Quieting the bully within: Struggling to love my mom body

Bundled up in a coat, pulling kids on sleds? No problem. Wearing spandex in front of a gym mirror? That's a lot harder. Writer Jordana Horn with her 2-year-old this winter.

After having three kids in three years, I’m finding it hard to love this body that’s done so much for me.       

On one level, my body is pretty amazing. It’s pushed out five kids in all, without too much difficulty, and for that I am truly grateful. I have 20/20 vision, and hair that at age 40 has yet to need color treatments. My brain may not be Einstein’s, but it’s served me well. I have hands that touch type speedily, and remember how to play songs on piano and guitar. I have a voice that people still tell me is great in a karaoke venue. I go through my day without pain. Overall, you’d think I have no arguments with my body.

But at four months postpartum, I’m still sporting maternity pants or stretchy leggings. My body doesn’t look the way I want it to look. I signed up for a fitness challenge recently, and while the lunges and squats have been hard, it’s actually been much harder for me to have to look at my own body in the workout room mirrors.

I judge my body in the mirror during class like I’m looking at a loathed enemy. I see myself and judge myself without mercy -- my internal voice is nothing less than a bully. I look at my wide hips and thighs, bulging belly and unsculpted arms with barely disguised disgust. Surrounded by tall and thin Lululemon-attired women, I look like a visual typo in the class. And that hurts. Every day.

I’m more appalled than reassured that apparently, I’m not alone: according to the TODAY/AOL Ideal to Real Body Image Survey, 60 percent of adult women have negative thoughts about themselves weekly. And moms have it even worse than the average, with 73 percent of mothers regularly worrying about their appearance, compared to 65 percent of women without children. And of course, there are the guilt-filled repercussions of our self-loathing: 57 percent of moms worry about how their own body image affects their children.

How do you love your body as you try to make it better, stronger and healthier? After six weeks of working out intensely, I still can’t answer that. I haven’t reached that coveted ‘after’ picture of myself, in which I imagine myself elongated, sleek and confident. I’m still very much in ‘during’ mode.

But I’ve come to the realization that we are in ‘during’ mode our whole lives. As I continue to stretch my muscles and rework my body, I’ve realized I need to turn inward, and stretch my muscles of kindness toward myself. Those muscles of kindness are far too small and underdeveloped. I need to see that, contrary to the tide of our instant-gratification culture, changes that are worth making will take longer to achieve. I am not only taking tiny steps toward my pre-pregnancy jeans, but also toward a commitment of lifetime fitness. Patience is kindness; persistence knows how to think long-term.

I’ve grown to realize that there is no one perfect body. When it comes to fitness and my body, I’m in them both for the long haul.