Body image is one of those topics that can always be reexamined. There is always a new ad, a new line of clothing, a new ‘role’ model to discuss. There is always a person impacted by media, culture or peers questioning or doubting the body and beauty that they see before them.
I have been all over the map with my body – loving it and hating it. I have used exercise in dangerous ways, dropping below 100 pound in my mid-twenties. But, since having my son, beauty means different things to me. I tend to celebrate the stretch marks that have calmed to the colour of my flesh, and I am almost ok with the curves that I think will be here until Aodhan is done with the boobs.
The other day, while sunning my stretch marks, I started thinking about the discourse around bodies and pregnancy. I remembered comments in the first week after Aodhan’s birth, like: “wow, you don’t even look like you had a kid” – that was a lie. I mean, seriously, I could have walked out of a pet store with some kitten contraband shoved into the bulge that protruded from my middle. They were saying this instead of saying
hey! it’s ok to be fat because you just birthed a kiddo.
I mean, people weren’t still commenting on my post-baby body when, still nursing at 15 months, I was still chubby around the face and my middle bits. They weren’t commenting because it wasn’t ok anymore for me to be ‘fat’. There was no excuse for me to still be carrying around that extra 10 pounds of flesh. It didn’t matter that I just didn’t have time for 2 hour gym sessions anymore. It didn’t matter that I would rather spend the early hours snuggling my kid (or, you know, taking a shower), instead of hitting the pavement for a run. I wasn’t skinny anymore. And no one was talking about it.
Our society makes room for the bigger bodies of women who are preparing for birth. Interesting though, with this acceptance of our growing size, we are expected to make room for the groping hands of the public who seem to get their ‘fat jollies’ by rubbing our massive fronts. This behaviour to reach out and touch the large bellies of pregnant women is almost status quo; those of us who tell you to ‘back off and get your own belly’ are considered ‘hormonal’ and ‘touchy’. This social acceptance of the pregnant belly, quickly shrinks, becoming judgement and criticism if we don’t fit back into our skinny jeans a few months post-partum. Websites and books suggest that we can hop back into shape by the time our children are 6 months old, and there are countless websites marketing their diet plans to post-partum bodies.
For as much as I find myself loathing these unrealistic reactions to the post-partum body, I am more concerned about the bodies that don’t have the baby.
What happens to the conversation that ended for me with “wow, you look great” for women who have experienced miscarriage, have had abortions, or have placed an infant up for adoption. Again, babies are excuses for those conversations and when those babies aren’t available to massage these ‘body’conversations, the talking just doesn’t happen. For women who have experienced a different end to pregnancy, to the weight gain, to the ligament changes and skeletal transformation there isn’t an entry point into publicly discussing their bodies.
I would argue that many of the women who have experienced abortion, adoption or miscarriage are even more in need of conversation and social inclusion, and yet we don’t have the social mores that can make a space for these bodies and by extension, these women – these mothers. Isn’t this lack of conversation an extension of the cloistering and physical shutting away of women whose bodies haven’t behaved in a way that is considered socially acceptable?
I don’t have any answers. I don’t think our culture has any answers. But it needs to be thought about and talked about. It needs to be considered and we need to ask these questions.
All mothers , all women, and all bodies need to be honoured.
What have been your experiences with a ‘baby-body’? How do you talk about these issues?