There’s a lot of talk of women ‘feeling fat’ during pregnancy. All those movies where the size 6 Hollywood actress moans to her doting husband in a saccharine LA accent, “I just feel so bloated!” Yes love, that’s because there is an actual human in your womb, you know? It’s, like, growing and stuff. Still I can imagine there are lots women who genuinely do feel like that, especially in that early is-she-pregnant-or-getting-fat stage. But for many of us it’s liberating.
When you’re pregnant your stomach is supposed to protrude, Allelujah! Women who have spent years self-consciously sucking their belly buttons into their spines can let go. Finally our bodies have permission to look how they are actually supposed to look! I wore tight fitting dresses like nobody’s business when I was ‘with child’. I know a few women who did. Because suddenly all those lumps and bumps you are conscious of are just part of your fertile, womanly physique. Aw yeah.
Of course, I shouldn’t need to be pregnant to turn unselfconsciously to the side in a photo. OF COURSE I shouldn’t. But there you are, I did. And is it any wonder? I mean, have you ever read a women’s magazine that doesn’t have some sort of weight loss advice in it? No, you haven’t. (Oh, you have? No, feminist magazines don’t count my dear).
But even after my Bubs was born I had a good six months where I wasn’t body conscious. This period of grace was pretty empowering. I’d look in the mirror and think, I’ve had a baby, of course I look different. A little extra junk in the trunk is natural when you’ve had an extra human under the bonnet for a while! I could wear my slightly looser skin like a badge of pride! Eating a massive slice of cake every other day was fine; I bloody well deserved it, even if I wasn’t breast-feeding! Ah, those were the days.
Then, suddenly, something changed. Maybe it was that my friends started doing exercise again, or that less and less people seemed to be ordering ‘fries with that’. Or maybe it was just that I was slightly less sleep deprived and so had the energy to give a crap about my appearance again. You know, I would have been fine with just having the energy to do a bit of housework, write and/or socialise but, there you go, the brain prioritises in mysterious ways.
The baby-blue tinted glasses were off, and suddenly the mirror was not as kind. My midriff has always been the part of my body I am most self-conscious about. I do not purchase tops that won’t cover my hip bones and I am constantly ‘sucking it all in’, especially in photos. Now, Dear Reader, I am very much aware that there’s not a lot to suck in. I’m not fat, but I’m also not magically magazine-like and so these things get to me (ooh, ‘the air-brushing mirror’; now there’s an invention that would sell…)
Really, I blame three-way mirrors. I mean, why do they exist?? I’m sure shops sell less clothes because women suddenly see themselves from every angle and run, screaming from the store. It was in one of these monstrosities that I first notices my back rolls *shudder*. I’ve got very little flesh around my waist – it likes to congregate about 4 inches south – but what is there seems to have formed some untidy pleating either side of my spine. Nice one. Even though I am vividly aware that all that skin did stretch rather a lot, you know, around an actual human (think that’s becoming my catchphrase), I still don’t want it to be there. Instead of bearing the marks of child-bearing with pride I, like many women, would rather they disappeared!
Anyhoo, here I am, on my hols now in the South of France (daaaaaaarling). I’m wearing a bikini, because I bloody well want to. I’m swimming a lot. It’s all good. The other day my husband took some lovely photos of me and my son. I’d like to share one of them with you:
Dear Reader, when you look at this photo what’s the first thing you see? A very cute baby? A happy holiday snap? A contented mother? The most kickass paddling pool of all time? Well, I’ll tell you what the first thing I saw was.
Yep, that’s the awful truth of the matter. My husband showed me the photos, saying how lovely there were, but as I scrolled through I found it hard concentrate on anything other than my cellulite. I told my husband this and he just said ‘aw, love, that’s so sad’. I agreed, tried to snap out of it and looked at the photo clearly detailing my amazing life.
The crazy thing is, I know my thighs are just pretty darn normal. They’re slightly wobbly and bobbly. They rub together a bit when I walk. They don’t have a weird triangular gap at the top, because that’s just not a real thing. They are significantly larger than my calves, because THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO BE. I also know the camera angle is not the best, and part of the reason my thigh protrudes so much in this pic is that I was bending over so that stomach wouldn’t be in view. Sigh.
So why share this all with you? I would like to state that I am emphatically not fishing for compliments! I am lucky enough that I have moments in my life where I feel good about how I look. Yes, those moments often involve make up etc, but they happen. I know some women don’t have them at all. I also want to share more than just a sense of common experience with you other body-conscious mums and dad out there. I want to share some indignation too.
So, on top of attending three ‘stimulating’ classes a week; giving my child fresh, health food at every meal; rejuvenating my social life so I don’t get isolated, keeping the house vaguely hygienic (clean is a bridge too far) AND going back to bloody work, we’re also supposed to to fit in exercise and say no to chips? Piss off!
Now, I do actually quite like doing exercise, and I know I feel better about myself when I do it, but I want to do it for those reasons. Not because I hate my body. In fact, I want it to be for quite the opposite reason; because I love my body.
Do you love your baby? Are you glad they’re in the world despite the ravaging, exhausting, devastating, heart-opening rollercoaster you’ve been thrust onto? Well, guess what? That baby is here because you grew them in your body! And even if your child is adopted, or you’re a dad (or both) your body may have changed because all of your time and energy is going into caring for someone else and you just eat a lot more frozen pizza than you used to. More power to ya I say!
When we have children we don’t expect anything to go back to the way it was, not really. So why should we expect our bodies to? Of course, we know the reason, it’s because every popstar worth her salt has done a post-pregnancy, how-I-got-back-to-six-stone-in-ten-minutes photo shoot. But I wonder how said pop star really feels about that. Perhaps she was so scared of being thrown out of The Saturdays/Atomic Kitten/Other Generic Girl Group that she lost weight in a crazy, unhealthy way. Or maybe she just hired a nanny and a personal trainer.
Either way, it shouldn’t be our job to imitate the fiction of postnatal banging-bods that the media wants us to. It’s bullshit. So let them eat cake!