10 Ways Society Encourages Postpartum Women To Have Terrible Body Image

Nothing really prepared me for the disappointment I felt about my postpartum body. I was not diagnosed with postpartum depression and I was fortunate to have an uncomplicated recovery period. Still, looking at myself in the weeks after giving birth saddened and frustrated me. “Nobody told me I’d still look pregnant,” I thought. Compounding my negative feelings were all the ways society encourages postpartum women to have terrible body image. I had already noticed grossly inaccurate depictions of pregnant women in the media, but I didn’t realize that the media was fumbling just as much with how postpartum women were portrayed.

I happened to lose all the weight I gained throughout both my pregnancies, but my body is not the same now as it was before becoming pregnant. Society so grossly overstates the whole “baby weight” aspect of postpartum women. However, bodies who have given birth can be more complexly altered than just the addition or subtraction of pounds. The weight may be distributed differently, affecting our shapes, and we may feel stronger in some places (arms, as we constantly lift babies), and weaker in others (abs, because nobody has time for that). These alterations never seem to be celebrated in the media; they only appear to cause judgment and body shaming. A woman who fails to lose any weight she might have gained during pregnancy is made to feel like a failure, while a woman who hardly gained any weight is lambasted for not "eating enough for two."

It’s hard enough adjusting to motherhood, and coming to terms with our new identity, and new body, after giving birth. It would be nice to not be reminded that I might not feel great about how I look postpartum (though other women may have much more positive feelings). I have a new baby, and I really don’t need to deal with these ways society encourages postpartum women to have body image issues:

By Not Even Talking About Postpartum Bodies

I received wonderful prenatal care from my obstetrician, but there was no discussion on postpartum care for me. I didn’t have a doula, and some of my mom friends who did have told me they were at least a little prepared to accept that they would still look pregnant for a while after giving birth. No matter how you feel about still looking pregnant, knowing about it can help you accept it.

I do wish I had known to ask what I could expect after giving birth. Of course, I had books and new mom forums as references, but it would have made a huge difference in helping me accept my squishy postpartum body if my OB had brought it up, and contextualized it as completely normal and proof that my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to after bringing a child into the world.

By Making “Pre-Pregnancy” A Covetable Status...

Does the media really think that the only thing new moms have on their mind is fitting into a certain pairs of jeans? You might think so, browsing a magazine rack or poking around online.

When I had my babies, I was concerned with feeding them, feeding myself, and getting us all to sleep. I had zero bandwidth to concern myself with the size or shape of my body in those first couple of months after giving birth. I wanted to get back into my non-maternity clothes, but I just had to accept that it wasn’t going to happen for a while. (And in the case of certain pairs of jeans, not at all.)

… And Constantly Comparing Us To Our Pre-Pregnancy Shape

As a new mom, I was acutely aware of the differences between my pre- and post-pregnancy bodies. However, was one necessarily “better” than the other? They had different functions: one was best suited to conceive a child, the other to nurture a child in its earliest moments of life. You can’t really compare a woman’s pre-pregnancy body to her postpartum one. It’s like comparing a weightlifter’s body to a swimmer’s: each serves them in their own unique way.

By Being Grossed Out By Baby Weight

I mean, why else would they constantly show us how celebrities “shed” it? Feeling like you have to lose weight, just to look like a different version of yourself (and not for serious health reasons) is annoying to some, and anxiety-inducing to others; especially those moms (like me) who have a history of body image issues.

We need to hear more variety in the stories we tell about baby weight. In fact, let’s stop referring to it as such. Let’s call it what it is: a tool to help us provide for a baby, and our bodies will gain (or even lose) as much as it needs to, thank you very much.

By Photoshopping Out Any Telltale Signs Of Motherhood

How many ads sport female bodies with still swollen postpartum bellies, stretch marks or engorged boobs, not including those promoting pregnant or new mom products? How many campaigns put mothers at the forefront for their spokesperson, when the ad is not about motherhood? Moms wear sneakers. We use perfume. We drive cars (and not always a minivan). Show us in action, proudly displaying the battle scars of pregnancy. Don’t erase these hard-won badges of courage and fortitude.

By Perpetuating The Myth That Our Postpartum Shape Is Undesirable

If I’m to believe most magazines, it’s that I’m horribly out of shape after having a baby. First of all, this is a huge insult, undermining the strength and discipline it took for my body gestate and then deliver a human being. Second of all, I was in great shape postpartum (once you got past the healing and recovery my body had to go through), after, and this bears repeating, I pushed a fully formed person out of my body. I had worked out diligently while pregnant and my cardiovascular strength and muscle tone did not completely vanish just because I had a baby.

By Assuming We Shouldn’t Love Our Postpartum Bodies

Being made to think that I had to “get my body back” after giving birth brought such a sense of shame to how I felt about my postpartum shape. I had spent nine months nurturing my baby, from the inside, with my body its only source of comfort and nutrition. My pregnant body was literally a temple for my baby before it was born.

Once the kid came out, I was suddenly supposed to hate my body? It had served my newborn so well. In fact, it was the only time in my life when I felt really great about my body, watching it evolve to accommodate this life I had created. It came as quite a shock that my postpartum body wasn’t as revered as my pregnant one, even though they represented the same amazing thing: my child.

By Valuing Form Over Function

Women are celebrated for the speed at which they return to their pre-pregnancy weight more than they are for their ability to grow and birth a new human. If having a tight body was instrumental in the development of a baby, then why does pregnancy require that women’s bodies expand to accommodate the fetus’s growth? I guess in a world where presidential candidates feel entitled to broadcast judgment on women’s bodies, it shouldn’t surprise me that anyone, postpartum or otherwise, who isn’t a “10,” gets thrown a ton of shade about how she looks.

By Never Depicting Realistic Postpartum Bodies On Screen

Rarely does a TV show get the postpartum period right. If a character has a baby in one episode, her stomach is pooch-free in the next. However, the fourth trimester is a real thing, and I’d love to see it more accurately portrayed on TV and in films for postpartum characters. I still had a fluffy gut for several weeks after giving birth to my kids. Yes, I still looked pregnant. I still wore my maternity clothes. The media needs to normalize this by showing more realistic postpartum bodies on screen. Otherwise, the stigma that all women want to, and can, return to their pre-pregnancy state will stay in place, and our daughters won’t have it any better than we did. That is simply not OK.

By Reporting On Celebrity Bodies Relentlessly

I don’t buy any tabloids or click on the headlines, and yet I can’t escape knowing about Kim Kardashian’s post-pregnancy weight loss journey. When the media constantly feeds us their carefully curated stories on celebrities’ drive to reshape their postpartum bodies, it perpetuates a false ideal of motherhood.

I’m not saying that celebrities, or anyone, shouldn’t do what they need to do to feel good about themselves. However, we need more of a variety of stories on postpartum bodies, to more accurately reflect women who’ve just given birth. It’s refreshing to hear from and see average women and celebrities get real about their postpartum bodies. More of that please.