July 26, 2013

You’re Not “Brave” if You Choose to Show Off a Postpartum Belly.

I am already bracing myself for a flood of hate mail as I type these words, but I wasn’t excited over the royal baby birth.

Don’t get me wrong; I am as happy for William and Kate as I am any other pair of strangers, but I didn’t get on the happy train despite the fact that London is my favorite city in the world, I married a British citizen and I have a daughter with dual British-American citizen.

While the news coverage was what I expected it to be, one of the things that I did not expect was the four articles from both sides of the Atlantic that I saw in my Facebook feed stating how brave it was for Kate to wear a dress which showed off her postpartum “belly.”

First of all, the literalist in me had a problem with that.

It wasn’t actually a “belly” but a uterus that had not contracted back to its normal size. It usually takes anywhere up to six weeks to happen. As someone who has been there and done that over four years ago, I don’t actually know how anyone can hide that.

The argument that was made is that given the resources at her disposal, Kate could have chosen an outfit to de-emphasize it. Many claimed she wore it to deliberately to send the message she was “proud” of her belly, and it was okay for others to show theirs off.


Most new mothers I know won’t have to ever face the world’s press the day after they give birth. (I think I speak for many when I say I don’t envy that one bit.) Kate herself never said if she was sending a message through her clothing choices, and she probably never will given how royals seldom do interviews and even less seldom comment on things like this.

Perhaps that was her purpose behind wearing it.

Or perhaps she just liked it because it was a pretty dress.

The whole experience brought back my own memories of my own postpartum time when, 4-5 days later, I was back in my size four jeans. If you had passed me in the street, it’s unlikely that you would have known I had just given birth. My stomach was flat as a board, and I had no stretch marks anywhere. 

As a result, I was subjected to comments asking if I had an eating disorder, or “Wow! You must have work out like a fiend!” My favorite was: “You must follow those celebs who look like they have never given birth.”

The answer is “no” to all the above.

People who expect a woman—a day after she gives birth—to look like a model are jerks. But so are those who make comments like the ones made to me, because I didn’t gain 100 lbs or was covered in stretch marks.

Frankly, the obsession with how women look immediately after giving birth is creepy no matter what camp they fall into.

I often hear how the media is responsible for sending unrealistic messages of how women should look after giving birth with their airbrushed photos of celebs and headlines boosting that a certain celebrity is back to her pre-baby weight. It’s hard to deny that the media presents unrealistic images of women, men and just about everything else.

They do.

However, I don’t know if the “average” woman who has just given birth sees these and feels bad.

As a teenager, I wanted to look like the actresses and models I saw in magazines and on TV. However, by the time I was 32—the age I had my daughter—I knew those images weren’t real. I knew that even celebrities had flaws. (Granted, there are teens who have babies, but I am betting if you are a teen mom, then looking like a celebrity mom is the least of your worries.)

Ironically, one of the few pleasures I had in the days after I gave birth was looking at a stack of fashion magazines a friend brought over. I’d sneak a peek whenever I had a few minutes while my daughter slept. I loved the break from reality.

I remember seeing a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow and wondering if I should get my hair cut in the bob she was sporting at the time. I didn’t look at her and think, “Gwyneth has had two kids and is in a bikini. I am doing a great job because I am back in my jeans!” I was well aware that Ms. Paltrow and other celebrities’ lives had no bearing on my own. Even if I had a body just like hers (which I do not) I knew I would never have access to the resources she has and that she’ll still always look better than me in photos because all the photos she poses in magazines are Photoshopped.

I didn’t feel hatred towards her or towards the magazines for doing that either. Again, I knew this was fantasy.

In those early months, my biggest concern was looking after my new baby, not my appearance. There was no going back. This baby was here to stay and dependent on me. The fact I was in my pre-pregnancy  clothing didn’t mean squat. Even if I had chosen to be a single mother, I doubt my thoughts would have been preoccupied with looking good to men or competing with my other mom friends to be a “hot mom.”

Looking after my new baby was my entire world.

However, there seems to be a “movement” to show people what “real” mothers look like. While on one hand I can see the value of this, I wonder if it is needed.

Don’t most of us already know how real people look? I also wonder if this sends a message that it’s only  okay to have stretch marks, wobbly bits, etc. if one has given birth. Some people have the former regardless if they give birth or not. 

In America, over 69% of the adult population is overweight. Over 35% are obese. The rest of the world is catching up with us as well as the Westernized diet continues to replace traditional ones. I’m not trying to be a snark, but we are hardly a world were the majority of people look perfect and then pregnancy changes all that.

We see “real bodies” everyday-in our families, at the beach, at the supermarket. Are all these people walking around feeling bad about themselves because they don’t look like the idealized media images?

Perhaps some do, but I would bet most aren’t. I see lots of women—most without kids—in the summer wearing crop tops that show off large bellies and stretch marks. A friend who worked at Victoria’s Secret said some of the ladies who bought the most lingerie were 200 lbs plus—I doubt they cared if they looked “perfect” in their wares.

Here’s a thought: if we are going to focus on pregnant or post-pregnant bodies then why not focus attention on the number of women worldwide who die in childbirth because they cannot make it to the hospital or have access to a trained midwife?

What about focusing women in countries in various parts Africa who have birth complications due to the effects of female genital mutilation?

Coming from a pop culture junkie, it’s a small wonder so many people in developing places think the West has massively misplaced priorities.

Lastly, there should not be any social stigma over having stretch marks, a “mummy tummy” or any other things that can result from carrying and birthing forth a baby.

However, those of us who are mothers and do not end up with those things are not lesser women nor does it mean that we deserve either scorn or praise.

Rather, it shows that people are all different.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

 {Photo: via Pinterest}

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