in size inclusive media. But I just couldn’t quite believe it for myself. Then a few months ago, I was listening to the Cool Story podcast where they mentioned body neutrality and I was intrigued. Body neutrality is being able to accept your body the way it is, even if it doesn’t look the way you’d prefer it to. It’s about being able to respect the things it has gone through, and focus on what it can do now.

Originally popularised by author and body-image coach Anne Porier in 2015 to help clients have a more intuitive relationship to food and exercise, body neutrality has also been adopted as a stepping stone to body positivity.

Body Neutrality felt more attainable to me. I objectively know my body has been through big changes and has done amazing things.

We ended up moving house on my due date, I laboured at home until I reached 10cm before transferring to hospital, and I breastfed my son for nearly 2 whole years! I’m appreciative of that, but sometimes I need to focus on just being ok with the way I look, rather than getting myself into a vicious cycle of negative thoughts followed by guilt.

My boys are 2 and a half and 7 now, and I am conscious of keeping my body issues well away from them. They are so happy and confident in their beautiful bodies. I have started to find ways to move my body that I enjoy (80s aerobics is the funnest exercise class I’ve ever tried). I still love chocolate treats way too much, but I otherwise try to eat a fairly balanced diet. By focusing on what feels good, and trying to accept that my body is the way it is because it gave me my two gorgeous boys, perhaps I can get that bit closer to loving it.

Jessie Gu

Jessie Gu is an illustrator based in London. Her enthusiasm lies in visual communication, with a special focus on editorial illustration and storytelling. Additionally, she holds a keen interest in graphic design and the art of image composition. Nature and animals hold a special place in her heart, serving as constant sources of inspiration. Beyond her creative pursuits, she remains attuned to global affairs, reflecting her genuine concern for current world event. Find Jessie on Instagram @cumberjessie

Brooke Borgfeldt

Brooke is a mum of two, antenatal educator-in-training and works in Early Childhood Education. She is originally from Perth and Melbourne but now lives in Christchurch, NZ. Follow her on Instagram

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