Twenty weeks into pregnancy and so far, so good. No stretch marks.

Twenty-five, thirty weeks, and it looks like the religious use of belly butter is paying off! Why I was so terrified of them I’m not sure. Is it because my stomach was already the part of my body that I was least secure about? Is it because I grew up looking at my mom’s belly hoping mine would never look like that? Is it because I just wanted to be that mom rocking a bikini on the beach, looking like she never had kids? Yep, as shallow as it is, all of the above.

Thirty-three weeks and there it was: my first stretch mark.

I cried and cried all the ridiculous tears that, at the time, I thought were not ridiculous at all. In a way, I was grieving the loss of the body I had grown to be proud of. But, obviously, only if it looked a certain way. From that point on, as the weeks passed and more and more lines appeared, I hated being pregnant, and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Postpartum came and I resented my body even more for not bouncing back immediately the way I thought it should, the way other moms’ bodies seemed to. And after nine months of breastfeeding and working out, I was finally back to my pre-pregnancy weight. But no amount of weight I lost could heal my mindset, the way I saw myself. No amount of affirmations from my husband could convince me that I “looked good!”. If I still had stretch marks, I didn’t look good. And that mindset went much deeper than my skin and the marks it bore.

We, as women, face so much pressure to look a certain way.

It’s the reality we face in the society we live in. No matter how much we all know it’s wrong and that the perfection we strive for is non-existent, we still buy into the lie that we are far from perfect, and if we’re not perfect then we’re not worthy of being loved. And our little girls will fall victim to this skewed thinking as well, as they are exposed to it from the time they’re born.

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But, we as mothers have an even greater impact on our daughters’ hearts and minds.

We’re her first role model, what she looks to as the definition of a “woman.” I have a one-year-old daughter, who points to her belly and exclaims “be-eee!”, then lifts up my shirt and exclaims, “be-eee!”. My body, my belly, is the first woman’s body she has ever seen, and the one she’ll grow up seeing the majority of the time. As far as she knows, every woman’s belly has lines on it.

After a while of wallowing in self-pity and hating what my post-baby body looked like, I came to a realization that as a girl-mom I have a very important responsibility. That is to teach my daughter confidence apart from what the world around tells her about herself.

I still don’t like my stretch marks, and I don’t like what pregnancy did to my body. But I’ve learned that it’s normal, and it’s the lies I’ve believed my whole life that have made me think it’s anything other than that. As a girl mom, it’s my job to instill confidence in my daughter even as a one-year-old. If she hears me make the slightest complaint about my body, she’ll think that’s okay, and someday make complaints about her own body.

I cant 100% shield her from the media and what our culture portrays as perfection, but I can and will teach her that every body is beautiful and worthy of love.