After going through a high-risk pregnancy, blogger Sarah Bunton of xoJane shares her struggles with society's unrealistic idea of what a woman's postbaby body should look like.
From the Eva Mendes "Sweatpants-Gate" to Kelly Clarkson's ongoing encounters with fat-shamers, our nation is seemingly obsessed with celebrities' post-baby bodies. We hate/envy them when they're impossibly fit and we mock them when they're not. Celebs like Kim Kardashian, Christina Aguilera, Pink, Kerry Washington, Mila Kunis, and even Princess Kate look ridiculously toned and thin on magazine covers with tips on how you, too, can be just like them. God forbid your body show any sign of having actually carried a child.
As a mother myself, I feel like I'm constantly barraged by images and articles that draw a clear line in the sand. You can either be a woman or be a mother. You can't be both. Whether I'm in the check-out line at the grocery store or scrolling through my newsfeed at home, I'm painfully aware of the separation. It's either Cosmo or Parenting, there's seemingly no middle ground. Why can't I read about the latest beauty hacks while simultaneously wiping tiny, sticky fingerprints off the screen?
Let's be honest, sometimes motherhood isn't glamorous. Sometimes my hair stays in a messy bun for three days in a row. Let's be even more honest. Sometimes I don't like to look at myself in a full-length mirror. You see, I have a chronic illness that causes my connective tissue to be stretchy. That means that when my skin was pushed to its limit during pregnancy, it didn't and most likely won't ever go back to what it used to be.
I'm not going to lie and say some cheesy line about how motherhood is magical and babies are miracles and I love my body. I still struggle with body image issues and feel sharp pangs of bitter jealousy when I see young women on the beach without so much as a single dimple of cellulite or even a tiny stretch mark.
I'm told by my fellow mommy friends that I need to just give up on the idea of being the same woman I was before I had a child. Look, I've seen Frozen a million times; I do not need to be told to "let it go." Why are other women so content to say goodbye to that part of themselves?
It may not be a popular opinion, but I'm going to say it: There's no such thing as a pre- or post-baby body. There is just your body. You don't need to forget about pre-baby you because pre-baby you is you! You may wear many hats as a mother — caregiver, nurse, provider, etc. — but you are still the same woman just with a little more experience.
After going through a high-risk pregnancy, I had a real wander-in-the-desert crisis of identity. On the inside I was still the same nerdy, pop-culture junkie with a loud laugh and too many opinions. The outside was a different story, though. I couldn't reconcile the two for what seemed like an eternity. I felt like my skin-deep complaints were somehow betraying all the feminists who came before me and fought so hard to not be judged on looks alone.
At a time when I was supposed to be feeling like a mighty goddess with the power of creating life, I was struggling to even identify as feminine. The change in perception came when I began thinking about the example I would be setting for my son as he grew. I realized I needed to be the one to teach him that women are neither defined by their body nor their ability to reproduce.
I think we should take a cue from moms like Kate Winslet, Jennifer Garner, Kristen Bell, and Drew Barrymore and make our own narrative about the female body. Rather than labeling it and dividing it, we need to tell a complete story. My story involves surviving a high-risk pregnancy only to relearn how to trust my own body again through the eyes of my baby boy. Your story may be and probably is different, and that's fine, too. I'm full of my own flaws, but at least I am full.