Hospital classes, how-to books, and well-meaning friends can often help prepare pregnant women for the childbirth experience, but there’s no honest playbook for what comes after: the societal pressure for women’s bodies to “bounce back” to their original form after a baby is born. As if it’s magic!
Being pregnant is freakin’ hard, as your body goes through changes, big and small (growing breasts and stomach, morning sickness, and mood swings, to name a few lovely side effects) over the course of nine months. And after you welcome your little one, postpartum healing can include vaginal scarring, tearing, or stretching, along with residual water retention or weight gain, and even enlarged feet, thinning hair, or widened hips (all while dealing with sleepless nights and everything else that happens with a new baby). Some of these physical changes are temporary while others are more permanent. And believe us, it’s all beautiful!
What’s even more beautiful: When women, especially famous folks, celebrate their postpartum bodies in all their diversity. So we’re calling out Hollywood moms like Drew Barrymore, Ashley Graham, Jennifer Garner, and more, who have all shared their empowering perspectives about embracing and loving their bodies after having children.
It’s so refreshing to hear these moms — who society tells us we should mimic in so many ways — speak out so honestly and authentically about such a universal experience. Read on to hear what these leading ladies say about postpartum body image, then apply their timeless wisdom to your own life.
As a model — especially one who is curvy — Ashley Graham is accustomed to people commenting on her body. That’s why her body-positive statements, even as she prepares to welcome twin sons with husband Justin Ervin, are so refreshing.
In February 2021, about one year after her son Isaac was born, Graham discouraged the idea that women’s bodies should conceal any evidence of birth. “I think the postpartum snapback is really B.S.,” she told E!. “I think it’s an unattainable reality for most women and it’s been an unattainable reality for myself.”
And Graham is continuing to show herself love during her pregnancy. In December 2021, she shared a nude photo on Instagram that showed off her stretch marks. “Justin says my stretch marks look like the tree of life,” she captioned the shot.
Drew Barrymore is mom to daughters Olive, 9, and Frankie, 7, with ex-husband Will Kopelman.
In a March 2015 interview with Glamour, Barrymore remarked, “After making two babies, holy cow, does your body do some crazy stuff! It’s hard to stay positive and love yourself. You feel like a kangaroo with a giant pouch; everything’s saggy and weird. But you think about how beautiful it is that you’re able to make children. When I lose sight of that, I exercise, read Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, and spend time with my kids. Then I start to see things that are bigger than myself.”
In the interview, Barrymore also rejected social media perfection. “You don’t always have to look stunning on Instagram,” she said. “I’ve been makeupless, pregnant, and stuffing food in my face in many pictures; that makes it all the more exciting when I do do something more attractive. I don’t like it when everyone looks so perfect all the time. Where’s the humor in that?”
In March 2021, Jennifer Garner who shares Violet, 16, Seraphina, 12, and Samuel, 9, with ex-husband Ben Affleck shared her very realistic views on postpartum bodies with the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast.
“There are some incredible women whose bodies just, no matter how many babies they have, they bounce right back to that slim-hipped, no stomach,” she said. “It’s incredible. I have so many girlfriends who have that physique, and I’m so happy for them. I am not one of them. That is not my gig.”
Garner added, “I can work really hard, and I can be really fit, and I will still look like a woman who’s had three babies, and I always will.”
This isn’t the first time that Garner has addressed her mom bod. In a 2014 appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, she admitted that her so-called bump has some people assuming that she’s pregnant. “I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump…From now on, ladies, I will have a bump, and it will be my baby bump,” she said. “It’s not going anywhere. Its name is Violet, Sam and Sera.”
Blake Lively has three daughters with husband Ryan Reynolds: James, 6, Inez, 5, and Betty, 2. And in January 2020, the Gossip Girl alum spoke out about how fashion designers often had trouble finding clothing that fit her postpartum body.
As Lively explained on Instagram, “No one had samples that fit me after giving birth. And so many clothes from stores didn’t fit, either. So. Many.”
“It doesn’t send a great message to women when their bodies don’t fit into what brands have to offer,” added Lively. “It’s alienating and confusing. And I wish I felt as confident then as I do now, a year later looking back. That body gave me a baby. And was producing that baby’s entire food supply. What a beautiful miracle. But instead of feeling proud, I felt insecure. Simply because I didn’t fit into clothes. How silly is that in retrospect?”
In 2016, Alyssa Milano told Today that she wasn’t stressing about weight loss after having children Milo, 10, and Elizabella, 7, whom she shares with husband David Bugliari. “I do believe that the weight does come off in the right time,” she said. “I really do. When I gave birth both times, I didn’t rush myself to lose the weight, but eventually it did come off. Sometimes it’s hard work, but to me, it took such a backseat to being a new mother and what that meant and how special and physically demanding that was alone.”
In the same interview, Milano addressed the importance of self-love. “Be kind to yourself,” she explained. “And remember what your body is put on this earth to do, which is nurture, feed, take care of a child. Everything else is sort of irrelevant.”
Like many of us, Beyoncé has learned a lot since the birth of her first child Blue Ivy, 9, in 2012. In a 2018 interview with Vogue, the singer said, “After the birth of my first child, I believed in the things society said about how my body should look. I put pressure on myself to lose all the baby weight in three months, and scheduled a small tour to assure I would do it. Looking back, that was crazy. I was still breastfeeding when I performed the Revel shows in Atlantic City in 2012. After the twins, I approached things very differently.”
When twins Sir and Rumi, 4, were born, Beyoncé had an emergency C-section and needed additional time to recover. “During my recovery, I gave myself self-love and self-care, and I embraced being curvier,” she said. “I accepted what my body wanted to be. After six months, I started preparing for Coachella. I became vegan temporarily, gave up coffee, alcohol, and all fruit drinks. But I was patient with myself and enjoyed my fuller curves. My kids and husband did, too.”
“I think it’s important for women and men to see and appreciate the beauty in their natural bodies,” added the singer. “That’s why I stripped away the wigs and hair extensions and used little makeup for this shoot. To this day my arms, shoulders, breasts, and thighs are fuller. I have a little mommy pouch, and I’m in no rush to get rid of it. I think it’s real. Whenever I’m ready to get a six-pack, I will go into beast zone and work my ass off until I have it. But right now, my little FUPA and I feel like we are meant to be.”
As a mom to three kids, Honor, 13, Haven, 10, and Hayes, 3, with husband Cash Warren, Jessica Alba appreciates her post-baby body, telling InStyle in 2019, “For the first time in my life I was really embracing my womanhood. I was in my early 30s, and it had taken up until then for me to feel confident in my body. I also stopped allowing myself to be objectified in the press through a male’s perspective. Screw that, man. It’s OK to be sexy. It’s OK to wear a short skirt or a loud print if I feel like it because I own it in my own way. I can flaunt what I want, cover what I want, and still feel good.”
Alba also appeared on the cover of the magazine when Hayes was seven months old and said of the experience, “If I had been younger, I probably would have been obsessed with dieting and exercising, but instead I thought, ‘This is where I’m at. This is my life. And this is my body.’”
For Olivia Wilde, who shares Otis, 7, and Daisy, 5, with Jason Sudeikis, from whom she separated in 2020, body perfection is less important than her all-around happiness.
“I am not in perfect shape,” the actress told Shape in 2015. “In fact, I’m softer than I’ve ever been, including that unfortunate semester in high school when I simultaneously discovered Krispy Kreme and pot. The photos of me in this magazine have been generously constructed to show my best angles, and I assure you, good lighting has been warmly embraced. The truth is, I’m a mother, and I look like one.”
Wilde added, “I believe in a world where mothers are not expected to shed any physical evidence of their child-bearing experience. In that same world I believe there is space for exercise to be as much a gift to your brain as it is your body. I don’t want to waste my time striving for some subjective definition of perfection. I’d rather rebuild my strength while dancing my ass off…literally.”
Country star Carrie Underwood, who shares sons Isaiah, 6, and Jacob, 2, with husband Mike Fisher, knows her body has changed through motherhood — and that’s totally OK with her, no matter what anyone says.
In 2015, Underwood told Glamour about losing baby weight: “There is a lot of pressure” adding, “I will never have my pre-baby body back, no matter how hard I try.”
In the same interview Underwood remarked, “My body changed to make another human being, and that’s amazing. I have much more respect for my body after that. I think it’s all about feeling good, and I feel good. It’s just kind of where we are as a society. [New moms] just need to feel good—cut yourself some slack.”
After welcoming her second baby, Underwood still kept it real by admitting it was harder to accept the changes in her body this time around. “I’m going to be honest, ‘bouncing back’ after having Jacob has been much more difficult than after I had Isaiah and I’ve been pretty hard on myself lately,” she told People. “I go into the gym and I can’t run as fast or as far. I can’t lift as much weight or do as many reps as I could a year ago. I just want to feel like myself again… for my body to feel the way that I know it can. As I was working out today, I realized that for the past 11(ish) months, my body has not belonged to me. It was a perfect home for Jacob. And even now it belongs to him every time he drinks his milk. As I prepare for red carpets and for life on tour, right now I make a promise to myself to start appreciating what my body CAN do and stop focusing on what it can’t.”
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