From Beyoncé to “fit moms” on Instagram, women everywhere are speaking up about embracing their bodies after giving birth. Each woman’s postpartum journey is unique, and yet most admit they feel pressure to “bounce back” to their pre-pregnancy body almost immediately. Whether they’re looking at celebrities or the women around them, it can be extremely difficult not to compare their postpartum journey to others’ — particularly when their’s isn’t going as anticipated. Slow weight loss, stretch marks, scars and loose skin can trigger insecurities that they’re “not doing it right” and self-consciousness that is exacerbated by the lack of representation of various postpartum bodies in the media and in society.
As more celebrities get candid about their bodies after babies — with even Beyoncé proudly declaring to Vogue, “I have a little mommy pouch, and I’m in no rush to get rid of it. I think it’s real,” real moms are also opening up about their individual postpartum experiences. A quick scroll through the #PostpartumBelly or #PostpartumBody hashtags on Instagram reveals an increasing number of posts dedicated to appreciating all types of postpartum bodies and to fighting the urge to compare oneself to the photos of fitness transformations and newly-taut tummies.
While there’s certainly no shame in “bouncing back,” the motivational quotes often associated with it can backfire for women experiencing a different journey, leaving them feeling frustrated and alone. Below, real moms share a new kind of motivation — one that shifts the focus from the end result to embracing all bodies and going at your own pace.
Work your “mom bod” confidence
Kylee Austin writes that while she wants to see “more people with stretch marks and ‘real postpartum’ bods” better represented in the media, there’s no need to wait for that to have “magazine cover photo confidence” in your “‘mom bod.'” She encourages fellow moms to “love who we are for what we are right now, not what we wish we could be!”
Stop the shaming
Abagail Wedlake poses alongside her daughter to emphasize that “women are amazingly powerful creatures” and that postpartum body changes are something “we should be celebrating not shaming.”
Don’t hide the truth
Mia Redworth advocates for self-confidence in all postpartum bodies on her fitness Instagram. “After having my son I was very upset about my body,” the British mom, 22, tells PEOPLE. “It was a complete shock to see how a normal body looks after having a baby, and we never see this on Instagram or in the media. I felt very alone and couldn’t find anyone I could relate to.” Now, Redworth uses her platform to share unretouched photos of her fitness journey in hopes of showing other moms a glimpse of her truth. “I think I look amazing in both pictures but I wanted to make [a] change,” she shares.
Appreciate what your body is capable of
Sabra Darling opens up about how she’s overcoming her body insecurities, five months after giving birth. “I took this picture to be my ‘before’ shot,” she admits. “But as I stared at it more in disgust, the more I found myself shutting the inner me up. I grew a human being inside of this body! I nourished her and kept her safe. I changed my entire diet and gave myself shots for her… I’m thankful for every stretch mark and every roll. My body is a bad ass.”
Stop looking for flaws in yourself or in others
Emily Skye writes that she often gets accusatory or envious comments “from women saying things like ‘you didn’t get any loose skin or stretch marks from being pregnant.'” Here, she reminds her followers of a little thing called Instagram vs. Reality — how posing, lighting and edits impact your perception of a photo. “What you don’t see in the left pic is my cellulite & loose/stretched skin,” she writes, “So I zoomed in to show you in high definition! In certain lighting and positions you can see them but most of the time you can’t. The more you look for these so called ‘flaws’ in yourself or others the more you’ll find! My advice is to stop looking for them!”
Remember where your scars came from
Emmy Thurman shares the story of her emergency C-section and how it left her “feeling like less of a mother” since she “wasn’t able to deliver” naturally. Since then, she’s come to appreciate her scar and what it stands for and hopes that by sharing her story, she can help other moms to as well. “We all faced different struggles & Came out stronger than before. I have never loved my body more Since having this scar. This is the scar of love. This is the constant reminder Of my sons [sic] miracle birth & no one Could make me forget that.”
Follow your unique journey and tune out the shamers
Anupa King shares what seems to be an all-too common occurrence of postpartum body-shaming, well-intentioned or not. She writes, “in a very friendly conversation this week someone said to me, well maybe you’re not working hard enough and that if you exercise [sic] more and if you were maybe choosing healthy choices for foods… you would have a flat stomach again.” She explains to her followers how hard that comment hit her later that evening, and that while she’s actually “back to pre baby weight,” her current stomach is a result of “loose skin and an ab separation.” She continues, “It’s most definitely a process learning to love the new me, and it’s ok if I’m not there yet… I just need to stop apologizing for my body, stop allowing that outside voice to tell me that I should work harder and what my body should really look like. I need to accept that someone else’s issues with me and my postpartum body is because of their own insecurities.”
Focus on self-love, not the scale
Lauren Dungey proudly states, “I took this photo because I remember looking at myself and feeling relief…about how far I’ve come on my journey to self love.” She explains that focusing on the end-game of losing weight has made it difficult to love her body in the meantime. “Far too long I’ve tried to ‘bounce back’ tried to shed the ‘baby weight’ tried to ‘cut the cake.’ Not anymore,” she writes. “I guess what I just want to say [is] to live your life, forget about silly numbers. Be yourself.”
Dungey shares what feels like an apt mantra for many women learning to accept and love their postpartum bodies: “This body is not a before, not an after, not a work in progress. This is my body now.”