Why model Iskra Lawrence speaks out on the realities of postpartum life: 'It does feel like there's so much shame around it'

Iskra Lawrence talks body positivity, motherhood and mental health. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
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The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Whether she's at a photo shoot or speaking out on social media, model Iskra Lawrence is all about staying authentic and unfiltered, using her platform to champion body positivity, speak candidly about the realities of motherhood (including postpartum menstruation) and, as an eating disorder survivor, call out diet culture and unrealistic beauty standards.

The 30-year-old British beauty's latest cause: raising awareness about the importance of maintaining a healthy gut as part of women's wellness regimens. Lawrence — now based in Austin, Tex., with partner Philip Payne and their nearly 1-year-old son — is fronting Activia's Get Your Gut In Gear campaign, a project that's a natural fit given that her affinity for the "easy and accessible" probiotic yogurt dates back to her teens. She now credits the probiotics, and their impact on her gut health, with boosting her emotional health, including her moods and energy levels.

Here, the model — fresh off dealing with water outages during the recent winter storms in Texas — opens up about her approach to body positivity, being her own "hype woman" and getting real about new mom life.

What drew you to the Activia partnership?

As an eating disorder recoverer, it's really important for me to share with women that health does start from within and that we have to take care of our insides. Because I was consumed with my size. I was consumed with thinness and that was not healthy and that was not happy. [I started] focusing that energy on what happy and healthy looked like for me — and that did start with nourishing myself from within. That just set me up to get to this point in my life where size doesn't matter, to me listening to my body, making sure it's balanced, making sure it's healthy from within. We're going to be advocating for all women to start really prioritizing themselves and their health.

Body positivity is such a catchphrase now. What does it mean to you, and do you still have those days where you don't feel great for whatever reason?

It has looked very different through the years. I've definitely had some turbulent years of not understanding the impact and holding things in, definitely bottling up a lot of the things that I've felt. And there's been a lot of pressure being online and a lot of people kind of pushing me... I feel like what happened was, when you talk about being recovered from an eating disorder and you post these photos of you in a bikini looking confident and happy, I think people assume or hope that that's it, she was fixed. It's all perfect now. It's all happy. And of course that isn't the reality and that wouldn't be human. So I think what I've learned is the more I share that things aren't always perfect, that's helped me because that illusion of perfection has robbed me from a lot in my teenage years and as a woman.

It's robbed me by comparing my life, my size, so many things to others who obviously I can't be, and I'm not meant to be. I called [my TED Talk] "Ending the Pursuit of Perfection" because, as a Virgo, that's definitely something I've struggled with — and not just from having my body dysmorphia and having an eating disorder when I was a teenager, but then being recovered and feeling I have to be perfect online or say everything perfectly and you know, promote myself, and it's a lot of pressure. So I think if we're being truthful about what that means — body acceptance and being positive — it's just showing up as your real self. And that might be one day a crying selfie — definitely posted that. It might be, "I just can't right now." And that's really, really important, I believe, because when we accept about ourselves that we're imperfect, then it helps other people know that that's OK too.

The British model is working with Activia to spread awareness about gut health. (Photo: Activia)
The British model is working with Activia to spread awareness about gut health. (Photo: Activia)

What's your approach to mental health?

That's again something that I think has really evolved as I've grown into myself. How I used to handle it was definitely friends. I definitely found it hard to tell my parents how I felt, because I didn't want to let them down, you know? And weirdly, even when you do have mental health issues surrounding body image, and they feel very real to you, but you always feel a bit embarrassed to kind of tell other people how consumed you are with how you feel. I feel like when you are so privileged — and I'm very privileged to be in this able, white body — that I did feel kind of ridiculous that it was so consuming. I knew that there were big issues in the world, but sometimes you can't help it when you have dysmorphia and/or disordered eating.

So I started to talk to friends. And then, of course, I found out my friends were also struggling... and I was like, "Oh, couldn't we have just both shared that?" I feel we would have just been able to support each other so much better. And I think that's why I love social media now, because I just know that those moments are happening all over the world. Honestly, Instagram kind of became a little bit of therapy, too — the amount of amazing humans of all types, because body dysmorphia and body image issues do not discriminate. I've spoken to people in large bodies, thin bodies, disabled bodies. I've talked to everyone about how they feel about themselves. I think that was definitely a form of therapy; hearing from other people, listening and learning gained me a better perspective of myself.

I've also spoken to therapists. Philip and I are aiming to see his therapist — but he's [Philip] like my therapist too. We do lots of check-ins. He asks me definitely at least once a day, "How are you feeling physically/emotionally/mentally?" And I make sure I'm looking after him. I definitely feel like he looks after me first. Bless him, he's a good one.

Do you have any small self-care rituals that help you?

I think that there's something that works for everyone, but I think you have to make it something that is doable. Something that feels too big, you just might not get round to. So something as simple as nourishing yourself — because I know that I don't feel my best if I'm not taking something in that I know is nourishing my body from within — is a priority.

Also, gratitude journaling... And it doesn't have to be physically written; even if it's just in your head, going into that place of "I'm grateful today because the sun is shining," or "I'm grateful today because my baby stood up for three seconds. That's the longest he's ever done." There is generally something that we can find to be grateful for, even if it's simply saying, "I'm awake and I'm alive today." ... It's kind of nourishing yourself inward. as well.

Speaking out things to yourself in the mirror is also really, really powerful. I started by using the [self-help author, who espouses positive affirmations] Louise Hay books as I was recovering and in my early 20s. I started with a friend like, "We should try this." And we both felt ridiculous at the beginning, I can't deny it. We were taking green juices and reading Louise Hay, and we were like, "Is this gonna work?" ... But I really saw the benefit in that because you know what, if there's going to be someone who's going to say "You are loved today," why shouldn't it be yourself in the mirror telling yourself, "You are loved, you are worthy of this. You are enough." I tell you what, that will change how you feel about yourself immediately. And everyone deserves for you to be your own hype woman every day.

Are there any inspiring influencers you follow on social media?

Oh, there are so many, and that's why I love my feed, because I really try and diversify [it] so I can keep learning and growing. One of my best friends called Tiff McFierce, she's New York-based and actually created something called "Look IN," which is wellness really focused on the Black community... And I love being around her and her energy and I miss her dearly every single day.

Recently I've become more of a fan of [author] Eve Rodsky... she really helps women to reclaim their space because I think we all know how burnt out everyone is... so she really gifts the knowledge to help you cope with that in the modern day. And there's another friend of mine, Melissa Wood Health, who does the most wonderful workouts, and there's something about her energy that's just calming.

I feel like I've got incredible women to look up to everywhere I look. I think that's something really important to share: Go through your feed and if you aren't inspired or if you aren't learning something or if you aren't uplifted, you can unfollow that person. I think it's really important that we continue to curate our feed and bring in people who do uplift us and do inspire us or do teach us something because they're there. We might have to go find them, but they're everywhere.

Being a new mom can be exhilarating, but also exhausting and anxiety-inducing. How are you finding it, and do you have any strategies for getting through stressful moments?

I'm going to be honest, when it first hit me and those waves of just feeling lost, it's such a hard thing to balance because you know, you're so grateful and it's wonderful and it's the best thing ever, but you're also just feeling these lows or these moments where you've never felt so confused or pressurized or that you've kind of lost your whole concept of who you are. I've never been challenged that way before. It definitely took me a little while, but being consistent by thinking, "OK, how am I going to look after my wellness? How am I checking in with myself?" That really was what kept me afloat. Just giving myself grace every day, [practicing] breath work, letting myself cry, letting myself feel those emotions, sharing that with people, sharing that with my partner.

And frankly, the pandemic has been a really difficult time and it wasn't ideal having a baby in a pandemic [but] it did allow my partner to be here and see how hard it was on me. There was a serious amount of sleep deprivation and he felt it too. So I do actually feel really grateful that he really understood what I was going through. But as moms we usually are tougher on ourselves and we hear every single noise throughout the night and we have to, you know, be ready and we feel that pressure to make sure that this little human is OK all the time and that just doesn't switch off. So you have to find those little moments in the day, if it is grabbing your Activia and making sure that your gut health is OK, if it is getting a quick workout in, if it is FaceTiming a friend who's going to uplift you, whatever that looks like. If you can make those little consistent things, that's going to help.

You've been really candid about the less-glamorous aspects of motherhood, which seldom get talked about, such as what your periods are like after, or what happens to your body. Why do you think it's so important to speak out on those things?

I'm definitely trying to speak out as much as I can, because like you said, I just didn't know... It does feel like there's so much shame around it, and there really shouldn't be, because it is normal and it is the hardest thing in the world. But look at what we've done. It's also the most miraculous thing, like, how did we do that? So I [support] sharing it and just letting other mothers know it's going to be OK not to be OK.

And what's really funny is I've had so many kind of well-known faces in my DMs because they've seen me be open about it. And they're like, "What's happening? Like, what happens after this?" Or, "What's sex like after this?" or this or that. So I've had like a little therapy session with all these moms to be, which I feel really good about because I want to tell them what they've got to be prepared for. I had no idea I was going to bleed for, you know, three weeks. And that wasn't pretty; that wasn't cute. No one wants to talk about it, but you're wearing those adult nappies [diapers] for three weeks or more.

Are there any wellness trends you think are overrated?

I think the overarching theme of restriction is just awful. I've obviously been through it myself, going on diets that just were not nourishing and not great for my body or my gut bacteria or anything like that — just damaging, in fact. So I think people thinking they need to take away things from their life. I think that bringing things in as an addition, because they are good for you and they feel great and they're beneficial, that is where health trends should be. I think that we already have enough going on and being told we can't and we should do this and we shouldn't do that is just very confusing.

I think there are a lot of trends that are overrated, and I think that unfortunately, a lot of people want people to be on an unrealistic plan that doesn't work and isn't accessible and it is also usually expensive and exclusive and not inclusive of all people or all body types. That's not how we should be living. That general theme of restriction is toxic and diet culture in general is toxic.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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