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Kate and I were discussing the troubling issue of body image as a mom — even if you get back to your old “size,” what do you do when you just feel different in your skin, or when you feel like your shape has fundamentally changed? Kate generously offered to share her thoughts in more detail… —Kat
New mothers are given two choices for looking at and thinking about their post-baby bodies. These general messages are:
Message #1: “If Kate Middleton can do it, so can you!”
Come on, it’s time to lose that baby weight! Look, these skinny celebrities did it — you can too! Don’t worry, breastfeeding will make the weight just FALL OFF. This mom isn’t even a celebrity and it wasn’t a problem for HER. In her words, “What’s your excuse?”
Message #2: “Hey, you went through pregnancy and childbirth! Be proud of your body — it’s amazing!”
Sure, it looks a bit different now, but it created a new life! Maybe you even breastfeed your baby — you produced milk that kept a little human being ALIVE! Celebrate and love your body,
stretchmarks tiger stripes and all!
Clearly, the first message isn’t helpful — that’s not to say that moms can’t go back to their pre-baby weight (or even to a number on the scale that’s even lower), but for moms who are struggling with their weight or coming to realize that their bodies may never look exactly as they once did, it’s discouraging.
The second message can be beneficial for many women, and this positive outlook is reinforced by photos of real (i.e., everyday, non-celebrity) mothers on sites like The Shape of a Mother and The Fourth Trimester Bodies Project, and A Beautiful Body Project‘s book The Bodies of Mothers (“powerful stories and truthful unaltered images of mothers”), as well as Instagram photos labeled #takebackpostpartum. (By the way, it’s probably best to consider all of that NSFW.) You can buy t-shirts proclaiming, “I make milk. What’s your superpower?” There are images in our Facebook feeds that explain, “How to get a bikini body: Put a bikini on your body.”
But what if neither of these approaches appeal to you, or your experience simply doesn’t fit that dichotomy? Some examples:
- Maybe you lost the baby weight quickly (perhaps through breastfeeding and/or because your baby wanted to be held all the time, which makes it kind of tough to eat an actual meal — ask me how I know!) but you’re still unhappy with your body shape, or loose skin, or stretchmarks, or the way your pre-pregnancy clothes fit you now.
- Maybe you lost the baby weight but then ended up putting it back on because no one in your family has time to cook real food anymore, or you’ve fallen into the habit of eating leftover tidbits on your kids’ plates, or the stress of being a working mom sends you straight to the fridge for some temporary relief, or you let your gym membership lapse because you can’t seem to fit workouts into your schedule.
- Maybe the main reason you want to lose the baby weight is that you don’t really have the money and/or the time to replace the majority of your pre-baby wardrobe — and anyway, you really like those clothes.
- Maybe you aren’t trying to look exactly like you did in your pre-baby days, but you want to get in better shape to feel healthier and more energetic, or because of a family history of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or other diseases.
- Maybe calling stretchmarks “tiger stripes” makes you roll your eyes.
- Maybe you’ve harbored negative thoughts about your body even before you had kids, and your current feelings are nothing new.
- Maybe you couldn’t care less about your weight right now because you’re preoccupied with serious problems like diastasis recti, postpartum depression, sexual difficulties, or childbirth injuries/pelvic floor problems.
- Maybe you’re happy with your post-baby body no matter what it looks like.
- Maybe you know that the healthier way of looking at your new body is to accept message #2 — but after being bombarded with message #1, it’s seeped into your brain alongside all of the other media messages telling women to be thinner, sexier, prettier, etc. (in contrast to the “dad bod” silliness earlier this year — here’s The Daily Show’s take).
- Maybe you feel like a bad feminist for thinking about this in the first place; some women’s thoughts on that can be found here, here, and here.
How do you feel about your body after having kids? Do you feel that there’s too much pressure for moms to not actually look like they were pregnant for nine months? Have your feelings changed over the months/years? For those who are new moms: how important to you is it to return to your pre-baby weight?
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