If you’ve seen some of my other posts on this topic you’ll know that I’m all about the body positive and learning to love your post-baby body (read this post on why you shouldn’t worry about losing the baby weight). I hate the pressure on mums to lose the baby weight (see my thoughts on the pressure to lose the baby weight) and despair about the way we teach women to look at themselves purely in terms of whether they conform with wildly unrealistic ideals of beauty.
But I’m no stranger to this pressure. In fact, I think the reason why I hate it so much is because I feel it more intently than most.
I’m a recovered anorexic. I struggled with an eating disorder in my early 20’s and then again after I got divorced in 2009. I used anorexia as an escape, a way of avoiding difficult emotions. But obviously the side effect of this was that I was always quite slim and a size 8-10. This meant I didn’t ever really have to think about my relationship with my body. I was actually pretty happy with the way I looked because it fit with my expectations of myself. Primarily of being slim, toned and petite. As you might expect though, as I got older and put on weight this has changed. I no longer fit with my expectations about myself because, quite frankly, they aren’t realistic. Nonetheless though I can’t seem to shake them.
Which got me thinking about where they have come from. Why is it that any woman feels that she needs to be thin to be good enough? What are the factors that make me feel like I’m no good as a size 14-16? That I need to be slim, toned and sculpted in order to be allowed to love myself or believe that other people will love me?
The answer, sadly, is everywhere. They come from all around me. I see them daily on social media, I feel them when I’m around certain people and I’m being brainwashed by clever marketing companies that I need to buy their products to help me look the way they tell me I should look.
And I hate that. I honestly feel sometimes that the only way to feel good about myself now would be to move to a remote island with only women over 35 and no internet. There are so many places that we, as women, receive negative messages about our bodies but here are my top 5.
Social media is both wonderful and evil at the same time. We are bombarded over and over with images of what society considers to be attractive women. People post only their best photos on social media. They are posed, artificial and even photoshopped. Even so, we think that we too should be able to look like that. And we can’t get away from it. If we want to stay in touch or up to date we need to be on social media but it’s here that we get the most insidious messages about what we should look like. Pretty girls get ‘likes’. Tired mums with no make up, a few extra pounds and a light covering of baby sick – not so much.
Companies that profit from it
Marketing is a clever business. Companies paid huge sums of money to know how to tap into our weaknesses. They spend months planning campaigns that are aimed at hooking us in without us even knowing it. They know what they are doing and we fall for it. They send out messages day in day out that we aren’t good enough as we are but if we just buy their products, try their workouts or do their diet plan then we will suddenly be amazing. Worthy. Gorgeous. Acceptable.
And it’s everywhere. We literally cannot escape marketing. It’s on the streets, in newspapers or on our laptops, phones and TVs. They want our money and they’ll get it by convincing us that we can’t possibly be happy with ourselves without whatever it is they are selling.
This is where it starts to get a little less obvious. Other people (and I’m primarily talking about friends and family) can influence how we feel about ourselves. Well meaning comments (or maybe even badly meant ones) can send subtle messages about whether or not we are OK. I’ve known other mums who have had comments on whether they should ‘eat that chocolate bar’, on how little exercise they do or the fact that their clothes are tight (none of which are OK by the way). All of which are basically saying that she’s not fine the way she is and needs to change something.
We look to our partners for reassurance that we are still attractive to them and sometimes this isn’t forthcoming. Attitudes from close family might be that being overweight isn’t OK. Or that weight loss is something we should always be focused on. Friends might make us feel like we should be more mindful of what we eat. Or be attending regular body boot camp classes. And whether we like it or not, the opinions and attitudes of the people around us have a big part to play in how we feel about ourselves.
Mum friends are a necessity when you have a baby. But mum friends who snap straight back into shape without having to give up a single doughnut are really annoying too. The problem with making lots of mum friends is that you all had a baby at roughly the same time. Which means if they have lost the weight or jumped straight back into their pre-baby jeans then it can leave you wondering why you haven’t too. Having a lot of mum friends can also mean that there are lots of conversations about ‘baby weight’. About how well people are doing getting back into their normal clothes. Or how much of the baby weight they have lost. How many exercise classes they attend or what diet club they have joined…
This can put a lot of pressure on you to join in too. Or make you feel like if you aren’t trying desperately to get thin then there is something wrong with you. It can be hard to relax about your post baby body around other mums. Especially if they are desperately trying to change theirs.
Our own insecurities
Whilst all of the factors above have a massive role to play in how mums feel about themselves, it is important to recognise that a lot of the pressure can come from within. It comes from how we THINK we should look or feeling crap because we don’t look the way we did before baby. It also comes from our expectations. I lost the baby weight very quickly with baby 2 which meant I expected the same to happen after baby 3. When it didn’t it really threw me and made me feel like there was something wrong. There wasn’t of course, it was just that reality didn’t match up with what I thought would happen.
We often have a picture in our head of how we want to look. Which is fine until it doesn’t match up with reality or is unattainable. That’s where we can start to judge ourselves harshly. To think that we’ve failed if we don’t reach that size or weight. To be annoyed with ourselves if we have another sweet because it means we’re further away from achieving our dream body. It’s really important to be aware of the pressure you are placing on yourself to look a certain way because if you can remove this, you are going to feel a whole lot happier, very quickly!
It can be very difficult to adjust to a post-baby body. We all know the saying ‘9 months to put it on, 9 months to get it off’. But when you are in that 9 months it feels like a fucking long time! Plus the reality is that for a lot of mums it takes longer than 9 months and sometimes you never lose it all. This can be upsetting because all of us can remember what we looked like before baby. There is an element of mourning our pre-baby selves that needs to happen before we can embrace our post-baby selves. But it is possible, even with all the factors above working against you!