Yes, even those with the most toned physiques are critical of their bodies.

On a typical day, sponsored fitness model Ashley Horner posts inspirational pictures and messages to her nearly 500,000 followers on Instagram. However, her post that went live on Wednesday night skyrocketed faster than usual with over 10k likes, probably due to it being so relateable.

The entrepreneur and mother of three boys was pictured seated on a floor with her rock-hard abs exposed. If you zoned in on her belly, you might have noticed a slight crinkle near her bellybutton (maybe).

And so the story begins, where Horner recaptured the period where she felt deeply self-conscious about her post-baby body with “a stomach covered in stretch marks” after undergoing a cesarean section. It was the first time she had hit the gym with the sole intention of reclaiming her shape.

“But to be honest, I was horrified and pretty much trained and was driven outa fear,” she wrote. “I had never seen anyone ever in magazines, or in the industry in general with stretch marks or loose skin.”

Ten months later, the pro fitness competitor took home the top prize at an event, which left her feeling elated. Then a few months after her win, Horner scheduled a photo shoot with a top photographer but she gave him the opportunity to bail out—because she didn’t think he’d be willing to photograph a woman who had stretch marks.

There was silence, followed by a huge roar of laughter. “’ASHLEY!’ There are so many girls I shoot that have stretch marks, it’s quite alright – we just edit the ones that go for print,’” she recalled.

Horner, who runs a training facility in Virginia Beach, admitted to feeling both relieved and disappointed.

“For the past year while trying to adjust to all things new in my life with a little baby,
I had literally cried & hated my body, thought it was ruined, thought ‘what’s the point’ of training,” revealed the triathlete. “I didn’t have a single person I had found relateable.”

While it’s understandable that someone who earns a living as a trainer would be concerned about their appearance, in reality, many new moms have the same insecurities as Horner. Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System studied stretch marks because these line-shaped lesions on the abdomen “may compound the stress of new motherhood” for many females.

“Some women feel like their self-esteem, quality of life, and willingness to engage in certain activities are affected,” stated study author Frank Wang, MD, an assistant professor and dermatologist, in a press release.

And even though social media can provide motivation and positive reinforcement, it could lead to self-comparison and confidence issues. In 2016, investigators from the United Kingdom discovered that pregnant women with a Facebook account had higher body image dissatisfaction compared to those without one. Also, the more time a pregnant female spent on Facebook, the greater her body dissatisfaction.

Once Horner composed herself, she decided it was time to embrace the newness of her reality—her new look, her new role, and her newfound realization.

“At that moment I wanted to be different in an industry that has selfishly painted a false picture of what perfect is/or should be,” she wrote. “Abs are cool, but there is more to me than a body.”

And thank you, Ashley, for reminding us what real strength looks like.

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