In retrospect, I think a lot of that weight got packed on in the wake of some kind of pregnancy-induced sense of maternal blamelessness, of sudden relief/release from the burden of keeping up with our society’s perversely anorexic standards of attractiveness. After all, now that I was pregnant, I would be more than justified in eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I was all for the baby. I was eating for two (or, you know, TWELVE, but whatever. BABIES! JUSTIFIED!). I no longer had to count calories, say no to dessert, or watch my ‘girlish figure.’ I was a beautiful, round Earth Mother Goddess now, endowed with gestational powers that exempted me from all the usual beauty myth BS our culture attempts to impose on folks of the female persuasion. I AM WOMAN, WATCH ME EAT! might as well have been my battle cry.
It all seemed beyond reproach. Until, of course, I had my baby — my beautiful, perfect, well-nourished baby — and then took a look at myself in the mirror. To my eyes, I resembled a deflated blimp, and felt lumbering, slow, unwieldy. Maybe all those desserts weren’t such a good idea after all, I thought.
I’m reflecting on all of this after reading a post from Jezebel entitled “I Spent $7800 (and Counting) Trying to Lose the Baby Weight,” in which the author recounts her costly, anxiety-ridden 13-month-long struggle to drop 80 pounds she gained during pregnancy. And though her expensive, somewhat frantic methods might at first blush seem extreme, I think they speak to the pressure all women now feel to get their pre-pregnancy bodies back post-partum. And that pressure is, without a doubt, increasing, thanks in no small part to the media’s ramped-up fixation on rapid, post-pregnancy weight loss and their positioning this as a standard by which all women should judge themselves and their own progress:
But as the months passed, I was very aware that I was going to have to answer for every Butterfinger that crossed my lips. It didn’t help that in the 85 weeks between when I discovered I was pregnant and my daughter’s first birthday—the entire span of when I was packing on and peeling off the weight—30 supermarket checkout tabloids featured post-pregnancy body stories. Seventeen of those were published after Jessica Simpson had her baby on May 1, 2012. That figure, of course, only reflects print: Us Weekly, Star, Life & Style, In Touch, and OK!. (In the four months following Simpson’s delivery, there were 109 headlines from very widely-read websites about her weight.) Additionally, in that time, at least one tabloid featured a story about weight loss or body shaming every week. Star dedicated a whopping 12 covers to body shaming/body ranking. So you could say that I got knocked up right when the media’s post-baby body obsession was hitting a fever pitch.
Of course I don’t base my life or self-worth on what stupid tabloids say, but they do provide a barometer for our culture’s increasingly obsessive focus on women’s bodies after giving birth. And there are typically two narratives: women who are applauded for losing the weight and posing in swimsuits just weeks after giving birth and women who are mocked because they don’t (or can’t). For me, both scenarios are untenable, frankly.
And yes, of course none of us can lose the baby weight with the rapidity of stars whose sole job in life is to match cultural standards of beauty, and who can afford to spend 6 (or more) hours in the gym every day trying to achieve them. Of course that’s true. But it doesn’t stop us — or the media — from making women feel, deep down, that we’re slothful failures if the numbers on the scale don’t keep rapidly falling.
In my case, it took almost a full two years before I could fit into anything I’d worn prior to my pregnancy. I tried stroller-jogging, the gym, Weight Watchers, and even briefly returned to smoking cigarettes after giving birth (though never in the presence of my baby, I should add), in the hope that doing so would jump-start my lagging metabolism and curb my hunger. But I think the real trick wasn’t a trick at all — it was just about time. Could I have gotten back to my pre-baby fighting weight in just a couple of months if I’d been able to spend hours sweating at the gym every day and eaten only specially-prepared dietetic meals made by a personal chef? I’m sure I could have, just as the stars and supermodels lauded for ‘getting their bodies back’ do. But that’s not living in the real world that most of us live in, with the real financial and time constraints most of us have no choice but to live with. So, as far as I’m concerned and by my own standards, I did okay.
But that was a decade ago, and in light of the increased focus on post-partum weight-loss in recent years, I sometimes feel as if I got off easy. Would I have the same ‘all in good time’ attitude now that I had then, had I just given birth? Or would I feel crushed by the pressure of our society’s newly imposed standards of incredibly rapid baby weight loss? I honestly don’t know.
What would you do — or did you do — to lose the baby weight? And do you feel that the media’s relentless peddling of stories celebrating mothers who get back into shape fast is tangibly harmful to women? Speak up in comments!
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