aging · body image · gender policing

On yummy mummies, post baby bodies, and life getting better with age

What’s the quest for a better post baby body got to do with fitness?

Partly, I’m not sure. We all talk about getting into shape but that word ‘shape’ means different things to different people. Physical fitness is one thing, looking good another. Clearly many women who’ve given birth want to look better and want to look more like they did pre-baby but I’m skeptical that’s got much to do with fitness. This blog has talked about the distinction between aesthetic and athletic values here.

I confess that there is incredible pressure going on now to look good after childbirth that I didn’t ever experience. And my children weren’t born that long ago. They’re teenagers now. No one ever asked or expected to me to be back in shape weeks or months after each of them was born. Frankly, many of us new mothers then thought we’d get all of the pregnancy and childbirth stuff out of the way before returning seriously to fitness activities. Getting in shape between pregnancies seemed kind of like making a bed when you have an afternoon nap planned.

It’s true I wanted to lose one lot of baby weight gain before adding more but that seems to be to be a rather low bar compared to the mommy-beautiful standards of today. Now new mothers are told that they are letting themselves go if they aren’t back to their pre-pregnancy weight within six weeks.

What’s changed?

1. Celebrity culture: From baby bump to the first torso pics after birth, we follow the lives of celebrity mothers. Some of us watch in awe at the transformations they undergo. They hire chefs, nannies and personal trainers and we want the same effect for ourselves.

2. Cosmetic surgery packages post baby: There is a local radio station my kids listen to in the car on the way to school. One of the frequently played ads is clearly aimed at the “driving your children to school” set.  It’s for a cosmetic surgery clinic in my city that offers a special package for women who’ve had kids, the mommy makeover. It’s not just bellies and tummy tucks, now there’s vaginal rejuvenation and labiaplasty as well. See this post if you want to know why I find the trend to ‘neat and tidy’ labia problematic.

3. Baby boot camps: I confess to mixed feelings about the Mommy and baby boot camps mobbing our parks on spring and summer mornings. They didn’t exist when I had kids and I think I would have loved it. Babies, outside exercise, company, and sunshine and fresh air are all things that I love. (I’ve blogged about the benefits of green exercise here.) I would have loved exercising in the park with other new mothers and their babies. But talking to friends who’ve done this, they felt whipped into shape. They didn’t like it at all. They were miserable. I mean, I like Cross Fit (see here) and other kinds of painful workouts (see here). But many of these women are not regular exercisers. They are there solely out of the desire to lose weight and look good again. Put that way it starts sounding pretty joyless to me.

4. There’s also a sexiness to new mothers that wasn’t around in the mainstream when I was pregnant. I hadn’t heard of talk of MILFs. The upside, I guess, is that mommies can be sexy too. But the pressure to be sexy? Not so much fun. There is also the assumption that Tracy noted that all women older than 25 are mothers. The MILF language can be playful and fun and insofar as women who are also mothers get counted as sexy, it’s a step forward. But what if you don’t want be a yummy mommy? Is there room in our world to do that without pressure?

So that’s why it’s worse now than then.

What can I say that might help?

1. It gets better with age. In my mid-thirties there was a huge difference between me and the women who had never given birth. Nearing fifty, not so much. I have stretch marks and wrinkles. They have stretch marks and wrinkles. None of us have perfect teenager bodies because we’re not teenagers and that’s okay.

2. Comfort in one’s skin comes with age, too. Go read Roz Warren’s At Ease with a Body Fighting Gravity. Go read my piece on not growing old gracefully.

3. Other people will have their own scars. You may trace your imperfections to childbirth but other people have their own bodily traumas such as surgeries, broken bones, stitches, or scar tissues from burn injuries. No one is perfect.

4. I’m still in total awe of what my body can do. Pregnancy and childbirth are part of the story of how I came to be comfortable with my body and able to celebrate its achievements. I admit I’m a bit of an outlier. I loved being pregnant and thought childbirth felt like an athletic achievement. So quit focusing on what your post baby body looks like and focus instead on what it just did. That’s the miraculous bit, not that the superstar of the day managed to film in a bikini three months after giving birth.

5. Parenting is a radically transformative experience. Read about this idea here. This might help, I’m not sure, but the physical changes of pregnancy and childbirth are the very least of it. I’m not even sure how to describe the strength of the love I feel for my children and the connection I feel to them. Life will never be the same. It’s time to grow, adapt, and adjust.

6. People will tell you you won’t have time for fitness as a new parent. That’s not true. Read about my experiences in my blog post Families and Fitness where I talk about how to combine the two in ways that are good for both.

7 thoughts on “On yummy mummies, post baby bodies, and life getting better with age

  1. Though I’m not a huge fan of being pregnant, one of the great things is I feel so at home in my pregnant body. And, ever since being PG with my son three years ago, I’ve had a much more healthy body image. There is a lot of pressure to look practically better than you did before kids – I look at photos of a lot of my friends who have kids and most are thinner than before. It makes me feel like I should keep up with them.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I’m pregnant right now with my first child. Prior to getting pregnant, I was in the best shape of my life and reached a major weight-loss milestone (110 pounds down!). Being pregnant has been extremely challenging but your post has helped me think about how I shouldn’t obsess about weight gain–a necessary “evil” when creating life–but rather to focus on the miraculous process my body is going through to make my husband and me an amazing new little friend! Thank you.

  3. Thank you for writing about this. The changes that happen after giving birth are something that very few women share with one another and they are so profound that it makes no sense why so many women are hung up about their body image where that’s the least important change. One can put on weight without going through childbirth but one cannot experience the horror and beauty of tectonic movements in one’s self and identity after becoming a mother.

  4. Wow – what an enlightening post. I gave birth to my first son 8 weeks ago, and agree about the those pressures that linger in the back of my mind. Currently I am more focused on making sure my body is healthy so I can provide proper nourishment for my baby, but you are right. I didn’t post those first few “torso pics” on Facebook. I brought make-up with me to the delivery room. And I’ve relished any positive post delivery body comments from friends (& strangers). The pressures women & moms face are huge, but hopefully this generation of moms can begin to transform these pressures into a health (& athletic) movement, rather than an aesthetic movement.
    Also I’d like to comment on your fifth helpful point – parenting is transformative. Everyone told me this pre – baby, and it makes sense, but until I held my son, brought him home, breastfed him and rocked him to sleep, I didn’t truly understand what they were talking about. You are right – life will never be the same. It’s time to grow, and grow-UP. Take care of your body because you want to be around for your children – not because Kim kardashian lost 10lbs in 10 days.

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