I mulled over the Motherfigure blog for a few years. I hesitated because my kids are young and my free time is never really “free” (It still isn’t. I’m just ignoring more laundry these days). When my youngest was 3 months old, I also moved to a tiny island in the middle of nowhere, which was a major time suck.
But, mostly, I was nervous about talking about my own body and birthing experience. (I got over that and you can read my story here). Overall, writing about the postnatal body, including my own, has been rewarding. Hearing a mom say “I never even knew about pelvic organ prolapse” or another say “your story is so similar to my own” has reinforced why I started writing in the first place.
However, I was surprised by some of the negative reactions to “you can’t go forward trying to get your body back.” Those negative reactions have come from women I’m sure haven’t read the blog, but were simply responding to my manifesto on the Facebook page or to comments I made in some online forums, so I don’t take it personally. Nevertheless, pushback against body acceptance is fascinating.
Tammy wrote on Facebook:
Motherhood does not have to ruin any of the above mentioned features. I’m not sure why people think it was the pregnancy. It’s the lack of self care, overeating etc. After breastfeeding 4 I am here to say it’s not a boob ruiner, our bodies were made to function that way for our children. There are plenty of chlldless overweight people out there with chubby thighs, protruding bellies and stretched out boobs. However I do agree many women put to [sic] much focus on image. A body shouldn’t simply carry you through life, it should be fit, well nourished and strong. Babies don’t cause fat, in fact it’s the opposite. Put the fork down n practice some self care. That’s my manifesto! Please don’t blame the babies for what we fail to do for ourselves.
My first reaction to Tammy’s critique was “Wait. No. Let me explain what I meant!” I thought she had misunderstood me. Unfortunately, after re-reading her comment, I realize she represents a real, deep rooted mindset among some women, one that I probably can’t convince away.
Even so, I’ll try. And I’ll do it the old school way, by deconstructing her text.
1. “Motherhood does not have to ruin any of the above mentioned features. I’m not sure why people think it was the pregnancy.”
The phrase “above mentioned features” refers to my “manifesto,” in which I mention “bellies, vagina, boobs, butt, and weight” (not a comprehensive list, of course).
Tammy is correct. Motherhood doesn’t “have to ruin” any of those. Sadly, just because it doesn’t “have to” doesn’t mean it doesn’t (for some of us). Ruin is a strong word. I’ll say it “changes” them in ways we aren’t enthusiastic about.
Why do we think it was the pregnancy that changed our bodies? Because it was the pregnancy that changed our bodies.
Luckily, I don’t need to do a controlled experiment to explain this one. My belly pre-pregnancy had no stretch marks. My belly post-pregnancy is littered with them (stuffed somewhere in between the excess skin). My belly pre-pregnancy was flat. My belly post-pregnancy is not. My vagina pre-pregnancy did not have a cystocele. My vagina post does. I could go on.
2. “Its the lack of self care, overeating, etc..”
I would love to know what Tammy means by “etc.,” but we will stick with her words. Lack of self-care and overeating can change our bodies. Of course. But this doesn’t mean our lifestyle choices were the primary drivers of the changes. I reject the belief that we can control everything about how our bodies look and function. This assumption is rampant and has profited many online gurus claiming they can “fix” you, if only you follow all their advice to the letter.
Obviously, self-care = good. Eating in moderation = good. But they aren’t cure-alls.
3. “After breastfeeding 4 I am here to say its not a boob ruiner, our bodies were made to function that way for our children.”
Tammy, I’m happy for your boobs. I don’t think breastfeeding must “ruin” boobs, but for many moms, it definitely changes them, and not always in ways we would like. Just because our boobs were made to give milk has absolutely no relationship to how they will look afterwards. Evolution doesn’t give a crap if our boobs sag a little or get a little smaller (or bigger) after nursing.
For the record, I nursed all 3 of my kids, each exclusively for about 9 months before going 50/50 with formula. I am not suggesting we don’t nurse our kids. Though, I am saying your perky boobs have no bearing on the state of anyone else’s.
4. “There are plenty of childless overweight people out there with chubby thighs, protruding bellies and stretched out boobs.”
I’m not going to refute that statement, but I’m not sure what it has to do with anything. There are also dudes with pot bellies and chubby thighs, but this doesn’t mean pregnancy and childbirth have no effect on our bodies.
5. “However I do agree many women put to [sic] much focus on image.”
Okay, cool. We agree on something. This agreement would have meant a bit more if you hadn’t followed it with fat shaming. Read on.
6. “A body shouldn’t simply carry you through life, it should be fit, well nourished and strong.”
No. I have to stop you there. Your body shouldn’t be anything. If you place shoulds on your body, you’ll set yourself up for body image issues.
What happens if you believe a body shouldn’t have diastasis recti? A body shouldn’t have prolapse? A body shouldn’t have a certain BMI? What happens if it does? Is your body worthless now?
Here’s the kicker: I also strive for a fit body, a well nourished body, a strong body, but on my own terms and accepting as much as I can about the body I have now, the body I will have tomorrow, and the body I will have the day after that. Sure, change your lifestyle. Exercise. Even get surgery if your function is shot. But, ultimately, your body doesn’t care about your shoulds.
7. “Babies don’t cause fat. In fact, its the opposite.”
Not sure what Tammy means by this. I’ll let you figure it out. Maybe she means chasing babies makes you thin?
8. “Put the fork down n practice some self care. That’s my manifesto! Please don’t blame the babies for what we fail to do for ourselves.”
Really, your manifesto is “put the fork down”? I have some thoughts on weight loss that you can read here. Mostly, I want to point out that for too many moms, including Tammy, “weight” and “body” are synonyms, or worse, weight becomes a metonym (the part stands for the whole).
Some postnatal body issues have NOTHING to do with weight or self-care. Also, saying “you can’t go forward trying to get your body back” is not about blaming our babies for anything. It’s about recognizing the changes childbirth made to our bodies and learning to be okay with them. It’s about not obsessing over what we once had or feeling like our bodies failed us by “breaking.”
Oh, and it’s also about refusing to obsess about our weight. Telling moms to put the fork down is not hope. It is shaming. It is saying if your body doesn’t look like me, you did this to yourself. It is saying self-care is deprivation. Those 4 words—“put the fork down”– are toxic.
To be fair to Tammy and others like her, she tossed off a comment on Facebook without expecting someone to parse every sentence. If she had thought it over, she might have changed some of her wording. I get that. Nevertheless, these were the words that came tumbling out.
Sometimes women’s unfiltered opinions are the best indicators of our culture’s screwed up relationship with postnatal bodies.
I reject Tammy’s manifesto. Let me say again, “You can’t go forward trying to get your body back.” That’s my manifesto and I’m sticking with it.