Protein Pills, Beach Bodies and Mixed Messages #eachbodysready

The sun is out (sometimes) and the summer holidays are booked (or being booked/dreamed about). Consequently, it’s that time of the year again; time to really drill the “your body is not good enough for a bikini” message home to the 99.999%  of women who don’t look like a post-airbrushed Victoria’s Secret model. Magazines will be laying on 8-page spreads about the latest in juicing cleanses, or how to get killer abs whilst sitting at your desk. Woo frickin hoo.

At times like these there are a number of options open to the 99.999%:

a) proceed to engage in the latest 5-2/Atkins/’you are what you eat’ dieting craze (preferably this will involve a few purchases of books/supplements/juicing machines).

b) take up the latest in Insanity/bums tums and thighs/Boxercise exercise regimes (preferably this will also involve buying DVDs, subscribing to YouTube channels, or at least forking out for some over-sized inflatable balls).

c) Starve yourself (it’s not funny cos it’s true).

d) All of the the above.

e) Rise up and smash the bloody patriarchy.

f) Vigorously complain about the pressure women face to maintain largely unachievable body shapes/sizes whilst eating chocolate and secretly wishing you had arms like Jennifer Anniston.

I’ll let you guess which option I’ve plumped for this year. Sigh.

Whilst wading through the whole I-know-that-society-has-given-me-a-completely-unattainable-ideal-body-image-but-I-still-want-a-flat-stomach-and-a-gravity-defying-bosom quagmire It was nice to see a stick-it-to-the-man story doing the rounds last week. I discovered it on the Huff Post with this super-strong headline:

Irate commuters have been defacing this lovely little ‘beach body’ advert:


*screams into pillow with incandescent rage*

I mean where do you begin? With the fact that this brand is tying to sell us MEAL REPLACEMENTS of pills and powder that cost £62 (SIXTY TWO POUNDS?? From what I can surmise that’s only a two week supply) and contain caffeine? That the implication of the advert is that you have to lose weight to have access to the beach? Or that the company who sells the protein pills posts tweets like these: Um, yeah, because you either look like the (gorgeous, healthy and probably very nice) model in those ads or you are “fat and out of shape”: you’re sort of proving the point here guys! The truth is that there are a lot of fit and healthy women who would never look like that in a bikini. Some of us have little boobs, some of us have big bums, some of us have stretch marks. You get the picture.

(For more on beach body bullshit hop along to The Artist Formerly Known As Sisterhood and All That for a peek at this splendid post)

A weird but largely unchallenged perfectionism seems to hang around body image. Either we are the paradigm of vigorous exercise and strict diet or we aren’t good enough. Either we’re at the lowest end of a healthy BMI or we’re ‘fat’ and need to lose weight/tone up/drop a dress size.  It’s more than slightly infuriating.

But hurrah for the angry commuting public of London! They have taken it upon themselves to demonstrate just how they feel about these adverts. There are various approaches from giving the finger in a twitter pic:

lols

to a simple yet effective post-it note,

to grander (and slightly less legal) gestures


If you didn’t know, Dear Reader, this particular form of graffiti is know as ‘subvertising’. Like, subverting advertising, clever huh? Indeed the #eachbodysready campaign has grown apace! Hence the coverage from the Huff Post, BBC, and all them lot. There’s a petition and everything, though I’m not sure I want the adverts to be taken down, I’d rather every single one of them were subvertised. How cool would that be?

Huzzah! Up the sisterhood.

Yes, it was all going so well, my feminist hopes were lifted and my body image demons quieted for a moment as I revelled in the civil disobedience that was taking place on the London underground. If only I hadn’t scrolled down.

Never. Scroll. Down.

Because when I did I found that despite running an article on such an empowering topic, the Huffington Post had also run a body-shaming link at the bottom of this very same page.


That’s right. “Twelve celebs whose weight gain you won’t believe!”* Seriously? Is the actually happening? We are just staring at strangers who have gained weight and judging them. Epic fail, Huffington, epic fail.

Just FYI, this was the picture they used for fat Britney. WTF.

Just FYI, this was the picture they used for fat (ie gorgeous and healthy) Britney. WTF.

It’s no wonder that even the bolshiest of us have underlying body issues. Most of the celeb ‘before’ pictures were taken in their teens. But then we are all supposed to look like adolescent girls accord to most high fashion magazines. Either that or Marylin Monroe (in her ’60s corset and pointy boob bra).

Sigh again.

A few years back on Radio Four there was a show called the People’s Manifesto, hosted by Mark Thomas. Totes hilares and now a book (google it). The basic idea was that the audience proposed new laws, some bizarre, some bloody genius. One of my all time favourites is that all models have be chosen at random from the electoral register. Isn’t that the most brilliant thing you’ve ever heard? How much would everyone love that advert if it was Mavis Brown, 62, from Scunthorpe in the bright yellow bikini? Suddenly we would get a much more representative idea of what bodies actually look like and stop being told over and over again how they should look. Oh how I would love my son to grow up surrounded by normal images of normal bodies, rather than spirit-crushing ideals that make us mere mortals feel like utter crap.

Okay, the whole models-by-ballot thing is almost certainly an unachievable dream, but maybe next time you see an image that makes you want to shrivel into a ball and repeat the mantra ‘I will not eat a Mars bar” over and over, you could just picture our Mavis in the same pose. Failing that, have a look at the pic of me and my thigh in an old post on body image. Laughter is the best medicine, after all, and it seems mockery is a pretty excellent protest.

What do you think of it all? Would you deface one of the ads if you had the chance? Or do you think it’s no big deal? Comment below or tweet me @aafew. Oh and if you like this please do:

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Tots100 MAD Blog Awards

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*this link isn’t on the page anymore, but it was all day yesterday.

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Mummy’s First Review: Revel Body SOL (I’m bringing sexy back)

*Fair warning: though there are no details at all divulged in this review, it is for a product of an adult nature, so if you know me and wish to regard me as an asexual being, look away now*

Dear Reader, I have ummed and erred over whether or not to include reviews in this blog. Since 90% of my posts are rants about the avalanche of advice that descends upon parents ‘these days’, it feels a bit hypocritical to then start telling you what and what not to buy for your kids. But, on the other hand, I quite like free stuff, and I also like being critical. Hmm. Dilemma.
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The Second Trimester: Don’t believe the hype.

Annotations my own.

Extract from an NHS email. Annotations my own.

In the early days of pregnancy, when nobody at work knows, you’re experiencing new levels of grumpy, and the faintest whiff of food makes you dry-retch (or worse); there is one, great shining light at the end of the hormonal tunnel. It is a beacon of hope, a promised land of glowing skin, glossy hair and boundless energy; it is the second trimester. *angelic choral overture*

Everybody tells you that the first 12 weeks are the worst and you’ll start to feel better soon. Your boobs will stop feeling so odd; the not-just-in-the-morning sickness will subside and you won’t be so face-meltingly tired all-of-the-bloody-time. Huzzah, that sounded pretty good to me.

So, around week 13, I began to anticipate this change. I looked forward to not feeling the need to make my husband to list of the ingredients of every meal he cooked for my personal approval (‘no, don’t put any of that in, and can you bake those rather than boil them‘ Bleurgh to me). I thought that I would start making it to 3, maybe even 4pm without feeling physically sick with tiredness. The best was yet to come, the time would soon be here when I could, you know, really start enjoying my pregnancy.

But, Dear Reader, I have some shocking news (that you will in no way have guessed from the tone of the last three paragraphs and the image above):

IT DIDN’T BLOODY HAPPEN!

Week 13 came and went, but I thought I had been a bit optimistic and change was just around the corner. But as weeks 14, 15 and 16 went by and I still felt like utter crap, I began to doubt the ‘second trimester’ line.

It’s no wonder I was sucked in. The promise of respite in that much-celebrated middle stage of your pregnancy is EVERYWHERE. Women tell you about it, magazines tell you about it, the books tell you about it. My NHS emails told me about it. The NHS I tells ya!!

Dear Reader, even the pregnancy Bible itself, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, puts ‘more energy’ at the top of its ‘what you may be feeling’ list. Honestly, what’s a girl to do??

what to expect 2nd trimester

You may point out the massive caveat directly before the words ‘more energy’, but I’m not gonna lie to you, I always go straight to the bullet points. That’s what they’re for, right?

And I’m not the only one with whom these words did not chime. Loads of my friends had the same experience; watching for the magical week 14 and then seeing it pass by without out feeling one bit better. There are legions of us all over the world, crying out in an impassioned chorus:

“Where are our thick, luxurious manes? Where are our gorgeous strong nails? Where is our clear, radiant complexion? Where, oh where, oh where is our bloody energy boost???”

There is not much I can do about it now, of course, except get the word out to others. Unsuspecting newly-pregnant women, clutching their bump-books and eagerly awaiting the illusive glow. Don’t be fooled! Our bodies, like our babies, don’t read the bloody books! You will not be on a predictable timetable. It just don’t work like that.

Thinking about it, pregnancy is a really good time to ease into the idea that human biology is unpredictable and you just have to go with the flow sometimes. Even if the flow is vom-tinged or very, very cry-y.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, Dear Reader! I didn’t have a completely miserable pregnancy, not at all. For me, the fog just took a little longer to lift.

When I was about 18 weeks pregnant I remember talking to another pregnant woman in church one morning. She was about 2 months ahead of me and she asked how I was feeling. I looked at her with wide, bag-laden eyes and said “Rubbish”. Or something like that, it was church so I probably didn’t swear. Probably. She instantly replied “20 weeks, 20 weeks and you’ll start to feel better, honestly.” At the time I didn’t much believe her. I had heard all this crap before. I knew she was being sincere but I just couldn’t get my hopes up again. The whole ‘2nd trimester debacle’ had broken my little pregnant heart.

But Lo! What light from yonder window breaks? ‘Tis the 20 weeks!! ‘Tis the half-way line.

From the Shakespeare quote above you may be able to deduce that I did indeed feel A LOT better in the second half of my pregnancy. And I know I lot of women who experienced carrying a baby as a game of two halves, rather than three thirds. I didn’t get the heavy, achey crap at the end either even though Bubs was 2 weeks late (I know a lot of you do, sozzers). I felt crap for the first half and pretty good for the second. Simples.

So there you have it. My body, like my baby, did not behave in a textbook manner. With hindsight that is no great surprise. But then, that’s sort of the nature of hindsight isn’t it? Hmm, moving on…

If you have a pregnant friend, or a friend who may get pregnant in the future, or you have friend who has a friend who may get pregnant in the future, will you do me a favour and pass on this pearl of wisdom:

Pregnancy is often talked about in trimesters. You may experience it in this way, but you may not. Your experience may be more akin to halves, or quarters, or sevenths for all we know. Because you’re you and your baby is whoever they are, and there is only one you-and-your-baby. So, you know, don’t believe the hype.

Cheers.

 

How was it for you? Were you a textbook pregnancy? Share your experiences by posting a comment below, visiting my facebook page, or tweeting me @aafew.

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And then the fun began...

Of swimming and Kegels: The postnatal exercise chat.

If you have had a baby in the UK then, at some point very soon after you gave birth a midwife, nurse, physio, health visitor or all of the above should have talked to you about exercise and recovery. It is very very very cool that this happens (I actually mean this, though I know sarcasm is what you’ve come to expect from me) but in my experience I have found that the subject of this chat tends to fall into two different categories: the essential bit and the optimistic bit.

The Essential Bit.

Now, Dear Reader if you take nothing else from this post, nay this entire blog, take this. Do. Your. Pelvic. Floor. Exercises.

And. Keep. Doing. Them.

Got that?

The midwives etc will probably have harangued you about this a few times. And if you went to a pregnancy/postnatal yoga classes you have probably experienced the ever so slightly awkward silence that happens when the instructor says something like

“And now we’ll do our pelvic floor exercises. And lift…”

No eye contact happens in that part of the class. Absolutely none. 

But as much as you may not want to hear another mention ‘making a motion as if to stop you passing water’ ever again in all of your days, there people are right!  Especially when they tell you to do them for the rest of your life and not just until you’re ‘back to normal’. As if that ever happens any way.

At first it’s not difficult to remember your Kegels (as American baby books seem to insists pelvic floor exercises are called) when you’ve just gone through labour. Because, let’s be honest, we have a few embarrassing reminders. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then I’m afraid you’ll be lost for the next little while. In fact, if you haven’t wet yourself at least once on the way to the loo shortly after giving birth (and beyond) I’m afraid we just can’t be friends. We just can’t.

(Pregnant ladies, sorry if that last paragraph has horrified you, but, sister, it’s happening.)

When things start to get a bit less Tena Lady, though, and you’re mind is on other things – or one very loud and pooey other thing – it’s easy to start slacking. DON’T. Don’t ask me how I know, just take it from me. Keep up the Kegels!

Therein lies the most useful part of the postnatal exercise chat. Shall we practise now ladies? And lift…

 

The More Than Slightly Optimistic Bit.

I think I got ‘the exercise talk ‘ in one form or another a total of three times. When being discharged from hospital, when being discharged from the community midwives and then again when I went into hospital for the crazies (around the 10 week mark). The first two times I was warned “No exercise other than walking for the first 6 weeks.” Um, yeah, that’s totally fine.

The first 6 weeks? Try 6 months! I hardly bloody exercised before I had kids, why am I going to start now that I’m being woken-up three times a night? If I have baby-free time it will be spent drinking wine and watching offensive television, or sleeping. Thank you very much.*

 

Incessant evening rocking was all the exercise I needed when my son was 6 weeks old.

Incessant evening rocking was all the exercise I needed when my son was 6 weeks old.

 

So, yes, the 6 weeks came and went, and the next six weeks came and went, without so much as a lunge in sight. After a while I did start to go to a delightfully laid back class called ‘Rock Your Baby’ where I could sit Bubs in his sling whilst feeling the burn to a soundtrack of ‘Radio Gaga’ and ‘Moves like Jagger’. Ideal.

Because, the thing is, when you have a baby pretty much the only way you can exercise is with your baby. Yes, okay, you could go out to an evening class that starts at 7.30pm and finishes at 9pm but until you’ve got the sleep thing down that is basically self-torture. And even after, when the magical, mythical ‘evening’ returns to your lives going spinning may not be the first thing you want to do with it. (See my previous wine and television comment).

This is why the next bit of repeated advice from health-professional seems a bit incongruous.

“Swimming is a great way to exercise for new mums.”

Is it? Is it? I mean, yes, I get logically why it is. Non weight-bearing, uses the whole body, calming to the mind etc. But there’s this other issue that sort of gets in the way here. It’s that I have a baby. And babies aren’t that good at swimming. Okay, yes they are, they’ve got the ‘dolphin reflex’ or something and if you pay £12 a week from the age of 3-days-old they’ll be  swimming like a fish before they’re weaned, blah blah blah. But I can’t very well strap Bubs to my back and start doing lengths now, can I?

And even if you can find childcare there are other issues. Like, do breastpads even work in the pool? I have this unshakable image of a new mum happily booming up and down unaware of the two white vapour trails following behind her like she’s a jumbo jet.

There’s also the swimming costume issue. I believe we should all be proud of our postnatal bodies (see previous post) but we’re not, are we? And catching yourself in one of those awful leisure centre mirrors the first time you that bravely don your tankini once more just isn’t great. But that’s nothing compared to suddenly being half naked infront of 50 strangers when you’re at your most physically vulnerable. In my local pool they have a cafe on the same level as the pool and people basically sit out on a terrace and watch the swimmers. Fully clothed. With a cup of tea. Whilst I’m aware that I will be very glad of this facility in later years when I can lazily play on my phone whilst the kids splash about, it currently makes me feel like a postnatal whale in an aquarium.

 

So, that’s it really. I don’t entirely hve a point with this post except to say, you know, go for a walk every now and again but I wouldn’t stress about exercise. Do it when you want to do it. Maybe trick you’re baby into thinking you’re playing a delightful game with them when really you’re using the little one in as human dumbbells. But don’t sweat. We’ve got enough to worry about.

 

 

 

 

*exercise is, like, really good for your mental health (and physical health, obvs). you should in no way take my nonsensical ranting as discouragement.

 

Bump to frump: the highs and lows of motherly body image.

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.

I have never see a non-pregnant woman strike this pose in a photo. Ever.

I have never see a non-pregnant woman strike this pose in a photo. Ever.

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:

Aw, what a lovely photo!

Aw, what a lovely photo!

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.

Thigh!  Thigh! Thigh!

Thigh! Thigh! Thigh!

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!