How do you feel about your body? Love it? Hate it? Indifferent to it?
As we head into summer I have seen a lot of social media posts and memes about loving your postnatal tummy because it grew your baby, and honey, you’ve earned those “tiger stripes”. Because you love your baby, you ought to love the body that made the baby. There are some great posts doing the rounds about how to get a bikini body by simply putting a bikini on your body.
There is also a huge industry created around the idea of “getting your body back” after having a baby – whether that’s through promoting diets like Slimming World to breastfeeding mothers, or buggy fit classes and personal trainers. If you just work hard enough, you too can “bounce back” like Beyonce or whoever the latest skinny celebrity mum is with a plastic surgeon on speed dial.
There seem to be two contradictory options for any new mum: love your body as it is, or get in shape – no excuses!
I’m all for healthy eating and exercise, and our Fitmumas classes for example, are excellent in helping women regain their strength in a safe way that isn’t about how your body looks. You do need to do the correct exercises after having a baby – aches and pains, incontinence, or prolapse is NOT fun. But getting strong does not equal being thin. You can’t look at a woman and tell by how thin she is whether she wets herself when she sneezes. And Mel made the excellent point in last week’s blog, that you can’t tell what that woman went through to get thin, it may not have been healthy.
However, I find this whole business of “loving your body” a bit weird. Why should we be so focused on the bag of bones, flesh and skin we find ourselves in? After all, your body pretty much does what you tell it, but should we celebrate it? What happens when your body gets sick, or injured? Do you still celebrate it? If you are celebrating your ability to grow a baby, what happens if you can no longer do that? Are you less of a person, less worthy? What about women who have never grown a baby inside them, are they not to be celebrated? What about men – should they be loving their stretchmarks and wobbly bits too? Are their bodies “amazing” whatever shape they are in?
It seems to me that this culture of “love your body” is trying to make women feel better about something that deep down, they don’t, because a wobbly, stretch-marked body doesn’t fit into society’s collective view of what makes a person beautiful. However, I don’t believe that we should be pressured into “flaunting our curves”, to use Daily-Mail-speak. There’s an irritating advert for Boots on the telly where two women fling off their sarongs and march triumphantly into the sea in their bikinis like they have won some kind of battle for womenkind. What do they want, a medal? Wear a bikini if you want to wear a bikini, but if you feel more comfortable covered up, that’s fine too.
My view is that we shouldn’t be focusing on our bodies at all. Exercise because it makes you feel good and it’s going to benefit your health, but you may well be at a point in your life where eating healthily and exercising regularly just isn’t possible. So why beat yourself up about it if you’re not able to get in shape? Equally, why spend any time trying to convince yourself that you love your body if you don’t? Do you actually need to love your body? What will you gain from it? Whatever shape you are now, in 20 years when you look back on this time in your life, what are you going to remember? Are you going to remember which jeans you could fit into, or would you rather remember the things you did and the fun times you had? Do you want to remember your body or what you did with it?
I have always thought that I am fat, and have spent many hours telling myself this, feeling bad when I catch my reflection walking past a shop window, or in an unflattering photo. I have spent a considerable amount of time planning diet and exercise routines, which I inevitably fail at after a couple of days. I love the phrase, “I wish I was as fat as the first time I thought I was fat.” When I look back on myself 15 or so years ago, why on earth did I think I was fat? I did though, and there were many things I didn’t do and many clothes I wouldn’t wear because of it.
Looking back now, of course I wish I had just done the stuff I wanted to do, or worn the clothes I wanted to wear (or not wear!) So thinking about where I am now, I certainly don’t want to look back on my kids’ childhood and regret that I didn’t play in the pool with them, or run about in the park with them, or do any of the fun stuff because I was worried about how flabby I might look to other people. The time really does whizz by – my eldest has just turned 9 and he already seems so grown up and sensible compared to the bonkers three year old I still sometimes think of him as. I don’t want to miss out on the fun times, especially as they become fewer and further between, with the demands of work and school and chores. It’s not going to be long before my kids are teenagers and think I am the saddest, most embarrassing excuse for a human being anyway. Who wants to waste this time fretting about a bit of fat?
Your children don’t care about your wobbly bits, they adore you and want you to play with them. They will pick up on it if you don’t do stuff because you are worried about how you look. They will notice if you complain about your weight – your voice becomes their inner voice. Clearly it’s better to have a positive body image, but why even mention it?
Part of the problem has got to be how many photos we all take. If we weren’t constantly taking photos of ourselves and each other, maybe we wouldn’t be quite so aware of our appearance. It would be quite refreshing to have no idea what you look like! To live fully in the moment, like a child. I absolutely love the fact that my kids appear to be completely unselfconscious about their bodies. They have strong opinions about what they wear, but it’s absolutely nothing to do with how the clothes make their body look, unless it’s about how much they look like a unicorn or a ninja. I wish we could all feel like that.
In truth, nobody else really gives a monkey’s about whether you are fat or thin, unless it’s extreme either way and harming your health. Probably the only person telling you that you look awful – is you. Would you put up with anyone in your life speaking to you the way you speak to yourself?
Of course your body has done amazing things, and maybe that should be celebrated, whether you have birthed a baby or not. But what I think is far more worthy of celebration is a celebration of parenthood.
A celebration of coping with being at the limit of human endurance;
of getting up day after day to look after your children, no matter how shitty you feel;
of putting your kids first;
of doing your best;
of trying to do better;
of getting over your hang-ups about your body to play in the pool with your children.
It’s not your body that rocks, it’s YOU.