Rachel Hollis’ body-positive bikini photo has gone viral. Photo: The Chic Site/Facebook.
A photo of a mother-of-three wearing a bikini and showing off her “permanently flabby” post-baby figure has gone viral for its empowering message about body image.
On Saturday, Rachel Hollis, founder of the lifestyle website The Chic Site, posted a photo of herself wearing a two-piece bathing suit while on the beach in Cancun with her husband of 11 years. “We were just hanging out drinking tequila and I thought my monogramed bikini top was really cool so I asked my husband to take a photo of me,” Hollis, 32, tells Yahoo Parenting. “When I saw the photo, I noticed my stomach and realized that I had never seen a really honest bikini shot on social media, so I thought, ‘I’ll just post this for the moms.’”
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Hollis captioned the photo, “I have stretch marks and I wear a bikini. I have a belly that’s permanently flabby from carrying three giant babies and I wear a bikini. My belly button is saggy… (which is something I didn’t even know was possible before!!) and I wear a bikini. I wear a bikini because I’m proud of this body and every mark on it. Those marks prove that I was blessed enough to carry my babies and that flabby tummy means I worked hard to lose what weight I could. I wear a bikini because the only man who’s opinion matters knows what I went through to look this way. That same man says he’s never seen anything sexier than my body, marks and all. They aren’t scars ladies, they’re stripes and you’ve earned them. Flaunt that body with pride!”
She posted it to her company Facebook page and within five minutes, the photo had racked up 100 likes. By Tuesday, the photo had more than 325,000 likes and more than 41,000 shares. “We couldn’t believe it,” says Hollis. Then something amazing happened.
In the comment section, women began proudly posting photos of their own post-baby bodies — “And it seemed like some had taken photos on the spot and posted them,” says Hollis — with statements such as, “This is me! After 2 kids, 1 miscarriage, 7 bladder surgeries, ovarian cancer and a hysterectomy! Love my bikini,” “Rock the mama body,” and “Here is my imperfect tummy but from it I have a perfect daughter.”
Many also vowed to shed their body anxiety going forward. One woman wrote, “Seeing this may give me the courage to wear a bikini again. Had my son almost 8 years ago and haven’t shown my stomach since.” Another: “I don’t look half as good as this but I will probably never look better than I do. Maybe it’s time not to care.”
Even men chimed in. One disabled veteran wrote, “I don’t have legs but I still wear shorts…bottom line, I’m with the lovely lady. To hell what other people think. I’m me, if you don’t like what you see, look the other way!”
But not everyone was supportive of Hollis. “Some said the photo was essentially a cry for attention and that I was shallow for posting about stretch marks when people have more serious problems,” she says. “I feel that they missed the point of the post.”
Hollis says she’s always struggled with her weight, even before the birth of her sons, ages 2, 6, and 8. “After my first pregnancy I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Hawaii and was hanging out at the pool with all the executive wives,” she says. “Everyone was wearing a bikini and I wore a tankini. When I look at those photos, my body language reveals how self-conscious I was.” It was only after her third baby that Hollis learned healthy eating and exercise habits and returned to her pre-pregnancy weight. “I had a breast lift too, which I’m honest about,” she says.
It’s a refreshingly candid message in a sea of curated social media feeds and a much-needed pushback against the idea of postpartum perfection. In March, mother-of-four Joanna Venditti blogged about her struggles with weight and posted unretouched photos of her body before, during, and after carrying twins. “Isn’t it incredible what the human body can do?” she wrote. Her photos were shared 8,000 times and garnered much praise for their honesty. Even Maria Kang (a.k.a. “Hot Mom”) — a mother-of-three who in 2013 ignited Internet fury after posting a Facebook photo showcasing her six-pack abs in a bikini surrounded by her children with the tagline, “What’s Your Excuse?” — is now leading body-positive workout clubs around the world.
“It made me teary to read all the comments from women, all of whom had unique reasons for struggling with their weight,” says Hollis. “It’s a reminder that we shouldn’t judge anyone.” But the best lesson from Hollis’s photo is that it’s a teachable moment for children. “If a mother is confident, her daughter will be too and her son will also view women more positively,” she says.