Four mom bloggers are on a mission to change the way society views postpartum bodies.
Desiree Fortin, Katie Crenshaw, Meg Boggs and Bethanie Garcia knew each other online before meeting in person for the first time in April. That was when they decided to pose for an honest and unfiltered photo showing how their bodies had been altered by pregnancy.
In the photo they stand smiling, side-by-side, in bikini bottoms and rolled-up shirts.
They all posted the image on their Instagram accounts with the same Hanne Blanke quote: “Real women are fat and thin and both, and neither and otherwise.”
While many commenters found the photo inspiring and praised the women for being open about their changing bodies, some users left nasty comments such as, “Is this an advertisement for why women should get tummy tucks?” and “Posts like this bother me. Not losing the weight is a choice.”
By May 4, Garcia had had enough, and decided to address the critics in a Facebook message.
“If you look at this photo and your first thought is ‘why are there no skinny women,’ you have bigger issues to deal with, my friend,” she wrote, sharing another picture from the same photoshoot. “You can look literally anywhere… and see skinny women. Other body types are absolutely underrepresented in media and it causes women with those body types to feel less than… to feel like they’re not good enough.”
She continued with an encouraging message to anyone who left a negative comment to “dig deeper, self-reflect, gain some perspective, [and] learn.”
Garcia — who has four children under the age of 5 — tells PEOPLE that she didn’t anticipate so much negativity, but she’s OK with it.
“For every gross or mean comment, there’s 10 women thanking us. That means everything,” she says. “Our hope…was that it would reach women who didn’t feel that their body types were represented in media. If it helped even one woman, we would be grateful and happy.”
Fortin agreed, telling PEOPLE that Garcia’s follow-up statement “was necessary,” since the negativity surrounding the photo was undermining its message.
For Boggs, the comments were a reminder that there is still a long way to go in changing people’s perceptions of postpartum bodies.
“This kind of message is going to make people uncomfortable because it’s not what they’re used to seeing,” she says. “But beyond that, it’s going to make people feel seen. So if that means we get heat for spreading a message that’s going to shake up a lot of people into a very uncomfortable place, so be it. This isn’t for them.”
Crenshaw had a similar explanation for PEOPLE, saying that she will continue to share her story because of the women they’ve already empowered.
“I’m giving my story to the women who saw themselves represented,” she says. “It’s for the woman who said she’d never gone to the pool without a coverup on before she saw my posts. They are my people.”
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