If you've been anywhere near a newsstand or the internet any time in the past, like, 20 or so years, you are no doubt painfully aware of the fact that new moms want to "get their body back" after childbirth. In fact, a bevy of beautiful celebrities will tell you how they "got their body back" in the pages of some glossy magazine. In such an atmosphere, it may seem impossible to support a mom wanting to lose weight while remaining body positive. It's not. It can be tricky but, for the most part, it's not.
When it comes to the "get your body back" culture, the stage-whispered subtext is that women should utilize diet, exercise, and whatever else is necessary in order to look like a woman who has not given birth after she has, in fact, given birth. This is, of course, toxic, stupid, and damaging to mothers, women, and society as a whole. Simultaneously, to suggest that women who have undergone a radical bodily change through pregnancy, birth, and perhaps breastfeeding and want to lose weight afterward are merely all brainwashed by the patriarchy is extremely presumptive as well. Perhaps we can all agree that while overly simplistic views of women, their bodies, and what they choose to do with them may be convenient, they're not really useful in practice. Enter the body positive movement.
The main (in some ways, only) principle of body positivity is that there is no one acceptable way for a body to look or exist in the world, and that all bodies deserve autonomy and respect. "Well if that's true," some ask, "Why try to lose weight in the first place." An excellent question, and the answer is "You don't have to." Another answer, however, is "Because I want to." If body positivity meant only supporting bodies as they exist without any alterations, no one in the movement would have tattoos or be interested in make-up. (And trust: there are a lot of well-known body positive activists with tattoos and a deep love of cosmetics.)
So how can you, as a conscientious person and good friend, be positive about your friend's desire to lose weight? The following are a few suggestions, because the desire to lose weight doesn't (and shouldn't) mean you no longer love your body.
Don't Ask About Her Weight Loss Goals
For one, it's just presumptive AF and, frankly, just kind of weird. What are you even going to do with that information? Approve her goal? Contradict it? She doesn't need any of that. Secondly, it's banking on the assumption that she has a particular number in mind, which she may well not have. Thirdly, it's emphasizing the idea that beauty and health are quantifiable by arbitrary numbers on a scale and that's just not true.
Don't Keep Checking In Or Asking About Her "Progress"
You may think this is motivating and showing that you care about her goals, and you probably mean well (or think you do), but it's showing an unnecessary preoccupation with her body and what she's choosing to do with it. Think about it this way: if someone said they were going to try to have kids or write a novel, would you ask them every time you saw them how that was coming along or do you think it would be better to give them time and space to do their thing and wait for them to bring it up? You're better of with the latter, in all cases, especially since you don't know what compounding factors and challenges she (or anyone) may be facing.
Ask Her About Her Other Hobbies And Accomplishments
Weight loss isn't the only thing going on in anyone's life, much less a parent's. OK, so she decided she has some pounds she'd like to lose. She probably also has books to read, TV to watch, places to travel, news to discuss, preschools to research for her 2-year-old, hilarious cat videos to share, work to be done; the list literally goes on and on and on. There's a whole world out there full of stuff, so ask her how she's navigating it.
Don't Police Her Food Or Eating
You probably think you're being helpful, because you probably think your friend is on some sort of diet (mostly likely a diet with a name and marketing and tons of accessories available for purchase and you're "encouraging" her to stick to it). However, it's hardly a forgone conclusion that weight loss = dieting. Saying you want to lose weight is not the same as saying you're never going to eat ice cream again. Even if she is on a diet, you don't know the "rules" of her diet: maybe she's factored whatever she's eating into it. Lastly, even if you do know the rules of her diet, it's none of your business. Lay off.
Don't Be The Devil On Her Shoulder
Similarly, if your friend has said, "That cookie looks delicious, but no thank you, I'm going to stick to my sugar-free pudding," respect that she has told what she has decided is best for her and her body. Don't lecture her about how she needs to eat "real food" or how she needs to "indulge," or please, for the love of God, don't tell her she should "be naughty" and eat the cookie. (You can't "be naughty" when it comes to food since food has no moral value.)
Ask If She Wants A Gym Buddy (If You're Interested)
If you like working out, and your friend has said that's something she's begun to do, see if you like to get active in similar ways. If so, maybe she'd like company. Exercise can be boring, even when you're committed to it, and having a friend next to you on the treadmill or in Zumba might be just what your buddy needs to help her make her healthy choices a habit.
(Don't be offended if she doesn't. Speaking personally, I would rather have someone watch me go to the bathroom than exercise. I'm incredibly self-conscious and that's why I run in the woods early in the morning, because I know deer don't judge. The chipmunks can be real judgmental, though.)
Don't Fawn Over Her If You Do See A Difference
"Oh my goooooooooooooooosh you're soooooooooo skinnyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! You look amaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazing!"
I get it. I'm a compliment-giver. I fling out words of affirmation like I'm tossing beads off a Mardi Gras float. However, going over-the-top in your acknowledgment of a friend's weight loss is a) overemphasizing the role of weight in physical appearance b) overstating the importance of physical appearance in general c) kind of indicating that she looked crappy before now, which is sort of mean.
Don't Try To "Motivate" Her
"Ooh! Look at that dress! When you lose the weight you'll look amazing in that!" "Let's go running so we can earn some milkshakes!"
No. Please, just no. All too often, "motivation" is really code for "shaming who and what you are now, fetishizing food, and propping up an idealized beauty standard as though beauty is narrowly defined." Your friend doesn't need a tag on the inside of her jeans (with a number of 6 or lower) to give her permission to be fabulous. She also doesn't need to earn a milkshake: she earns money and can buy a milkshake whenever she feels like it. Food isn't a reward. Exercise isn't a punishment. Bodies don't need permission to exist.
Don't Give Unsolicited Advice
Seriously, even if you're a trainer or nutritionist or body positive blogger with a heart of gold: don't. If your friend wants your expertise she will ask for it. Dictating what she should be doing is not body positive, because she's under no obligation to be doing anything whatsoever to, for, or about her body.
That's not to say you can't share tips at all. For example, if your friend is bemoaning her lack of perceived progress to you and says she wishes she knew what she could do differently, you can (respectfully) let her know what has worked for you or in your experience. Or you can talk about what class at your gym you've really enjoyed. Just leave the "should"s out of it.
Watch Her Kids
I mean, you're under no obligation, but seriously, this is pretty much the best damn thing you can do for any mom who wants to accomplish anything. Indeed, there is a place assured in Heaven for those who would go so far above and beyond the call of duty.
Don't Aggressively Insist She Doesn't Need To Lose Weight
The only thing body positivity asserts is that everyone's body is worthy of respect, regardless of size, shape, color, or ability. It doesn't say you have to be totally disinterested in what your body looks like or can do. As such, losing weight is not a contradiction to the body positive movement. That's not to say this isn't a complicated issue at times, because often the desire to lose weight is tied to the desire to adhere to a narrow interpretation of attractiveness perpetuated by the media and fashion and beauty industries. Sometimes, you won't know what is motivating your friend, and sometimes you will and you'll know it's those stupid beauty standards.
That's none of your concern, though.
The best way to be body positive is to essentially ignore the aspects of the weight-loss industry that are problematic (that being a certain size is an unspoken requirement, that one must be a certain shape to wear certain things, that foods are "good" or "bad") and to approach it as supporting your friend in a decision she has made. The only person who gets a vote in what you do with your body is you and, unfortunately, not enough people know or realize that.