Radical Self Love After Motherhood

Radical Self Love After Motherhood

By: Bree Leche


As I reflect on my journey through motherhood, I recall the pivotal moment when I realized I had been living in the same gray sweatpants for months. It was a stark realization that somehow, I was not immune to slipping into the role of "that mom," "that wife" who had, as some might say, "let herself go." My daily uniform—loose t-shirts and a perpetually messy bun—marked a phase of life where easy access to nursing breasts and cozy comfort reigned supreme.


Pleasure After Motherhood

What I saw in the mirror I couldn’t deny, and yet my inner feelings didn’t quite match. The distance between what I saw and how I felt left me with a dizzying confusion because even in those sweatpants, I had many moments of feeling quite sexy, quite juicy and alive. Though my masturbation routine remained steady, finding the time, space or energy to make sex with my husband happen was nearly impossible. We tried to sneak it in if the babies’ nap schedules ever magically synced up but they would always sense it and wake before we could get very far. My husband, ever understanding, never mentioned the sweatpants, but a flicker of guilt gnawed at me. Had I lost my sense of allure and appeal? Was I no longer attractive? And how had I not noticed? 

Well, for one, I was busy. The way that your attention has to shift to keep a newborn alive makes it less possible to fixate on all the things you might not like about yourself. Secondly, this was all happening in spring of 2020 — we were all generally avoiding other humans and scrubbing our groceries — I was definitely not the only one at home in sweatpants. But mostly, it was because to the newborn baby and the not yet toddler I was now spending most of my time with, my body was a divine vessel of sustenance and comfort. Witnessing them each find solace in my embrace, their big, perfect eyes filled with contentment as I nursed them into peaceful sleep, left me with nothing but awe and adoration for the physical changes I had undergone. And the four of us (counting my husband) slept intertwined, co-regulating in a sleepy rabbit heap just as nature intended. My body represented safety and a sense of home and they helped return me to this feeling within myself. But where had it gone before that? And when had I lost it? 


Feeling At Home In Our Bodies

I have met very few people who seem fully at home, content with, or at peace in their bodies. I mean, obviously entire industries depend on this pervasive mentality of perpetual self-improvement. I think of the scene in Mean Girls when Cady and The Plastics are looking at themselves in front of the mirror and taking turns sharing what it is they do not like about their bodies. Cady struggles to think of something and is immediately looked at by the other three as if she is mad. She catches on and makes something up to appease them sharing in the ritual of self-criticism. How many of us have been in a similar situation throughout our lives with our own friends? Noticing flaws about our bodies only after a friend complains about it for themself? 

“Apparently, there's a lot of things that can be wrong with your body.”

By the time we are high school age, most of us have already deeply internalized the shame that the bodies we inhabit fall short of the ideals pedestaled for us. I have a potent memory in my mind— waiting in line for kickball on the middle school grade playground, when Teddy Roosevelt (real name) so kindly pointed out the unsightly visibility of my upper lip, arm and leg hairs. All those glorious little strands of fuzzy hair turned ugly and problematic before my eyes. Pests to be exterminated. I went home and begged my mom to let me use Nair everywhere. I am sure you have your own memories when the spell of a glossy magazine cover or words from the "Teddy Roosevelt" in your life transformed pieces of your body before your eyes.


"Eventually we all catch this very contagious cultural body dysmorphia binding us to the rubric ranking some types of bodies as more desirable than others."

But again, had it always been that way? It got me thinking how to get back to the peace I felt about my body before the world could tell me any different. I watched my daughter in the mirror inspect herself with such pride. She approaches every area of her body with tenderness and reverence. Poking and stretching with such innate contentment. No flaws in sight.


Read: Questions to ask yourself to relearn the act of self love

And they still extend this attitude to the way they interact with our bodies as well. They play with our body hair, kiss our wrinkles, and squish our bellies. Her eyes posed a profound question, why loving the same body that birthed something so perfect and beautiful should ever be a struggle? Observing my children's innate connection with their bodies sparked a revelation. I contemplated how to return to the self-love my children naturally exuded, yet untouched by societal constructs of enough-ness.


How To Return To A Self Love Children Naturally Exude

When we scrutinize ourselves in the mirror for flaws, we perpetuate violence against ourselves but also beyond ourselves. Conversely, looking with love and appreciation allows us to plant seeds of something radical and revolutionary. Sonya Renee Taylor writes that our body acceptance is tied to global narratives of violence and acceptance. Rejecting self-hatred becomes a form of resistance against systemic oppression. Viewing our bodies through the lenses of sexism, racism, classism, and other intersecting biases, along with society's relentless pursuit of an unattainable standard, diverts our energy from collective well-being.

I imagine the infinite hours we collectively waste researching products, or diets or exercises that might make our bodies more acceptable. And I am forever grateful for the way quarantine momentarily warped and multiplied this time. 2020 was real weird for us all. For some it was their banana bread era, others took up gardening or learned how to knit. I was holding a baby and looking in the mirror at a new puffier version of myself. My quarantine was used as a quest to really understand how to hold on to this newfound radical self-love of my ever-evolving form. 

In this expansive time warp and within the embrace of motherhood, I found moments of erotic awakening, a deep sense of aliveness pulsating through me amidst the mundane. Even in stained t-shirts and worn-out sweatpants, I felt a raw, untamed essence of being. It wasn't about external validation or conforming to ideals; it was about reclaiming my body as a source of pleasure and empowerment. I acknowledge that it can be relatively easy to make peace with one's changing body through the process of child-rearing. It's almost as if we're given a pass for having a changing body because this transformation is seen as “productive.” So, in that way, I’ll admit that I found it easier to accept these changes, and for that, I am grateful. 


Radical Self Love Is For Everyone

Whether making a child with your body is in your future or not, reality is that all of our bodies are always changing. And that change might be slow or fast but it is constant—be it through aging, illness, or shifts in gender identity. How can we learn to make peace with these inevitable transformations? How can we collectively return to the radical love for our body that we are all born with?

Now my children have gotten older and I am no longer making magic milk. I live in Los Angeles, where everyone is botoxed and beautiful and I’ll admit that radical self-love isn’t as easy as it was during those tender postpartum days. I find myself working out for the wrong reasons and religiously GUASHAing my face in hopes of slowing down the sag. 

I have to consciously remind myself of that profound truth unveiled to me in my early motherhood journey—I am enough, just as I am. As I navigate this path of radical self-love, I am mindful of nurturing the same sense of acceptance for those around me and for my children. In a world that thrives on comparison and unrealistic ideals, our collective journey toward body acceptance is a revolutionary act—one that dismantles the oppressive hierarchy of bodies.

Thankfully, there were some good tools I learned to implement to try and hold on to this lesson and to this feeling. Navigating this path of radical self-love led me to explore mirror work, learn to find peace in solitude, and consciously challenge my ingrained notions of what is beautiful. 

I documented the changes in my body through self-portraits, partnered with friends and talented photographers to capture my image, and curated my instagram feed to celebrate diverse representations of beauty. I wrote mantras and penned love letters to previously hated and neglected parts of my body. I grieved versions of my body I would never get back. I challenged negative self-talk and gently called my friends out when they would do the same. I learned to breathe more deeply and committed to savoring the sensuality of every single moment. 


Your Bodies Worth Is Not Up For Debate

As I witness the violence unfold against bodies that are not on top in the hierarchy, I'm reminded of the potential power and importance of these hopeful practices my motherhood journey inspired in me. I am reminded of all the other mothers and that our liberation is bound together. Rejecting self-hatred is a form of resistance against systemic oppression, a step towards dismantling this oppressive hierarchy of bodies. 

Embracing a decolonized view of the body redirects our inner power towards positive change. It's a journey of unlearning and honoring our bodies as they are, extending grace to ourselves so we can authentically extend it to other. Let us channel this inner strength towards creating a better world—one where radical self-love is a fractal of the peace that folks in every type of body should also have extended to them. Radical self-love helps lead us to a more peaceful and just world.

So when we find ourselves criticizing our bodies can we remember to ask, who and what does this serve?


Further Reading: 

6 Postpartum “Unmentionables” & How to Deal During the Fourth Trimester By Nyssa 

How to Reclaim Your Body Throughout Pregnancy & Postpartum by Sevonna Brown

Rewriting The Motherhood Manifesto by Bree Leche

The Intersection of Sexual & Mental Health

Mind the Pleasure Gap: Gender Inequality in the Bedroom

Five Ways to Return to Sensuality by Bree Leche

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.