A friend of mine was once fretting over her weight. She had been living her best life for a while and had gained some and was now going through that crisis that almost every woman goes through when she realizes suddenly that some of her clothes can no longer fit. Her mother, who was around, happened to overhear our conversation and she laughed, saying that we were stressed now about our bodies when these same bodies are the ones we will want in ten years.
Her comment totally threw us off. First, because we didn’t know she had been listening, or that she would weigh in. Second because, well, it’s true, isn’t it? You struggle with how you look now and then in three years you look back and wish you looked the way you did. Or even if you don’t, now that you look the way you wanted to, you find that there are still parts of you that you would change if you could.
Her comment made us realize that there is no end to the pursuit of our ‘ideal body’. There is no end to our self-criticism when it comes to our physical appearance. You will set a goal and maybe you will achieve it because you are more disciplined than the rest of us. But then something else will come up and you will feel the need to make yet another change and maybe you will achieve that as well. But then something else will happen and even more changes will be necessary. The pursuit of that body we’ve idealized, it’s a mirage. It’s a never-ending race that you think you are in with other people, but you’re really not.
Post-pregnancy weight is one of the difficult things that women deal with after pregnancy. It wasn’t such an issue a couple of decades back but now there is all this pressure to walk out of the hospital and go straight to the gym because you don’t want to be that woman who ‘let herself go’ after having a child. And what does that even mean, really? Letting yourself go? It sounds like body-shaming packaged in good intentions. Sure, everybody should take care of their bodies by eating actual food and breaking a sweat sometimes, but why have we made weight such a big deal for new mothers. I mean, she just had a baby. Maybe hold off those questions and comments about her size until later? Better yet, get rid of them completely.
Those conversations, I find, are more detrimental than they are helpful. Of course some women are content with themselves after childbirth and feel no need to change. But the majority stress over how to lose it and snap back into the shape they had before they were pregnant, even though that shape probably seemed too big to them during pre-pregnancy period. Like, I said: a mirage. And then these mothers stress some more over how impossible it is to even get time to exercise to accomplish that ‘snapping back’ when they are busy looking after a baby, getting back to work and a million other things. She starts thinking that she is the problem, that her life isn’t as together as it should be. Do you know how damaging that could be to a person’s mental health?
All this is even without taking into consideration the shock that some women experience after giving birth. They cannot recognize their own bodies. They were told that their bodies will change but not just how much. So they have all these insecurities to deal with in addition to everything else. Some fall into depression and their self esteem takes a real hit. They lose confidence and often tuck themselves away into their motherhood role so that they don’t have to think about themselves apart from motherhood. They struggle to be intimate with their spouses. They withdraw and become more morose, difficult to be around. And it is harder on them than it is on anyone else. And the baby still needs to be taken care of. That is a lot of pressure for anybody to hold up well under.
The truth was summed up best in that expression that talks about how you don’t owe anybody a face or body of any type. Pretty or skinny is not the rent you pay to exist in this world. We should say things like that more often because the extent to which we have decided our physical appearance is what matters most is ridiculous. The pressure to get back in shape after carrying a child is one that most women resent but often still succumb to. Because everyone wants to be that mother about whom people exclaim, ‘Imagine she doesn’t even look like she has a child!’ But the harm that this pressure does to so many women far outweighs whatever benefits it may have.
To put it simply, this particular struggle is unnecessary. Some mothers start working vigorously to lose the pregnancy weight immediately. Some cannot muster the strength or find the time. Some are elated that they put on some weight and are content to stay that way. Some go right back to shape without much effort. Some lose the weight through breastfeeding. And all this is okay. Because it should be her choice. After having a whole human exit your body the last thing you need is other people’s standards on what that same body should look like. What matters is that you choose what works for you and do that.
Perhaps it would help if we had more honest conversations about how women’s bodies change after pregnancy. Real honest conversations, details and all. And then find a way to come back to an acceptance of this because these changes are not necessarily a problem to be fixed. Your body is not a problem that needs fixing. Every woman’s experience with her body during and after pregnancy is valid and the truth is that just because it happened one way with another woman doesn’t mean it has to happen that way with you. You don’t want to be chasing a mirage your whole life because someone said you have to be thin again after giving birth.
Author: Michelle Korir
Michelle Chepchumba is contributor at Wanjiru Kihusa. She loves cats and enjoys reading and writing in an attempt to discover the mysteries of the human mind. She also works in mental health and writes about life at www.thescroll.co.ke.