In my mostly privileged, picturesque Brooklyn neighborhood, the mothers – much like the historic brownstones and tree-lined sidewalks – are very well-maintained. You can see these moms bounding up the stairs at pickup time, glued to their Lululemon pants, or en route to barre class. They dutifully show up to their once-a-week manicures on the local main street, tending to their meticulously-filed nails. But there seem to be a few things missing from their regimen: sensuality, joy, and playfulness. To put it bluntly: These mamas have “lost their sexy”. It happened to me too, after I became a mother, but I wasn’t content to let it stay lost for long.
I think most mamas can agree that the early days of motherhood are a decidedly unsexy time. (Nothing knocks the attractive out of you like leaky boobs or prolonged vaginal bleeding.) It becomes an almost insurmountable feat to make the decision to start putting effort into your appearance again. At some point along their new motherhood journey, many moms I know eventually find their way back to some level of satisfaction with how they feel about themselves and the effort they put into that. Many are comfortable with stopping there. But some women go beyond just “satisfied” and aim to feel something more.
What does it mean, exactly, to feel sexy after motherhood? This is subjective, of course, but for me it is a mix feeling awake in my body, alive in my senses, and confident in my magnetism toward others. For some, it is a sensuality, a va-va-voom feeling. Or maybe it’s a heat rising off the skin kind of feeling, or a sense that your whole body has a kind of tiny vibration to it. (Feeling sexy is a physical state of being, after all.) While feeling attractive has a lot to do with how the world sees you, feeling sexy is something that really comes from the inside. It can sound like it takes a near Herculean effort to get to this point, but it is possible. In my own journey, the first step involved breaking away from some old patterns I’d acquired during pregnancy and new motherhood.
Like a lot of new moms, after my first son was born, I lived in oversized sweatpants and old t-shirts – my “Mom Armor” against all the breast milk and spit up that would accrue over the course of the day. But as I approached my son’s first birthday, I still was wearing this same awful uniform. Did it feel good to wear these clothes? Goddamn yes it did. But did I feel good about myself in them? Not at all. I felt frumpy. The milk stains made me feel like a hot mess. I couldn’t bear to look in any mirrors in the house. It took my husband asking me why I never stayed in my “outside clothes” after I get home for me to realize that I was simply on autopilot. When I started wearing my “outside clothes” inside the house, (and my husband got to see me in clothes that didn’t make me look like a potato) I had a new swing to my hips, and I stopped avoiding mirrors. I even started flirting with my husband more. It was a simple fix – one that didn’t require spending money, or revamping my wardrobe. It just required a shift in my behavior.
I also began to do things that used to make me feel sexy in my pre-baby days – and one of those things was wearing makeup. Even when I was throwing up every day for nine months of my pregnancy, I did my hair and makeup. Yet as soon as I had a baby, I was like, “who the hell cares, I’m just taking the kid for a stroller nap.” I started putting on mascara again, and every time I washed my hands after changing yet another poop diaper, I was like, “Damn! I’m looking F-I-N-E today!”
But it was finding my way back to a feeling of being inside my own body that helped me really get my sexy back. Notice that I am not saying, “getting my body back”, because (#truth) after babies, you don’t get your “old body” back. You evolve with the body you’ve had all along into some new kind of form. This form is good, if you allow it to be. It took a lot of work getting to a place where I was willing to accept that my body was something good, after childbirth. And it wasn’t until I accepted that my body was good, that I was able to be fully present inside of my body.
This is what “the work” looked like – the work of inhabiting my body so I could occupy it in a more confident, full way after motherhood. It didn’t have to do with mantras or philosophies. First, the “body checks” had to go. You know, the thing some of us do when we pass a mirror and lift a piece of clothing to zero in on one of our body parts that bothers us? It had to stop, and I replaced my criticism of the pouch above my c-section scar with shifting my gaze to something new about my body that was kind of nice (like my bigger nursing boobs).
I’m all about the good vibes that working out can bring, but when I look at some of the bone thin women in NYC, I’m not feeling them. My neighborhood mom cohorts, it seems, are very skilled at whittling away body fat via daily penances at punishing cycling or Bikram yoga classes. But judging by the frowny faces they’re making into their post-workout skim lattes, it doesn’t seem like their workouts are doing their inner selves any good. It’s great to be thin and toned, but if that doesn’t make you feel like your body is bangin’ (or at least make you feel happy), then really what’s the point?
My postpartum workout was yoga-pole at a local studio. Honestly, could anything sound sexier than yoga mixed with a pole dancing pole? Sure, I felt kind of silly being there as a new mom and attempting to do an inverted straddle with my still-gnarly c-section scar exposed. At first, I couldn’t even identify where my former abdominal muscles were. But as I felt my body getting stronger, my practice helped get me out of my own head, feel “inside my body”, and reconnect with my muscles again. That “body feeling” stayed with me throughout the day, as my newfound (and re-found) muscles seemed to call out to me, “Hi! I’m here!” when I picked up my baby, or reached to get something from a cabinet.
My pursuit of sexy has kept me feeling energetic, alive, and romantically tuned into my husband. All these things have had a positive effect on our family life while strengthening my sense of self. Sexiness is hard to define, but when you see it in a person, you know. When a woman feels sexy, she often radiates confidence and happiness. Everyone in her orbit can feel it. This of course, is a boon to her romantic partner, but also to her children. Children thrive with happy parents, and what is better than a parent who is comfortable in her own skin?
There is a difference between making a superficial effort to appear attractive to others, and making an effort to feel good inside. My theory is that many mothers do the minimum when it comes to their appearance because to do any more would be deemed selfish, and too indulgent. And what is less maternal, in our culture’s view of mothers as nurturers, than the mother who cares about feeling sexy? I think there is room for all of it, and as much (or little) as you want: the maternal nurturing, the sexiness, and the self-indulgence. The role of mother is rich and complicated, but certainly lends room for sexiness, too.
Originally published on heymama.co on Jan 04, 2018.