Beauty: In the Age of Social Media

TMI moment: I sneezed, and I definitely just peed myself a little. It’s been nearly 5 months since I gave birth, and those muscles are still not strong enough to hold back pee during particularly strong sneezes. Since the baby’s asleep, and I’ll be in bed soon enough? I’m not changing. Like so many things I’ve learned to do with, this one is going by the wayside.

As a new mom, I have an almost “devil may care” attitude about a lot of things I once felt insecure or embarrassed about. Yet in today’s age of show and tell all, all the time, it seems like no one would fault me for being concerned about how I now look.

I cannot remember the last time I took a “mirror selfie”… which is perhaps a weird thing to say, and a good thing to say?

Look how cute my outfit is. Look how perfect my hair is today. Look how pretty my eye makeup is. Look how petite I am. Look how toned my muscles are.

There are few reasons beyond these for anyone to take a picture of themselves in the mirror, then post it for all to see on the internet: vanity immortalized. Truly.

But no one really tells you what happens when you’re no longer 25 years old and 125 lbs. What happens when you gain a ton of weight in pregnancy, and are not genetically inclined, or physically motivated, to lose all of that weight to get back your “normal” body right away?

It seems like mirror selfies, or any photos of yourself at all, kind of also go by the wayside. At least, that’s how it’s been for me.

I don’t think I’ve posted a picture of myself since I was about 5 months pregnant. I don’t think I’ve taken a picture of myself that I would show to anyone besides my husband since then(not those kinds of pictures, get your head out of the gutter).

They say that it takes a woman just about an entire year before she’s actually “fully” recovered from the havoc that pregnancy will wreak on her body. So, it’s not like anyone’s giving me a hard time about not losing 15 lbs. even in 5 months since our son was born. And still I feel like I’m slacking, or there’s something wrong with me.

My Instagram and Facebook feeds are full of young women, beautiful and bright, leading their beautiful and bright lives. If all of them were just young 20-somethings that had yet to become mothers, it’d be a different story. But half of my Insta-feed is women who’ve shed baby weight and gotten back into bang up shape within weeks postpartum. What the actual heck?

Here I am, still 15 lbs. heavier than my pre-pregnancy weight, and with my rib cage irreparably expanded from carrying a child to full gestation. Yes, that is a thing that can and very often does happen, especially to small women with short torsos, like myself. So I’m 15 lbs. heavier, and an inch or two wider than I used to be. And I am not wearing one of those “waist-training” torture devices to make my rib cage smaller again. No thank you.

On the flip side, I also know a lot of young moms who are a bit similar to me. We were all cute, petite, and toned at some point in our lives. We had fun photos, with pretty outfits, nights out with the girls, and wouldn’t we just love to have photos of us looking like those beautiful moms in magazines, holding their babies?

But now, my face looks puffy in every photo. I look frumpy, and sometimes even lumpy, in any outfit I wear. I’m holding my son, and my arms look large and flabby. I want every photo taken of me holding and loving my son, but I hate how I look in each one of them. Maybe moms like me just have to be satisfied with enjoying and sharing the beauty of our children alone? And I say moms “like me” because in this day and age, it doesn’t seem like this is an issue for all moms.

It used to be that women had to live up to the unrealistic expectations of TV, movies, and photoshopped magazine women, but now with the advent of social media, the beautiful women that set our expectations are not just models and movie stars anymore: they’re our friends, family, and neighbors.

When real women, my real family and friends, post all over our timelines and Instagram feeds of their near-perfect imagery, we can’t get by with the excuse of “Oh, it’s all photoshop” or “Well, they have money and personal trainers/nutritionists, etc.”

No. These are real people that look really good. That’s when and why we start thinking to ourselves that maybe there’s not an excuse for us to not look just as good. Look at that mom of three kids, fitter than she was in high school! When does she even get the time to work out?! This friend just had a baby 4 weeks ago, and she’s back in her skinny jeans, no problem! I haven’t seen this woman in ages, but my god, does she look amazing in that yoga pose! Look at all of these real, beautiful people, in their real, beautiful lives.

I know that we are not meant to compare our lives, our successes, our failures, to others. But I also know that I am not alone in believing that this is not actually as easy a thing to do as it is to even remember.

One of the problems is actually that, of course you’re going to see more imagery of beautiful people sharing their beautiful lives. If you are unhappy with your image or your life, whatever it is, you’re not going to post or share that for the entire world to see(one would think so, but there’s always some exception. Hi there!).

We spend a lot of time on our computers, our phones, our tablets, and much of that is browsing through social media. This is our new normal. Forget that it’s not representative of the truth, being that everything you see is simply a fraction, and a carefully cultivated image, of someone else’s life. I think we confuse what has become our normal routine via social media, with what is supposed to be considered normal for all things in our lives beyond that world. And it is a different world.

Everything you see on social media, whether it’s from a celebrity or your next door neighbor, is a production.

But because of this confusion with what is normal, and what we are inundated with, there seems to be this extra pressure to also be “normal” and to also be beautiful and lead a beautiful life. I wonder about the impact and implications that this kind of mentality has on people in real life?

In a few weeks, my husband and I are going to his best friend’s wedding, where I will finally meet all of his college buddies, and their wives and girlfriends. We are the only ones in our shared cabin with a child, which means of all these beautiful, petite, world traveling women, I am the only one who has yet to deal with my postpartum body.

I’m just trying to find a wardrobe that I will look human in. “Beautiful” is a word I sometimes cringe at when it comes to a way of describing myself, being that I can only use it in past tense or contrasting statements. I can’t wear anything fitted, because I’m simply too oddly shaped at the moment, and I can’t wear anything too loose, because then I will look like a potato. A POTATO.

It’s not easy, but I am really trying to come to grips with all of this, and being more accepting of myself and my body. I may not have a “devil may care” attitude when it comes to my looks, but I could probably stand to be less self-loathing.

I mean, I don’t want to promote an unhealthy lifestyle, because that’s not what I’m about. And I do intend to get into an exercise routine, eventually shedding some of this extra weight, but I think there is a healthy realm of accepting where I’m at and addressing it with a little more honesty.

5 months postpartum, wearing all black, and spanx at that, and I still look like I’m about 4 months pregnant, with extra weight on my arms, around my shoulders, and between my thighs.

This is my reality now, and I don’t think of it as very pretty. Because, did I mention that postpartum, the hormonal imbalances can lead to hair loss? I’d be remiss to leave that out, because that’s happening too.

It’s a reality that I’m actively working to change, but there are certain things beyond my control, and it’s going to take some time. Unfortunately, as a mother, I do not have the luxury to prioritize my looks right now. Besides that, my son may not say it, but his smiles when I smile at him tell me that he finds his mom pretty beautiful regardless.

At the end of the day, that’s more important to me than what my social media has told me I should look like, or what I should strive to be. It’s not easy to remember, and it’s not going to be easy to keep reminding myself and trying to be honest about my life and situation, but it’s not impossible either.

When it comes to what’s beautiful, in a world where the narratives of social media seem to reign supreme, it’s important to be able to separate that world from reality.

With Love,

Millennial Mother

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