SHE is known to her legions of fans as the body-confident former reality star who is not afraid to show some skin.
But while her biggest challenge used to be choosing which slinky dress to wear to an Essex hotspot, these days Kate Ferdinand is instead learning to love her new post-baby body.
The former Towie regular, who is married to ex-England footie star Rio, has candidly revealed how "overwhelmed" she was adjusting to her figure following the birth of their son Cree shortly before Christmas .
Kate, 29, won huge praise from her fans when just 11 days after Cree's birth she shared a warts-and-all picture with the tot on Instagram .
Wearing a pair of less-than-glamorous big black pants she also talked about how difficult she was finding being a new mum.
And in an exclusive interview from the family home in Kent, Kate says she felt she had to speak out.
She also admits it is "crazy" looking back on her days on ITVBe reality show The Only Way Is Essex, which she quit after starting to date the former Man Utd defender.
Kate says: "There are so many things about motherhood that no one tells you. I'd had the baby and I was in this whirlwind of emotion.
"My body was not the body I recognised. I felt really overwhelmed.
"I was feeling really abnormal and I started panicking. 'Am I meant to be feeling like this?'
"I was so happy but very emotional. And I was looking through social media and thinking, 'Is this normal? Because no one ever says this'.
"I thought, 'If I put up a photo of me with my hair and make up done perfect, that is not real and it is not how I feel'.
"I felt like I had to share it. And then it was crazy the amount of people who told me they felt the same. I think that's why it is right to not share the perfect pictures all the time.
"When you are going through post-pregnancy, you can't see out of the bubble. You think, 'I am never going to go back to normal or feel the same again'.
"But you do come out of the other side and you will feel OK."
While the honest post saw her 1.4million followers flooding her with gratitude for being so open, Kate says she may have one slight regret.
She says: "I am a bit freaked out that those big black knickers have been seen by the world."
Despite her own strength and determination, Kate admits she did feel pressure to bounce back after having Cree, who was born by emergency caesarean .
And as a parent to Rio's three children from his marriage to his late wife Rebecca Ellison , Kate had to juggle the newborn with still being a doting mum to the older children.
She says: "There is a lot of pressure to bounce back but I don't feel it is realistic with a newborn baby and three other children.
"I would love to look how I looked before Cree but I am not putting a load of pressure on myself because things don't always go to plan when you have a baby.
"You might plan to eat healthily and go to the gym. But then something happens and you still haven't cooked dinner, so you end up snacking.
"I just thought, 'I need to enjoy this moment with my family rather than freaking out about whether I do or don't feel good, or whether I don't look like how I used to look'.
"Obviously I love the gym and I love exercising. But I might not make my session every day because the baby might not have slept and I am really tired.
“I am not putting that pressure on myself. I try to move when I can, I will try and exercise more and I will try and eat more healthily.
“But if I fancy a vodka because I need one, I won't beat myself up about it.
"People do comment on what you look like, so I was a bit nervous about uploading stuff at the beginning.
"I felt like everyone expected me to look a certain way.
"I thought, 'If I keep putting up amazing photos all the time it just isn't my reality'. I'm sitting at home in my gym clothes with no make-up on four days a week."
Kate and Rio , 42, welcomed Cree into the world on December 18 — just one day before the South East was plunged into Tier Four pandemic restrictions.
As a result, Kate has barely left the house with her son and is now having to learn about being a mum all over again.
She explains: "I am taking Cree out for the first time and he is six months old.
"Because I haven't been able to do anything that is the norm for five or six months, you are extra-anxious about really silly things you would have done straight away.
"I fed Cree outside a restaurant for the first time the other day and I was panicking about the bottle, his muslin and all the things he needs to feel at home.
"It's the first time I changed him on a changing mat outside of our house. It's all new to me."
After being unable to see other new mums face to face, social media became her mirror on the world.
Kate adds: "I have found social media really negative and I have struggled with it at times. But for the first time ever it felt like such a positive place for me.
“There is a community of mums who are there to help. I didn't feel alone.
"I shared a few posts about how I was feeling after that and it made me feel free. I wasn't going through this alone and it was normal to feel how I felt."
Rio's wife Rebecca lost her year-long battle with cervical cancer in 2015, aged just 34.
The couple had children — Lorenz, 14, Tate, 12, and Tia, ten — who Kate fondly refers to as her own, revealing they have helped her immensely.
And the arrival of Cree helped make what had been a tough year a little easier.
She explains: "I was so nervous about having Cree in lockdown with all the kids around, but actually we have had so much quality time together.
“And we are so thankful Cree has come, as he has given us a bit more excitement.
"The kids have been amazing. If I need to eat when they get home from school, they can have him — or if I am cooking and he is feeding at the same time, I can ask them to hold him for five minutes while I get sorted.
"We are both really lucky the kids are of a certain age where they can help with different things.
"Rio and the kids mucked in with the cooking and the cleaning. I feel like we have all learned a lot.
"Our kids had to help and now they do jobs they didn't do before, like cleaning their own toilets.
"Now we have a rota for the children and they earn pocket money from certain jobs.
"They've learnt a lot of life skills. I think we all have a newfound appreciation of life before this."
Aside from the domestic bliss, Kate admits the Ferdinands did have their challenges — most notably, and like thousands of other families across the UK, home schooling.
Kate says: "At the beginning it was really difficult because it was quite full-on. We were really struggling with juggling everything.
"As parents, you don't know the answer to everything. I had Google up and I was like, 'Oh my God, am I meant to know what this word means?' You feel silly sometimes."
Life for Kate could not be further from the one fans of Towie remember from her time on the reality show.
She quit the hit series in 2017 after two years to settle into domestic life with Rio, who she married in a lavish ceremony in Turkey in 2019.
Kate says: "Every now and then a clip will come up of me on the TV and the kids will start laughing and be like, 'Oh my God, that is not you!'
"I never saw myself here, of course. Life throws you in crazy directions and I do believe I am here for a reason.
"I am so grateful I met Rio and the children and that our lives are as they are now. But it is crazy to look back and see where I was and where I am now.
"Life will never be perfect, but we work at it and we love each other. That is all that matters."
With restrictions lifting across the UK and the country beginning to open up, Kate admits now that she, like many people, feels torn about returning to normal life.
She says: "Cree probably has no idea what has hit him, as the kids are all back at school now — so it's just us and him in the house.
"Although we have all driven each other mad and mental at times, it sort of feels quite special. We couldn't wait for them to go back to school and for us to get on with normal life. But it is strange not having them in the house.
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"Like, I do miss them now. The house is never quiet with a screaming baby but without them around it does feel strange.
"We have had so many special moments that we wouldn't have had if there hadn't been a lockdown.
"I will always be grateful for that. It was our blessing in disguise."
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