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

Via Kimberly Lo
on Jul 25, 2013
get elephant's newsletter


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.


Bonus: 11 Mindful Tips for a Healthy Diet.

Double bonus: To cleanse or not to cleanse?

Like elephant journal on Facebook.

Ed: Bryonie Wise

 {Photo: via Pinterest}


About Kimberly Lo

Kimberly Lo is a yoga instructor and freelance editor & writer based in Charlottesville, VA. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework, travel, and photography. Connect with her on Facebook.


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

  1. Diane says:

    I don't read womens magazines, I can't get past the condescending rubbish on the front cover! I take no notice of ludicrous headlines in newspapers either, and I feel sorry for those that do. Newspapers and magazines hold a lot of power over a lot of people and I find that disturbing to say the least.

  2. Carol Ann says:

    I respectfully disagree with the main point of your article. Kim Kardashian is refusing to leave her house because she doesn't want anyone to see her post-baby belly. There are also numerous spanx-type contraptions that women wear right after they have a baby while waiting for things to return to normal size. In the times we're living in and considering the amount of press and paparazzi Kate Middleton deals with, I think it was a very brave choice.

  3. kimberlylowriter says:

    Most people (myself included) would argue that Kim K is already overexposed. If she called the world's media as she was leaving the hospital I think it would have backfired enormously. Being the future head-of-state and being a reality "star" are apples and oranges. Kate had to appear before the press the day after-that's her job. She really didn't have a choice. She did her job and did it well, IMHO.

    BTW, did Ms. Kardashian actually say she was not leaving the house because she doesn't want anyone to see her belly or did the media claim that? Those are two very different things.

    Also, just drawing on my own experience, I think it would be difficult to find a doctor or any medical pro signing off on anyone wearing any sort of compression garment less than 24 hours after a woman has given birth.

  4. Nan says:

    Really interesting point of view. If you look at 'those' magazines, it's easy to think that most women are obsessed with looking like an anorexic teenager. Those of us who have other things to do with our lives, well, the magazines aren't going to bother to market to us. As a naturally skinny person with three sons, I can't count the number of times I heard how lucky/talented/dreadful I was to look skinny and un-stretchmarked right after birth.

    I like what Kate is doing. She was spotted wearing a nursing dress too, and if she's doing it on purpose I take my hat off to her.

  5. Muks says:

    I don't care what Kate is wearing. It is her choice. In contrast to what you wrote I disagree with you saying that we see normal people every day. I am German and when I spent a year in the US is struck me that women were covering themselves in women's changing rooms, saunas etc. I went on as usual and put my towel aside when I came from the shower to apply body lotion and dress. Some women commented (!) on my naked body, one saying something about showing off a flat ass. From talking to others and men as well I assume that it is not ok to be naked or even naturally naked in the US. Maybe I got this wrong but as long as one is not looking like a photoshopped model or porn star one is expected to hide?! Just my European two cents.

  6. Dawn says:

    Are you kidding me? If you don't think that we need a movement to remind people what "real women" look like then you have been hiding under a rock. Look at the issues our girls are having at younger and younger ages about their bodies. I work with middle schoolers, I see this all the time. I'm sorry you had an exprience that made you feel bad or made you feel like you somehow were less of a mother, but a body that bounces right back isn't most people's experience. I have taught pre-natal yoga for eight years and I can tell you that post-baby body is a consistent worry for mothers-to-be. You can try to claim that it shouldn't be…and I would agree, but the reality is that many women feel bad about their post-baby bodies. They feel bad that their body is taking years, not days, to bounce back. You didn't think about your body while caring for your newborn because you didn't have to. In 4 days your body, by your own admission, was back in your regular jeans and you had no stretch marks. Once again, yay. I'm so happy that you did not have to deal with that. However, I would say you are coming from an ill-informed position because you did not experience what a great number of women experienced. I don't think that makes you less of a mother or less of a woman, I just think it makes you unqualified to comment officially on such things. You have no clue what others have experienced and so you wouldn't have any idea why some women feel it is brave that she went out and faced the media in a dress that accented her post-baby unshrunk uterus when many women are curled up in bed trying to figure out how to get that baby to latch on, with bodies that they don't recognize in the mirror. Once again, I hear this from my mamas all the time. They don't recognize their bodies in the mirror and that is a hard pill to swallow. It is also a hard pill to swallow that it may take a lot of time to shift that and it may never shift for some. That isn't them being shallow, that is them having to deal with a lot of changes at once, a new baby a whole new body. And I agree, that we shouldn't make such a big deal of Kate's belly. This should be a normal sight in this day and age. And it is sad that we all feel the need to make such a fuss over it. Also, most women don't have hairdressers and make-up people to help them look fantastic for their public debut post-baby belly and all. But, your article is dumping on people who are championing the cause of healthy body image or at least questioning the need for such a thing. Personally, I couldn't care less about the new prince and his parents…at least no more than any other new baby born in the world, but there are many who do. The fact is, we are a very media-image-driven culture and for a lot of women seeing Kate radiant and proud with her post-baby bump showing is empowering. It just is, whether you like it or not.

  7. kimberlylowriter says:

    " Maybe I got this wrong but as long as one is not looking like a photoshopped model or porn star one is expected to hide?!"

    I don't know if you are asking if that was the point of my piece or just the US in general. If the former, then that is NOT my point at all.

    Re: women covering themselves, etc.-In the US, nudity is far more taboo. In many places, there are laws against appearing partially nude or nude in public. It has nothing to do with one looks like.

    P.S. I spent a lot of time in Germany when I lived in the UK, and I went to places in the former were topless or nude sunbathing etc. were the norm. That would not have allowed in the US-not because of how people looked but because of an overall cultural taboo about nudity.

  8. kimberlylowriter says:

    Media images do have an effect on women and girls, esp. young ones. There are even studies about that including one conducted at my alma matar Wake Forest University.

    However, my point was, I think by the time that a lot of women become mothers they realize these media images are fantasies. Do many women feel bad about their bodies? Of course. Do many women have difficulty shifting weight after they have babies? Yes to that as well. My own mother falls into that group.

    However, I don't think one can blame the media for that. Body issues and eating disorders were around way before women's and fashion magazines. It's too big of a topic to go into here, but the issues around eating orders and body image issues are very complex. In some cases, it has little to nothing to do with wanting to actually look like a model or celebrity but wanting what the sufferer sees as that person's "perfect" life and having control. Yes, media images may play a role in cases, but they aren't the cause.

    Also, "But, your article is dumping on people who are championing the cause of healthy body image or at least questioning the need for such a thing." That was not my intention. I just wonder in a country like the US where the majority of the US is overweight and many people with less-than-perfect bodies do not seem ashamed to go out in public with those bodies are on display is it really as necessary as some claim? I mean eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia get a lot of attention-as well they should-but the fact is, obesity actually kills more people than all those disorders combined. We hear about how ALL women feel bad when they see perfect images of celebs but is it true or is it is actually just a few and many see them as fantasy? Are the women who feel so bad only actually a very small group of the population? It's terrible if anyone feels that way, but maybe it is not as big as an epidemic as some believe. It was just another p.o.v.

    "The fact is, we are a very media-image-driven culture and for a lot of women seeing Kate radiant and proud with her post-baby bump showing is empowering. It just is, whether you like it or not."

    If people feel great seeing Kate, then more power to them. She did indeed look radiant and proud. I have no doubt she was as well she should have been over her new baby. However, as I pointed out in the article, Kate never said a word if she wore a dress to purposely show off her "bump" or if she merely liked the dress. The media, as it often does, projected that on her. Maybe that was her intention. We don't know.

    And lastly, I never claimed my experience was the norm. However, I was very surprised by some of the comments I received. I was told by some to just be happy that I snapped back so quickly when honestly, given that I was very hormonal and dealing with all the things that come with a new baby they probably hurt just as much had someone told me I needed to lose weight. In fact, by asking if I had an eating disorder and/or worked out like a fiend, the implication was I cared more about my body than my baby. And just to make it clear, I didn't have a perfect body before I had a baby, and I certainly don't now. Not that you said or implied that, but just to make 100% clear.

  9. kimberlylowriter says:

    Thanks for your feedback, Diana. I like flipping through women's mags from time to time but they are fantasy and much can be called rubbish.

  10. kimberlylowriter says:

    Thanks for your comment, Nan.

    BTW, I totally agree with your last sentence.

  11. Stephanie says:

    I agree. When will women wise up and release the chains of the media's silly expectations of our bodies, our preferences, our lives? Part of growing up in this culture is knowing that YOU are stronger, more powerful and more free than they tell you. It's your life and your body. Women of all sizes, shapes, colors and levels of 'attractiveness' have happy, fulfilled, adventurous lives. Let us not cheer OR admonish women for their choices. Focus on your own.

  12. Candice Garrett says:

    As a prenatal instructor, I feel like there is room for all sides of this conversation, and none of them are necessarily conflicting, but rather the complicated and varied experience of becoming a mother. And while lack of care worldwide is a very real concern, it should not be implied that women can't feel fully their unique experiences and emotions about motherhood. It reminds me very much of "Eat your food, there are starving kids in Africa." That kind of sentiment is more about telling women to be happy that they have it so lucky and to stop pitying themselves, not a method of outreach for those in Africa.

  13. Megan says:

    If you look at the cycle of social and popular trends, it's filled with members of society attempting to "reclaim" certain things, words most predominately. I see this new wave of photographing "normal", " healthy" motherly bodies as a means to reclaiming the authenticity of image. Even more so than commentary on acceptance, the definition of beauty or cultural expectations. I see it as a backlash against the airbrushing and manicuring of our wrinkled, messy lives. It's growing quickly too–and the diverse and presumed meanings surrounding Kate's "statement" are evidence enough to point out that it's needed, (whether she intended her choice of clothing to be a spark or not).

  14. spirayoga says:

    In the times that we're living in? And what time is that, exactly? The time where women should be ashamed of their bodies? Ugh! YOU are what's wrong with our society.

  15. kimberlylowriter says:

    Here's a few more things to I wanted to make clear in my article which may not have come through as I doubt I will have time to comment on every post.

    1. Most women will (luckily) never be in the situation where they have to appear in public much less before 24 hours after given birth.

    2. My own "bump" looked exactly like Kate's and was probably bigger 24 hours after I gave birth. It' not the same as a flabby tummy. As I recall, mine was quite hard like a pregnant belly was and could not have been hidden by Spanx even if I had wanted to put them on. It's really not the same as appearing weeks or months after giving birth with extra weight.

    3. Comparisons to other celebs are kind of a straw man argument: Even the biggest movie star in the world having a baby is not the same as the future Queen of England giving birth to a future head of state. Kate's job has requirement even few celebs would understand. Some celebs appear to be a damned-if-they-do-damned-if-they-don't situation. If they appear in public right after having a baby, then some might ask why they are courting PR so soon. It's possible many are avoiding events with photographers present because they want to spend time with their new babies. Yes, even the most seemingly shallow, spoilt celeb may feel that way. Unless said celeb says she is "hiding out" because she doesn't want the public to see her body, take those claims with a grain of salt.

    4. Ironically, given Kate's body type and the fact she didn't carry large, she may well be one of those women who bounces back to normal very quickly. The same media who claimed she was so proud of her belly, was a role model, etc. may say she felt pressure to lose the baby weight quickly and criticize her for that even though she has made NO comments at all about her body.

    5. I believe that all people whether they gave birth or not, should not be ashamed of some stretch marks, wobbly bits, etc. No one needs an "excuse" to have them. I love fact that there are some 200lb ladies-regardless if they are mothers or not- buying lingerie because they feel sexy and want to reflect that. Good for them.

    6. Lastly, it seems like some feel the media is on a mission to made women feel bad about themselves when that same media is to believe when they claimed Kate purposely wore that dress to make other women feel proud and Kim Kardashian (sp) is hiding out because she doesn't want anyone to see her body.

  16. Mark says:

    please 'Elephant', stop these royal baby references. Don't want to know. Brainless conformity to this crapola.

  17. lynnola says:

    The way I look at it, 'brave' comes in many different shapes and forms. For someone in a third world country, Kate showing her postpartum belly would not be considered brave. For some people in western culture, her action, whether deliberate or not, could definitely be called brave. Our world needs all shades of brave, IMHO.

  18. kimberlylowriter says:

    The comment I made about pregnant women in Africa was not directed at women, but at the media. The media appears to be fascinated by pregnant celebrities. There are even cover stories about celebrity babies.

    I do wish instead of the four articles I saw about Kate's belly, which I did see from 4 different sources on my FB feed including the Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and The Daily Mail, at one least would have focused some of that attention on the things I mentioned or even child poverty in the UK.

    I did some research for a past project and was amazed to learn the relatively high maternal mortality rate in the USA. I don't think most are even aware of that.

    Lest I am not clear, I believe people should be able to talk about whatever they wish. Questioning how much focus or attention it gets is not the same as saying there is no room for it.

  19. kimberlylowriter says:

    P.S. Thank you for your comments.

  20. MyOlive says:

    Thank you Dawn for writing reply here. Reading Kimberly's article I was a bit confused as to what she was trying to convey here. I have a 4 year old boy and my tummy never went back to normal. I am skinny and am same weight that I was in my high school, but still my belly is here a sign of being a mother. Yes it does bother me that it is stretched and that in never went back to its per baby state. And yes I was a bit irritated seeing all the news coverage about this baby, but it was very refreshing to see Kate looking the way she did.

    Yes how lucky you are Kimberly to have had you belly come back after 4 days. I am not North American, my culture is different and body image was not emphasized growing up, but I sill cannot help but be affected by magazines and celebrities' bodies after pregnancy. I am just a human. And great for you Kimberly for being so strong and knowing yourself well not to be bothered by these images.

    Thank you again Dawn for letting me know that there are women out there like me.

  21. kimberlylowriter says:

    I thought I made it pretty clear what I was trying to convey in the article esp. in the post below Megan's.

    I am sorry if I cannot be clearer than that.

    I was never denying that there are always going to be women (and men) who are dissatisfied with their bodies, but I believe the roots to that go much deeper than seeing media images of "perfect" celebrities. In this day and age of Photoshop, I believe that most people are aware that no one is perfect.

    I also was questioning if it was actually correct for the media to be praising Kate or holding herself up as an example of a woman who didn't mind her "mummy tummy" as she is not woman who gave birth months or even weeks ago. Rather, she is a woman who was in a very unenviable position of having to appear less than 24 hours after giving birth with a swollen uterus which is not the same as stretched out tummy. As I wrote below: "Ironically, given Kate's body type and the fact she didn't carry large, she may well be one of those women who bounces back to normal very quickly. The same media who claimed she was so proud of her belly, was a role model, etc. may say she felt pressure to lose the baby weight quickly and criticize her for that even though she has made NO comments at all about her body. "

    When I wrote this article, I was expecting a lot more critical comments than this. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and while I may respond and defend my positions, I will never say anyone is wrong for not sharing the pov in this post.

    However, with that said, I disagree with Dawn saying that I was "unqualified to comment officially on such things. [I] have no clue what others have experienced".

    Given my own experiences and having given birth, I do feel I am qualified. By her logic, I could say she is not qualified to say how I felt when I had others making those comments to me as she has never experienced what I did. I did not ask nor am I interested if she has given birth, but if she has not, then one could make the argument that she has not qualified to comment either. However, I will not. I feel that anyone, regardless of sex or whether or not they have given birth may comment on this issue. (It also appears to be more than a hint of sarcasm with the "yay, I am so happy for you comment", but since it's the 'Net, one cannot know that for sure.)

    I have known several women who have had body image issues and struggles after they have given birth including one of my oldest friends. Also, in my early 20s, I worked at a place that among other things worked with women with eating disorders. Therefore, saying I "have no clue" is incorrect. However, I take issue with the idea that this was caused by looking at celebrity magazines. I feel the issues with body image go deeper than that.

    Also, given that I have written about my own body image issues, it's ironic that some people feel I never experienced those. Of course I had. However, they weren't caused by magazines.

    Anyway, I have probably said all I have to say about this topic.

    It's been interesting reading the feedback. I never expected totally agreement with me, but I must say I am a bit surprised at how some of the things I said have been misunderstood esp. since I never said that there weren't people out there with body image issues regardless of whether they give birth or not.

    P.S. And before I shut my mouth on this subject once and for all, my main point was everyone should love their bodies regardless of sex or if they've given birth. I think the photography Jade Bedell (sp?) does in AZ is great.

    I never said there shouldn't be a movement to show "real" mother's bodies. I just wondered if it was really necessary because 1. I wonder if some people think it's only okay to have cellulite, wobbly bellies, etc. if one has given birth 2. women who feel terrible about their bodies may not be get comfort from seeing "real" bodies if their body issues are the result of deeper, more underlying problems and usually they almost always are. I know one woman who had issues about her body well before and well after giving birth. The issues really weren't about her body, it was actually more about the fact she was in a very unhappy marriage with an alcoholic. It's not uncommon for people to think if they have the "perfect" body, home, career, etc., they will be happy when actually, they would not be without getting to the root causes of their unhappiness.

  22. debster says:

    I couldn't get past the humblebrag, "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."

    The article diverted to all about you rather than Kate kind of quickly. Smooth transition.

  23. Alyssa says:

    The fact that explanations are necessary and that an overwhelming response has followed Is indicative that we all need to work on appreciating ourselves, and others in a non superficial way. Simple as that.

  24. Joan says:

    Oh good gosh. You snapped right back into size four jeans and can't understand what all the fuss is about. It's because you didn't experience it. Being fat shamed and asked if you're pregnant again a few months later is so much more painful than complementing you on your size four jeans. Humble brag indeed!

  25. MadaR says:

    Are you serious? Is this your concern? Really?
    Why? Because Kate Middleton still makes readers open an article and she's a guarantee for gathering some views? This was her choice, as a human being, with full rights in choosing the way she wanted to dress/appear in public. On the other hand, giving birth is a very natural thing. A big uterus, after giving birth, is also natural.
    Really. This is no a good-sense-subject. Better read a book or fill your time with something more interesting than criticising people who done no harm.

  26. Lou says:

    I just wish that mothers would stop worrying about what they look like after pregnancy and appreciate and love their newborn child. I, like many other women, cannot bear children. When we see people complaining about stretch marks and other natural post-pregnancy symptoms, it hurts us. We wish we could have stretch marks, big bellies, and everything that comes along with pregnancy.