National Eating Disorders Association
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Body Image

There is enormous cultural pressure to have our bodies look and feel the same after pregnancy and childbirth. These narratives about “getting your body back” are presented as a focus on health, but there is nothing healthy about the expectation that your body will be unchanged by birthing a baby. This version of what it means to be healthy is fueled by a diet industry that encourages self-hatred in order to capitalize off of body modification and a health industry that promotes fat phobia rather than emphasizing access to health at every size. 

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Our bodies, and our relationships with our bodies, are complicated. We bring our whole body history to birth—our stories of pleasure, pain, strength, weakness, successes, failures, belonging, and outsiderness. These histories are also shaped by lifelong and shifting relationships with food, weight, culture, and identity. As labor doulas, we support pregnant people navigate their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period, and see firsthand that with the right support and a bit of planning, pregnancy and birth can be a profound opportunity to live in your body in a new way.  

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Marcela Sabiá is a 26-year-old Brazilian illustrator who loves dogs, astrology, and creating art that makes the world a better place. She first started creating art professionally in 2015, and now, nearly three years later, she boasts an Instagram following of over 20,000. We chatted with Marcela about her art, her feminist awakening, and what she’d tell young women who are struggling with body image issues or eating disorders. Check out our interview below!

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In kindergarten, my mother helped me put together an elaborate project about butterflies. When my turn arrived to present to the class, I cowered behind my teacher, absolutely terrified of the dozens of pairs of eyes on me. This pattern continued throughout school—even during my college years. I was so afraid of my perceived flaws that I kept my ideas to myself and starved my body in the futile quest of achieving perfection. 

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As a teenager, I’d often be in a group with other girls when the subject of our bodies would come up. My friends traded anecdotes on which aspects of their body they loved least, and what was wrong with them. Because I didn’t chime in, most people assumed I had fantastic self-confidence.

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Colleen Werner, a professional ballerina in New York City, first got involved with dance when she was only three years old. Today, after overcoming body hatred and an eating disorder, Werner hopes to inspire others to stand up to an industry that pressures dancers to meet often-impossible body standards. The creator of #BopoBallerina, Werner has inspired other dancers to unite and share their stories. 

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In the beginning of April, I participated in a NEDA chat about eating disorders, body image issues, and how they affect me as an autistic woman. After the chat, I had so many thoughts swirling around in my brain. The questions and answers brought forth memories long forgotten. 

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There’s been no lack of speculation about the effects of social media on body image and eating disorder recovery. On one hand, social media has fostered a diverse and vibrant body-positive and recovery community. On the other, social media often serves as a platform for anonymous bullying and face-and-body-altering filters. 

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I have been practicing psychotherapy for close to 18 years now. In this time, I’ve focused most of my work on the treatment of eating disorders. Having suffered with an eating disorder in high school, prevention, education, and treatment have become my passion. 

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"Dear KJ" is a monthly advice column by Dr. Kjerstin "KJ" Gruys, sociologist, author and body image activist. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on the politics of appearance and is the author of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body By Not Looking at It for a Year (Avery Press, 2012).

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