No Photoshop: New moms 'take back postpartum' with honest photos

New moms fed up with fat shaming are taking to Instagram to flaunt their post-baby bodies and lives. Some pose with their nursing babies, while others show off stretch marks, “squishy” bellies and everything else that can come with pregnancy.

These moms—who are using the hashtag #takebackpostpartum—are part of a growing online movement for body acceptance, and a backlash against a generation of images Photoshopped to perfection in media.

When Britney Asbell posted a photo of her not-yet-six-months postpartum bare midriff to Instagram recently, she was nervous. A survivor of an eating disorder, the 25-year-old Georgia mom says she has always struggled to accept her body. “I never thought I was pretty. I never thought that my body was perfect,” she says.

But watching other women’s less than perfect postpartum photos appear on Instagram inspired her.

“I kept seeing the #takebackpostpartum hashtags and I thought, ‘Wow, these women are so brave to put it all out there.’ I didn’t think I could ever do that,” says Asbell who blogs at Your Average Mama.

After returning from her daily walk with her young daughter, Asbell suddenly felt brave too: “I said, ‘You know what? I feel good. I’m not perfect and that’s OK.”

Her photo carried a caption that admitted she once fretted about returning her body to pre-baby condition, but now she celebrates her stretch marks as a beautiful reminder of her daughter and the “first place I felt her, where she captured my love.”

More and more women are embracing motherhood in all ways and that's a beautiful thing. ❤️ Repost @the.prairiehippie.
Not ashamed. I have moles, freckles, birthmarks, surgery scars, and now stretchmarks. Most of the "#blemishes" we dislike about ourselves, I have them. Sometimes it's hard to disconnect from what people imbed in your mind, those social standards that define beauty as one type of woman. It's hard to reconnect with oneself and relearn what it's like to truly love yourself, blemishes and the never-ending changes. Loving the dull "dirty dishwater" blonde hair, the natural way my hair tends to frizz and never lay the same, not taking to heart that the only way others realize I am Asian is by my flat profile but instead loving my "flat face", my 38E breasts that may not look the way they did a year ago but are providing nourishment to a four month old chunk (and still look damn good regardless), the way my belly bloats easy and is softer than it was but shows evidence that I finally brought forth life when I'd lost hope in ever being a mom, my now chicken legs after losing a lot of muscle mass (40 lbs lost) after severe nausea & vomiting for 7 months of my pregnancy and continuing to lose because breastfeeding, and my chunky feet and webbed toes that help me get from point A to point B and may not always fit in those narrow shoes, but appreciate the feel of grass, warm paved roads, squishing sand between toes, and will soon have me chasing a little girl, sooner than I'm prepared for. Life hands us this beautiful body, with talent, natural abilities, difference, and these bodies meant to change...yet we find ways to condemn them, to compare them, to alter them. Stop. Just stop. Stop and love oneself. Respect the beauty of change and difference. I'm learning to love THIS. All of this. And respecting that my change isn't a death sentence. #TakeBackPostpartum #postpartum #lovethyself #stretchmarks #bellyfat #babychunk #birthmarks #freckles #scars #changeisgood #lifeisgood #WeArentMeantToLookTheSame #respectothers #dontjudge #iamwoman #hearmeroar #motherhoodrising #changewithoutfear #lovethyselfwithoutfear

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Asbell’s photo is just one of thousands tagged #takebackpostpartum, which was started earlier this year by January Harshe. The Austin, Texas, mom and founder of Birth Without Fear, a conference series that encourages empowerment during pregnancy and birth, says she was “frustrated” by advertisers flooding the #postpartum hashtag with images touting stretch mark creams and weight loss shakes. In a blog post she asked other moms to join her in “taking back” the postpartum tag with images of real postpartum life and bodies.

“I said ladies if you want to make a change, we have to do it ourselves,” says Harshe, a mom of six kids, ages 10 weeks to 11 years. “There was a big response. Women said, ‘Let’s show what this is like’….What I’ve learned is that every woman struggles one way or another. Every woman struggles differently. I’m trying to show all the variations of normal for postpartum and motherhood.”

Harshe started a new Instagram account — @takebackpostpartum —dedicated to postpartum life that is filled daily with new photos.

Accepting your postpartum body isn’t easy for many women. There are new jiggles and sags, and unseen physical difficulties like pain or bladder control issues. It often comes with crippling exhaustion and adjusting to a whole new life with a new set of priorities, not just a new jean size.

The #takebackpostpartum movement isn’t the first time moms have come together to speak out against weight loss or other body pressures. It was nearly a decade ago that a mom started the website as a place for moms to swap photos and stories about their postpartum bodies. Just last month a mom of three inspired a new self-acceptance moment with a bikini shot posted to Facebook.

Moms say they hope these online moments of bravery translate to real changes in body image for women.

Jenna Hobbs, a 30-year-old mom of four and photographer in Alberta, Canada, recently posted a photo of her nursing her newborn twins under #takebackpostpartum.

“The takebackpostpartum feed is encouraging mothers to not be so hard on themselves,” says Hobbs. “It’s OK to be a mother, to look like a mother. If hashtagging my images that way encourages others then that’s very good.”

Asbell in Georgia hopes to influence someone even closer to her.

“I want my daughter to see that it’s OK that mommy has stripes on her belly,” says Asbell. “It’s OK that mommy has a pudge here or whatever. You don’t have to look like you’re in a magazine.”

Rose Gordon Sala is a New York based freelance writer and mom to two kids (and one very spoiled Boston terrier). She rambles and tweets here.