An athlete suffers from a post-pregnancy condition
When professional runner Stephanie Bruce decided to have children, she put her training regimen on hold.
Soon her wish to have a family came true. In the span of just 15 months she gave birth to two sons.
But the pregnancies took their toll on her body. She used to proudly show off her well-defined abdominal muscles, but for a while she was hesitant to expose her belly.
It was clear to Stephanie that something was wrong. She had developed a hole in the muscle surrounding her belly button.
"I call it the Grand Canyon," she jokes. "I can stick about two fingers in the middle of my abdomen."
When Stephanie began training again at the age of 32, she didn't feel well at all. She found running very difficult and felt badly out of shape. On top of that, she had to go to the bathroom constantly. Stephanie was ashamed of her post-pregnancy body.
The doctor diagnosed Stephanie with a diastasis recti, a condition where the abdominal muscles separate during the pregnancy in order to leave enough space for the baby to properly grow.
The condition left Stephanie with a particularly flabby spot in the middle of her belly.
Most women would simply cover the wrinkled skin on their belly, but Stephanie's career required a specific uniform that didn't allow this. She was still training hard to fulfill her dream of qualifying for the Olympics.
So instead of hiding it, Stephanie decided to do the exact opposite — she began posting pictures of her post-pregnancy belly on social networks.
"There might be a secret club of women with the same condition, and if you don't have anyone to talk to, you have no idea why your skin here is so loose and why you have pain in your lower back," Stephanie explained.
Stephanie kept a diary of her attempts to get her abdominal muscles back in shape by posting photos online. Unfortunately, reactions to the pics were not always supportive.
"A lot of the feedback has been: ok, this is what her stomach looks like, why is she showing it to everybody, can't she maybe like cover it up?"
Her coach finds Stephanie inspiring: "I'm sure there are women dealing with the same thing Stephanie is, but they're not talking about it so it's really brave what she's doing."
"It doesn't matter what you look like. It's a matter of how you feel, how strong you are, and just kind of be confident and own your own skin," Stephanie said.
You can learn more about Stephanie Bruce's story in this video:
Expectations presented by the media for women to look as if they had never been pregnant are completely unrealistic and based on harmful and superficial ideas about beauty. Maybe when more women like Stephanie speak out and wear their wrinkles and stretch marks with pride, the rest of society will finally realize just how truly beautiful they are.