Hold the front page of a trashy mag. I have news.
I’ve lost my post-baby weight.
Alas, without a personal trainer, chef and an absolute obsession with my body, it's taken a bit more than the ten days Nicole Kidman took to reclaim ‘thin’, the three weeks it took for Reese Witherspoon to squeeze into her skinny jeans, or even the six months the self respecting Pink took to tone up after giving birth.
I, a mere mortal, took ten years.
(Mind you, I couldn’t be sure that all the kilos have been shed as it took me 9 ½ years to buy my first ever set of scales.)
Yet I will always have a body branded by birth. Clearly I am a failed ‘Yummy mummy’ and will never be a so-called ‘MILF’. Thank the gods and goddesses for that, because I find it increasingly bizarre that both labels even exist.
It seems in popular culture when a woman becomes a mother her sexuality and desirability become so questionable and so public they need scrutiny and special labels. Yet it’s a contrary attitude; on the one hand when a woman has a child she will be forever defined as ‘mother’, yet all evidence of becoming one should be wiped from her body. For some reason we like famous new mums to don virginal white and do photo shoots with their wrinkled little angelic baby treasures. But then, a few weeks later, we want them back on stage within weeks looking bootilicious.
Of course public styling of new mothers has little to do with reality of most of our lives. While few of us feel such lives have any relevance to us, they do however set up bizarre expectations. The ‘yummy mummy’ maybe ideal but most women are engaged in the yucky – eating their kid’s leftover fish fingers rather than Gwyneth Paltrow’s quinoa packed dairy, gluten and carbohydrate-free child snacks.
We seem to deny the freedom in nesting for a while. In India and China women are encouraged to stay inside for 40 days – served and honoured as far as economically possible. I remember imposing my own ‘lying in period’ and emerging from that cocoon feeling like an astronaut reentering my own atmosphere after traveling to another planet. There’s a freedom and self-respect to letting your body go. After that stage, I don't blame the kids for the excess weight, but rather the wine, TV box sets, the thickening agent of age and sheer laziness.
Clearly, despite their bodies betraying them or not, women no longer disappear when they become mothers. On contrary, they seem now keen to be out and proud. To redefine themselves publicly by their most private relationship. Women increasingly seem to state ‘Mother’, or ‘proud mum’, or ‘mother of 3’, on twitter handles, bios and even CVs. I understand that those who have kids see themselves as a mother forever and are proud of that role in life. I do and I am. Yet it’s now become a marker of how we want to be perceived in the world.
Some men are starting to do the same; adding ‘Dad’ to their title. It’s an interesting development. Perhaps we are all getting better at blurring those lines between public and private. To present our real self to the world.
Yet, I understand concerns that women’s identity shouldn’t be defined only by their relation to others. Psychologists often propose that women do come to define themselves more in terms of their relationships than men do. In the United States some women even put out a petition asking President Obama to stop referring to women in his speeches as ‘sisters, daughters and mothers’. Those who signed argued that by constantly defining women in their relation to men or others was disempowering of their individual worth.
It seems in western culture there’s confusion about how we define ourselves. Most women want to have a healthy identity that is based on being an individual. But, perhaps this tendency to identify as ‘mother’ is not a backwards step. It could be a reclaiming and discovering of a new self-identity after parenthood. I like to think it’s also a reclaiming of mothering as a life long job that requires skill, thought, energy and intelligence and not just ‘instinct’ that comes to us naturally because we are women. Perhaps it's a cry to be heard, respected and acknowledged for our hard work.
Whatever it is it’s a permanent branding. After all, it’s an identity far more impossible to shift than the post-baby kilos.
Do you publicly define yourself as ‘mother’ or ‘father’? What effect has it had on the way people see you? Would you recommend it?