If you are a runner with kids and are looking for inspiration, check out Stephanie Bruce. She is an elite distance runner who has had two kids in less than two years and ran the Olympic standard in the 10K six months after giving birth. That alone is an awe-worthy feat, but what has forever endeared her to me is this photo. In a world of carefully curated Instagram pics, Bruce decided to bare her post-baby belly and a bit of her soul. “The postpartum body is a complicated and hot mess,” she wrote, “but also one that brought life into this world…it’s the most natural part of existence.” Bruce feels most comfortable training and racing without a top over her sports bra so she does, no matter what anyone thinks. It says a lot about our society that simply baring her natural body is an act of bravery, but it is.
A couple months after Bruce’s post, I downloaded my race photos from Boston. It was a hot day and I raced in a sports bra and shorts for the first time ever. Some photos looked fantastic. At a few points during the race I noticed the camera and purposefully smiled, opened up my stride, and raised my arms triumphantly in the air. Those are the ones I’m going to love when I’m 90. But other photos showed the extra skin on my stomach from my pregnancies strangely twisting across my middle like ropes of floppy bread dough. What was that? Is that really me? I think I look pretty good (and not just “good for my age,” but good period) and those photos said something else to me. “Is that how the world sees me?” I wondered.
So I started editing the worst offenders. I smoothed out the striped shadows across my stomach and blurred my belly lines away. That was much better! It was magical how the retouch button created the illusion of the perfectly toned tummy. I worked so hard to run that race and I wanted my pictures to show the lean, strong, badass woman that I am. I don’t want people to think that I look “great for a mom.” I want people to think I simply look great. Doesn’t everyone? I smoothed and blended and blurred the images until all signs that I carried two children in my body were eliminated.
Then I thought about Stephanie Bruce.
I started to feel guilty. And inauthentic. A bit of a fraud.
I am lucky enough to have been spared some of the harsher physical side effects of pregnancy and I am generally happy with the way I look. Standing up. Sucking in. Flexing my abs. If I lean over or God forbid do a downward dog in a crop top, the lie that I’m a childless twenty-something exposes itself. Even though I’m fit and thin and have 15% body fat, I have inches of extra skin on my middle, my arms, my legs, and probably even my earlobes. My thighs gap, then meet, then gap, then meet like a pair of passionate tango dancers. That is simply who I am right now. With time and training and life, my body will change to reflect my journey. My choice is either to wish that weren’t the case or to let go and embrace it.
I wear a sports bra without a top when it’s hot. Not because I want to show off. It’s because it’s hot! Will I still try to flex when someone takes my picture or cringe a little when I see the extra skin happily waving to the camera? Of course. My self-confidence is not always perfect and neither am I. But I’m not going to hide who I am out of fear of judgment that is probably more from myself than from others.
And I’m not going to Photoshop either.