Skin Care Expert Yong-Li Zhou Shares Her Thoughts on Body Acceptance After Childbirth
When it comes to women and healthy body image, social media has a lot to answer for. We hear a lot about how damaging it can be for tweens and teens to hold themselves to the unrealistic body images that they see on the TV and on their Insta feeds, but the truth is we can fall victim to comparing ourselves unfavourably to others at any age. Society perpetuates the toxic myth that after childbirth, women should ‘bounce back.’ But the reality is that our bodies undergo changes of epic proportions during the nine months of pregnancy, and the early weeks and months as we transition to motherhood can be nothing short of exhausting. Sure, if you have a nanny, a sleep nurse, a nutritionist, a chef and a personal trainer you might be able to regain your pre-baby body, but for the majority of women that isn’t the case, and we do ourselves a disservice when we think of ourselves as ‘less-than’ when we don’t.
Which is why chatting to Founder of Enbacci skincare, Yong-Li Zhou about her experience with postpartum body image is like a breath of fresh air.
“Being able to share and talk candidly without judgement (from oneself and from others) about real bodies is so important,” explains Yong Li who recently admitted in an open letter, ‘I have stretch marks and my belly button sags like a butt hole.’ (You can read the open letter in it’s entirety below.)
“Only through open conversations can we change the stigma surrounding real post-natal bodies and change the archaic beauty ‘standards’ that have been perpetuated through media. I think women have been made to feel shame when they don’t look like a certain celebrity or supermodel after birth, but the reality is that it isn’t normal. There is usually a team (and money) behind that celebrity to get them to look the way they do, which many of us don’t have access to so those same body expectations shouldn’t be set upon us. The focus post-birth should be the celebration of life instead of giving the mother anxiety about not looking a certain way.”
“I think all Mums, and all parents in general, will agree that once a child enters your life, almost everything is about that child. But, what I think is important to remember is that a healthy Mum (or parent) means a healthy and happy child. Self-care has been clinically proven to reduce anxiety, depression and stress so it is important to take those rare moments for ourselves, whether it be going for that run or walk, taking those 5 minutes to sit and meditate, having that massage or just taking the time in the morning and night to do a full skincare routine. Through these acts of self-care, we are also teaching our children how to manage their own mental health.”
“We talk about innate versus learned language and behaviour when it comes to children. I guarantee that body perception is 100% learned. My son, who is only just 2, says to me “Mama, you’re pretty” but at the same time will say “Mama, your tummy’s squishy!”. To him, having a squishy tummy doesn’t make you any less beautiful, but society will tell you otherwise. Beauty “standards” are a societal construct, which through our language and through media, we teach our children to accept as the norm. So to me, through modelling body positivity, we are on a road to abolishing the concept of beauty standards and we are setting our kids up with good mental health.”
The Open Letter
Let me preface this open letter by telling you my tummy sags. I have stretch marks that make my belly button look like a butt hole and my ribs are permanently flared from growing a small human to full term.
For decades, society has fuelled a false perception that women need to ‘bounce back’ after pregnancy and achieve a level of physicality on par with a celebrity supermodel. Thankfully, social media is rewriting this archaic narrative and providing women with the resources to embrace their perfectly non-perfect bodies.
As an advocate for social change and acceptance, I firmly believe that all bodies are beautiful, and we should celebrate all shapes and sizes. However, as a woman, I would be lying to myself (and others) if I did not confess that I too struggle with body acceptance.
When I was pregnant, I absolute adored my body. Having endometriosis and adenomyosis most of my adult life, being pregnant made me feel like my body was finally doing something right. My hormones were balanced (except for the gestational diabetes), I no longer had monthly pains and excessive bloating, and my belly was growing for the all the right reasons. I have always been a little on the bigger (stronger) side so for the first time, I welcomed weight rather than hide from it.
During this time, I lathered myself in countless pregnancy creams in an effort to prevent stretch marks and maintain elastic skin. When they inevitably appeared with a vengeance at 37 weeks, I was surprisingly accepting of them as they were proof my child was growing strong and healthy. However, this acceptance soon came to an sbrupt end once I was no longer pregnant.
Don’t get me wrong. I am proud of what my body created and what it went through to deliver my beautiful baby boy. But deep down inside, I am not satisfied with the physical appearance of my body.
I have worked very hard to get my body to feel physically fit, but I can’t help but think that it isn’t enough. I still question how I look or feel in an outfit, and I sometimes wonder how much easier and enjoyable life would be if I didn’t. It is easy to focus on what is in front of us and forget the journey we have been on.
So, I guess that is my goal with this open letter. Stop comparing and nitpicking every part of my body and learn to find beauty in its imperfections. I want to feel that fearlessness I had during pregnancy. I am on a journey to do so and to embrace my body for what it is. I am not there yet, and I have no idea when, but for now I take refuge in the promise: I will get there.
Young-Li Zhou, Founder of Enbacci