Postpartum Snapback Culture Hurt My Mental Health. Here are 6 Ways How I Made Fitness My Own Again

When I became pregnant with my daughter in July of 2020, I wasn’t concerned about the weight gain that would come with pregnancy. As a personal trainer and fitness writer, I’ve always worked out regularly and looked at my workouts as ways to help me stay strong, prevent injury, and gain energy—rather than as vehicles to help me lose or maintain weight, or to look a certain way.

So my workouts during pregnancy continued to focus on these things. While I was pregnant, I worked out because I wanted to; it simply helped me feel better amid all the chaos of 2020. It was a way to keep me grounded as the pandemic hit full-force in New York City, and to provide an outlet for all the anxieties I was facing around having children and giving birth. What’s more, my first trimester was so rough (FYI, morning sickness can be an all-day thing) that I didn’t care what I was eating, as long as I could keep it down.

And then I was thrust into the new role of being a parent, and postpartum life happened. In preparation, I took lots of classes and read countless articles and books on how to care for a newborn. But like many new parents, I felt mentally ill-prepared for the gamut of emotions that came with motherhood when it actually happened. There were moments in those first four weeks when I felt overjoyed and thankful, and then others when I thought, “Why did I ever do this?”

Coupled with that was an added stressor I didn’t expect: It seemed like every time I’d open my social media feeds, I’d see posts from trainers, influencers, and celebrities touting how they “snapped back” into their pre-pregnancy bodies just weeks after giving birth. I was engulfed in before-and-after images of sculpted abs, slender thighs, and muscular arms. They were doing handstands and running fast miles, and they had glamorous photos to prove it.

Meanwhile, at three months postpartum, my belly was soft, my arms felt tired under the weight of a colicky baby, and my legs were numb after spending hours on the couch struggling to breastfeed. My linea nigra (the dark line that forms across your stomach during pregnancy) had not yet faded, and even at seven months postpartum, there is still a faint line there. This was my picture of motherhood.

Going into my pregnancy, I never expected my body to “bounce back” in a few months, much less a few weeks, after giving birth. And now that I’m in my seventh month post-pregnancy—even though I know it’s still relatively early in the postpartum process—I don’t expect it to ever go back to the exact way it was pre-pregnancy.

Knowing all this, though, was still not enough to stop these posts from triggering feelings of anger, grief, and jealousy.

During this extremely vulnerable time in my life, I found these posts to be devastating. I felt my own mental health, and what I believed about fitness and my body—that strength and function outweigh appearance—start to waver. And that really surprised me. I was never triggered by social media in the past, and as someone who works in fitness and has covered it for years, I knew that not having “six-pack abs” or a small-sized waist didn’t mean you weren’t fit and strong. I had never fallen into a comparison trap, but I suddenly found myself in this position.