Post-Baby Body Image, Shopping IRL Again

I don’t know about you, but coming out of my pandemic cocoon has been hard.

I recently went shopping to an actual store in preparation to finally attend an in-person event, and I’ll be honest — the experience caused so many more feelings than I anticipated.

My Post-Baby Body, Post-Pandemic

Let’s back up a minute. After months of online retail-therapy, I wasn’t having fun getting clothes in the mail anymore. As for my post-baby body, I didn’t lose the baby weight after our daughter was born at the end of 2019, and in fact, throughout the wild rollercoaster that was 2020, I have gained a decent amount of additional weight. I actually weigh more now than I have in my entire life.

I have been continually hard on myself, thinking things like “I wasted a great opportunity to exercise more during 2020 since I was home and didn’t have a commute or a bunch of other plans” and “With my own kitchen available, I should have been able to make healthier meals all the time.” But, you know what? Nothing about this last year was normal — for me or for the rest of the world.

Even prior to the pandemic, I was a hot mess trying to learn how to be a new mom and functioning member of society while on little sleep. Add to that, I was emerging from maternity leave to brand new job and trying to navigate my milk pumping schedule, daycare pick-up, pediatrician appointments, all on top of learning a new company, new role, and new colleagues.

I used to love shopping online and hunting for the best deals. At most of my usual retailers, I had a good idea of sizing, materials, etc. As the pandemic wore on, I realized I’d get a package of clothes in the mail, and nothing would fit right. Most recently, I honestly don’t even know what size I am anymore.

After numerous orders that were mostly returned, I decided to go try on options for my upcoming event at stores, rather than order online. If nothing else, it gave me an excuse to get out of my house for a while. I hit up a nearby department store, grabbed my typical sizes, and was soon frustrated in the dressing room as item after item didn’t fit.

You know that feeling when you try on a snug dress and it gets stuck on your body to the point where you are sweating profusely, whisper swearing, and resigning yourself to the entire situation? “Yes, hello? I live here now. Please send my things.”

Well, this in-person try on session was basically that… times 10.

2018 me would have been devasted, and I’ll be honest, I still continued on to different stores looking in my same size. But then it finally dawned on me. My physical body has shifted more than I realized throughout the last year. I had been so focused on getting my mental health on a life raft, that I didn’t realize just how much I had neglected my physical state.

Grabbing a New Size and a New Perspective

I surprised myself when I decided just to grab the next size up, and even one size bigger than that just to see. Rather than feeling sorry for myself, I tried to remember that while I know my current state is not ideal, I am beyond thankful for everything my body has done for me — from creating a pretty darn cute human to sustaining my health during a freaking global pandemic.

Once the sweat from the battle with the too-small clothes subsided, it felt good to put on the bigger clothes and have them effortlessly button, zip, and pull over, even though the size on the tag was new to me.

I’m slowly getting control back of my physical and mental state, but not because I care about the size on the tag. It’s because this past year has also made me realize that being in good health is not something to be taken for granted. It’s because I want to show my daughter that part of being a strong woman is making sure you take care of yourself on the inside and outside. It’s because I want to find a balance of taking pride in my appearance, even on days where no one will see me. It’s because I want to do something for me.

Life often has a funny way of preparing you for something bigger (no pun intended). In my case, becoming a new mom shortly before the pandemic hit prepared me with a solid foundation of stretchy pants, a new normal of leaving the house far less frequently, and forgetting what day it is.

But, I think I’m just now realizing that it also set the wheels in motion for accepting a monumental shift in my identity and trying to find a new sense of self.

I’m excited to continue seeing what a normal world looks like with all my new hats: a mom with a toddler, an employee who now is permanently working remote, a wife finding balance between it all, and a woman confidently wearing bigger pants.

Kelly Engstrom
Hi! I’m Kelly! I was born in South Korea, grew up in Nebraska, went to college at Kansas State, and spent my 20s in Washington, D.C. I moved to the Kansas City area in 2012 (vowing never to complain about traffic again after commuting on the Beltway), where I met my husband who was then stationed with the Army at Fort Leavenworth. In addition to being busy with my job in digital advertising, I’m running around with our rescue dog and 1.5 year old daughter. I also love volunteering with various organizations in KC, finding new creative outlets, exploring new places and things to do, shopping a good sale, aiming to keep my plants alive, and spending time with friends and family. Someday I also hope to get back into something I did before having a baby – triathlons! My ideal afternoon involves a stop at Family Tree Nursery, listening to podcasts in my car with the windows down, and trying a new restaurant. The real treat of the day would be to actually witness my toddler eating her veggies!