Self-Image: Post-Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a beautiful time, right?  The excitement of bringing a new life into the world and all the delightful, gooey memories that will cling to the edges of your memory forever.  But, what about after it’s all over?  What happens when the grand show commences and the curtain closes and you’re left with this beautiful amazing human being, but also with the body that created this human being.

            As women, we are held to a certain beauty standard.  Most men and women have an image in their head of what women should look like (think Kate Moss with flexibility about the hair color), and anyone deviating from their standards doesn’t warrant a second glance.  This rigid set of standards is what causes beautiful, unique girls, and women as well, to cower and try to mask their differences in order to fit into what society classifies as a beautiful woman.

            Pregnant women are not immune to this prejudice.  Thanks to countless celebrity pregnancies being painted over every flat surface, we have to deal with what women feel they should look like right after pregnancy.  These starlets are lucky enough to have personal chefs, trainers, and nannies as soon as the innocent babe hits dry land.  They have ample time and resources to get their bodies back in shape for the red carpet, but that’s not reality.

            I had the honor of sitting down with a few real world mothers to talk about how they felt about pregnancy and its effects on their bodies.  These women were from all walks of life and different fitness levels.  They were all living in different structured family units and knew the realities of life after childbirth.

            When talking about getting back into shape after giving birth to her son, 25 year old Kourtney Ficker responded, “I’ve never experienced something so hard.  I used to be able to eat a cheeseburger and chicken fingers in one meal and go workout and still be the same weight I always had been, but now it’s a lot harder.”  She also confided that her family is a huge support system that allows her to continue to work herself back into the body she is comfortable in.  She also relates that she never lets anyone push her to be a certain weight, but that she motivates herself to get to a point where she’s comfortable. “I’ve never gotten on a scale and said ‘I want to lose this much weight’,” she says when asked about her motivation.  She doesn’t let the scale dictate her life.

            She also gave some sobering advice about raising her son in a world where conformity is seen to be the key to happiness.   “Well, I think no matter what kind of kid—girl, boy, it doesn’t matter—I think you always need to be positive about weight or how you look because they’re constantly watching you and constantly repeating you.  Girls have been taught from early on that they need to look a certain way, and it happens with boys too just not as much.  But I also think with boys that you don’t want them going to another girl and repeating what you say about yourself.”  This struck me as such a powerful notion.  We too often think of telling the girls that no matter what boys or men say about them, that they need to stay confident.  I think Kourtney is making such an underrated statement about changing the way we look at body image.  We need to start teaching the boys to respect their bodies and the bodies of the women they encounter so girls no longer have to put up such a strong defense against their bodies.

            Another mother gave me some advice from the eyes of a woman dealing with the opposite gender.  She told me that she doesn’t talk about her body because she doesn’t want her girls to hear any negativity and begin to internalize it.  Another sobering reality for me.  Girls, women, and teens are being berated with body image in both good and bad contexts, but unfortunately the bad outweighs the good in most scenarios.  Plastic surgery is being fed into their brains as the cure all for anything these girls might find different about their bodies.  It’s important for them to see a real woman, someone they look up to, embracing the differences she has within herself.  The same mother—Abby Ficker, a 32 year old mother of two daughters—told me about her reality after childbirth.  She retells, “Pre-pregnancy, I think I had a pretty nice body.  During my first pregnancy, my body blew up.”  She tells me such a real story about having a full time job with two young girls and how this has effected getting back into shape.  As with Kourtney, she credits her family for supporting her and helping her get back to her comfortable body shape.  She says, “My dad is really good at complimenting and saying, ‘You look like you lost weight.’  Little things like that are motivating.”

            She also gave an insight into what it’s like for mother’s to see the shining celebrity example of what every woman should be right after nine months of pregnancy, hours of labor, and raising a newborn.  She responds, “I do think it’s hard to see people that bounce back after like a month because it’s not realistic for most people.”

            No, this feat is not realistic for most people, but for a 40 year old marathon runner, this is just what happened after her daughter was born.  Karen Otten remembers, “I could get back to my old shorts.  I didn’t notice a big change.”  Now, dear readers, before you start coming at me with pitchforks and torches for just contradicting this whole post, let me remind you: not all body image issues come from hips, waist, and thighs.  There are other parts of the body that can be tremendously affected after childbirth.

            In this case, it was her breasts.  Most of us would be jumping for joy at this new body change, but trust me; this was no walk in the park.  Karen jokes, “My boobs were so engorged, and I felt like Pamela Lee.  They were so hard I wanted to stick pins in them.”  She was very easy going about the joke, but she later confided in me just how much this affected her life.  “My breasts were tight like tires and they were so engorged,” she confides.  She goes on to tell me how painful her breastfeeding process was because her breasts were so sore.

            When concluding my interview with these women, I asked if they had any advice for the future generations of mothers to come.  All three of them answered in some form of the same advice: You have a child.  You have a new life.  Don’t stress or sweat about your weight or body image because you just carried a child into this world.

Contributed by: Elisabeth Ficker