It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
Many people have a specific image of Shawn Johnson East in their mind — one that's likely from her days on the balance beam during the height of her Olympic gymnastics career. But the 31-year-old admits that, to her, that feels like a "lifetime ago," as she's since embraced life as a mother, alongside husband and former footballer Andrew East. And the current reality of her athleticism is chasing around her two toddlers while expecting her third child. "I don't even consider myself a gymnast anymore," she tells Yahoo Life.
That isn't to say that East is inactive. However, the way she moves her body certainly has changed, and she's perfectly fine with that.
"I have no expectation of myself to be able to do anything that I used to do, like at all," she says. "I know my abilities and capabilities so well, having been in the sport for so long … So everything that I do is just what I know I feel confident doing."
It's an approach that multiple pregnancies, births and recoveries have taught her over the years. Even right after having her first child, daughter Drew Hazel, now 3, she says she focused heavily on healing.
"I expected after my first delivery to kind of like, bounce right back," she says, noting that she unexpectedly had a C-section, which added extra stress and scars to her body. "I went into it with the mentality of fully rehabbing myself, almost as if I did, like, an ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] surgery."
In September, she took part in Bio Oil's "Labor of Love" campaign, which gifted products to labor and delivery nurses. She reflects fondly on the help that she received from her own team of medical professionals at the hospital where she birthed Drew. "I learned very quickly that being a mom takes time, and it is a labor of love. It's just about going slow those first few months and loving on your baby and then working on yourself slowly as time progresses."
That mentality continued after she had her son Jett James in 2021, and even now as she awaits the arrival of the couple's third kid. "I feel like it's emotionally a little scarier every time just because I realize how big of a miracle it is," she says.
As for the ways in which her body has grown through it all, East says the changes happen "a lot faster" through the recurring pregnancies, but she's comfortable embracing them, which is a sign of true growth for the former Olympian, who has been open about struggling with body image and an eating disorder.
"I feel like I've looked back at every phase of life and gotten a little bit better and stronger-minded in being able to handle it all. I look back at pictures now, as a mom, of myself at the Olympics or in training or postpartum or pregnant for the first time, and there's nothing that I look back on that I don't now appreciate," she says. "It makes it easier to handle this pregnancy and the changes of my body because I have all those references now to go back to. I'm like, ‘Well, I was insecure here, but now looking at the picture, it's so wild and beautiful to see what our bodies are capable of.’ It’s just wisdom, I guess."
Now, she and her husband are making their best effort to pass that wisdom onto their kids by speaking candidly and carefully about their bodies.
"I think about it with every conversation I have with my daughter, I think about it with my son. And I think the most important thing at this phase in life with my children is just, like, leading by example," she says. "We work out at home every day. And when we work out, our kids know it's about working out to feel good. We've never had any other motive to work out. We have to show positivity around working out and not negativity. It's just a lot of really small things that I think we've shifted our mindset on over the years, but will hopefully make a big impact by the time [the kids are] older."
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder please visit the National Eating Disorders (NEDA) website at nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information.