When I was pregnant with my first baby, a friend cautioned me, “listen, right after birth you’re going to look like a deflated balloon and you’ll think you’re doomed to look that way forever, but trust me: it isn’t permanent”. She was right (on both fronts: yes, I looked like a deflated balloon, and yes, it went away). As my due date with my second approached, I readied myself for the changes ahead, assuming they would also be short-lived. Maybe subsequent pregnancies have a cumulative effect on the body, or it is the fact that this was a “geriatric” pregnancy, but it seems this time around, things weren’t bouncing back so quickly.
And it really bummed me out.
At a time when body positivity messaging is omnipresent and self-acceptance inspiration is finally mainstream, I’m struggling to admit that I miss my pre-baby body.
Years ago, magazines and tabloid sites were full of horrible sanctimonious criticism of celebrities and who got their post-baby body back the quickest. It felt awful to watch the physical toll of motherhood be reduced to such pettiness. And sure, that commentary still exists, but there’s also a brilliant and powerful body-positive counterculture, stunning women who wear their stretch marks like beautiful badges of honor. If these responses to post-pregnancy body imagery are on opposite ends of a spectrum, I struggled with where to put myself. It prompted me to ask some uncomfortable questions: Was I a lesser feminist for missing how my clothes fit before I had children? Was I shallow for wanting to devote some of my very limited time trying to claw back a bit of my old self? How much of my motivations are rooted in health versus vanity? And, at my deepest, most insecure self, I wondered whether “good” mothers still care about their appearance or is that also sacrificed at the altar of motherhood?
Beauty, as they say, is skin deep. The changes that I readied myself for were swift. Soon after delivery, I went from pregnancy glow to oh no. In a matter of days, my forehead looked like a blotchy spray tan gone bad. After scrubbing it raw with a washcloth and then eventually turning to concealer, I sought out the help of a dermatologist who said the culprit is likely pregnancy mask, ie., melasma. For some, melasma can be caused by a myriad of factors and is chronic. For others, it will disappear on its own months after pregnancy, along with the line running down one’s stomach in pregnancy, linea nigra, another hallmark of pregnancy hyperpigmentation. Time is the deciding factor in whether or not it is chronic. Short of getting in a time machine and seeing what the future holds for my skin, I just try to ignore it. You read that right: I literally try to ignore the upper third of my face when looking in the mirror. Instead, I gaze upon the plump, perfect little faces of my children, so full of promise and collagen.
I thoroughly enjoyed two pregnancy’s worth of bombshell hair but know that it is a good time, not a long time. After giving birth, 40 weeks of good hair days went down the drain (literally), like a ginkgo tree dropping its leaves.
Hairstylist and salon owner Jason Lee explains that hair has a natural life cycle which includes both a growth stage (anogen phase) and a shedding phase (exogen phase). “Pregnant women experience a continual anogen phase where they describe their hair feeling thicker and fuller and growing longer than usual”, Lee says. While nothing can speed up how quickly hair grows, I can’t pull off the cool mom top knot, so I invested in a very, very good haircut that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve given up. It feels, I don’t know, almost French? With the hair situation under control, imagine my delight when my eyelashes and eyebrows started falling out, too. I don’t wear a lot of makeup and feel oddly naked without lashes and brows.
The cause of this is the exogen/anogen cycle back on its bullshit. Ashley Woodroffe founded Extra Goodie lash serum after her own experience of motherhood set her on a path for clean ingredients. “Eyebrows and lashes go through the same type of growth cycles and can also be impacted by the new balance of hormones that comes with having a baby,” she explains. Aging compounds this, as growth phases naturally decrease and the diameter of hair shafts shrinks. With a lens on clean, non-synthetic ingredients, Woodroffe created a serum to give hair follicles the nutrients they need to yield thicker, longer lashes. Would age eventually rob us all of our lashes and brows, with motherhood simply fast-tracking the process? Maybe, but this feels like a very low-stakes, potentially high-return situation. Gimme the serums, please and thank you.
In addition to once having fairly good if not low-maintenance skin and hair, I used to enjoy the metabolism of a hummingbird. Two children later, my once-athletic build now looks like Mr. Burns: rounded back and shoulders, in a permanent hunch. I saw a chiropractor and acupuncturist with a focus on perinatal care, Dr Aliya Visram, who assured me this is common, albeit uncomfortable. “Pregnancy strains joints and shifts one’s center of gravity, causing rounded shoulders, a tucked-in pelvis (or flat bum) and a hunched neck”, she explains. Then of course, after the baby arrives, the hunching continues as we feed, hold, change and wear them.
My posture is a hill that I’m willing to die on. I feel like my joints are made of concrete when I’m sedentary and exercise is the cornerstone of my postpartum mental health. I’ve resolved to move my body, in any way that I can, every day. It won’t exactly wind back the clock, but it goes a long way for boosting my mood. Plus, I want to role model an active lifestyle to my kids.
Ah, right. My kids. The family that I wanted so badly that I feel guilty for wanting to replace one lost hair on my head because I love them so fiercely. There is no hiding that motherhood has impacted every part of my life, including what I see in the mirror. Mirrors, however, don’t always tell the truth. I met Karmen LaMer, founder of The Tight Clinic. We both had cancer as young women and talked about the dichotomy of never being more grateful for your body and health, whilst also being accurately aware of bodies inevitably change (and not always in ways that we like). She points to Forma as a very effective treatment to rebuild collagen, which she credits with replenishing her own skin after cancer treatment. “I exhausted EVERY technology, the risk of complications from some are scary as fuck. For Forma, there’s no pain, no downtime and no risk – effective as rebuilding collagen anywhere in the body, particularly for firming the face and tightening tummy tissue after pregnancy,” says LeMer. FORMA EVERY INCH OF ME, I was thinking as she spoke. She delivers her dose of optimism with a chaser of realism. Sure, some treatments can help with some things here or there, but she’s often left asking women what’s really behind their motivations for certain treatments or procedures. She sadly sees many women who have developed dysphoric relationships with their appearance. She would rather turn away potential customers than perpetuate unhealthy self-imagery. “This industry is happy to take women’s money and promise them results they can’t deliver. I have integrity and am honest about what a treatment can and can’t do”, explains LaMer.
When it comes down to it, am I losing sleep over a thinner ponytail or curvier body? Heck no. I don’t have any of that to spare (no, literally, I need every minute of sleep I can get). I’ve decided to enter the next phase grateful for the miraculous work that my body’s done, and with a heaping dose of reality about what changes will unearth pieces of the old me. If I thought it was so horrible to see celebrities’ bodies picked apart for how they look on the beach after having a baby, why would I ever do that to myself? Now more than ever, I see that getting to know my postpartum body is a perfect metaphor for motherhood: being uncomfortable and never more confident at the same time.
Image: Brat Co / Stockys.com
Another day, another unnecessary opinion getting posted on the internet. I can say that, as someone whose unnecessary opinions get posted on the internet all the time. In my case, they tend to trend towards things like the pivotal Best Kiss Award at the 2005 VMAs or why Love Island is the most important show in the history of television. You know, harmless stuff. But in the case of English journalist Tanya Gold, unnecessary opinions tend to include things like campaigning against a sports brand for having the audacity to show some love to a criminally neglected audience: plus-size women.
In an piece for The Telegraph titled “Obese mannequins are selling women a dangerous lie,” Tanya Gold rails against Nike for the inclusion of plus-size mannequins in their flagship London store. Except, according to Gold, these human-shaped crimes against humanity are not just plus-size: “the new Nike mannequin is not size 12, which is healthy, or even 16 – a hefty weight, yes, but not one to kill a woman. She is immense, gargantuan, vast. She heaves with fat.”
“She heaves with fat” is the kind of thing I whisper while I watch my cat try to climb onto the windowsill in my bedroom, but yes it’s also a totally acceptable thing for a grown woman to say about an inanimate object built to showcase clothing.
Hey @Telegraph #tanyagold this plus size athlete has run 5 marathons, an Olympic triathlon, 2 tough mudders, a 42 mile ultramarathon and hundreds of other races and ALL in this Fat size 18 body!! If you are ever in need of some coaching to help you with your worthyness call me!!! pic.twitter.com/RWZBW1B1Vj
— Too Fat to Run? (@Fattymustrun) June 10, 2019
Before diving into this mess of bigotry masquerading as concern, let’s get something straight really quick. The plus-size mannequin, while an inclusive and realistic representation of many women and a progressive step in the fashion industry, is first and foremost a savvy business decision. Nike launched a plus-size collection in 2017. Since the addition of these mannequins, searches of “Nike” and “plus size” have sky-rocketed. As a brand that is no stranger to using controversial statements to boost sales, a move like this shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Does any of that negate the positive effect these mannequins have had on women who finally feel like they’re being catered to by one of the world’s biggest brands? That’s a conversation for another day. (But the answer is no, it doesn’t.)
After insulting the plastic person that has apparently ruined her life, Gold pivots to her apparent hatred of the advertising industry, complete with a quote from Don Draper. You know an argument is about to be relevant when it’s building its foundation on a TV show that ended four years ago.
“Advertising has always bullied women, but this is something more insidious.” As someone who works in advertising, I find this line of attack equal parts tired and one-dimensional. But we don’t even have time to focus on that argument before Gold starts listing all of the different body-ideals foisted upon women by the media, ranging from “the spindly, starved creature” to “the Kim Kardashian.”
It’s no secret that women are held to an unrealistic beauty standard, one that has a tendency to drastically impact our entire lives. But using that idea as a basis to justify fat-shaming is both hilarious and misguided. This woman got so turned around in her own logic that she stumble onto a trail leading towards actual rational thought.
You see, somehow, on the way to her argument as to why overweight mannequins shouldn’t be allowed in public, Gold has outlined the very reason that they serve as a beacon of hope to so many: because they’ve never been featured there before. That plus-size mannequin is standing proudly (or as proudly as she can being headless and also not alive) next to a size two mannequin in a major location of a global brand. That’s a big deal for a lot of people, which naturally means someone had to try and tear it down.
But Gold is too busy to notice that because she’s out here, leading a crusade against everything from Nike to the advertising industry to porn to video games to Kim Kardashian for unfairly dictating women’s appearances….all while writing an op-ed attempting to unfairly dictate women’s appearances.
“I would never want a woman to hate herself for what she finds in the looking-glass,” says Gold. Unless that woman is overweight and looking for athletic clothes to wear so that she can perhaps change that fact. Or to lounge in around the house because they’re comfortable. Or to wear because she’s a f*cking human and is allowed to buy overpriced athleisure just like the rest of us.
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but overweight people need workout clothes, too. Just because someone is large does not mean they are unhealthy. Big women can run marathons and lift weights and do sports and live their lives and perhaps punch women who try to tell them otherwise in the face if they are so inclined. And even if they are unhealthy, it’s not up to some woman with a word processor and access to a short-sighted editor to decide what they get to wear.
Wow @Telegraph – nice job with the Tanya Gold click bait. I look like that @nike mannequin, and I’ve done a 10k, a half, & a marathon this year. And there’s another 10k & a half coming up. If you think obese women can’t run you’ve clearly been living under a rock. pic.twitter.com/Pb2rFM5sRd
— Tegwen Tucker (@tegwentucker) June 9, 2019
Perhaps it never occurred to Gold that these mannequins, this kind of mainstream representation from a fitness brand, could give overweight people the confidence to actually start exercising. The road to wellness is daunting and overwrought with obstacles as is, God forbid Nike try and make it a little smoother for people who are already inclined to avoid it.
Gold’s outrage is built upon the fact that this “fat acceptance” movement will stop overweight people from trying to change their lifestyle, but she also doesn’t want to give them the means to do so. Almost sounds like she cares less about their well-being and more about being an intolerant asshole.
TL;DR: Hate Nike? Then don’t shop at Nike. Hate plus-size people? Then don’t be plus-size. But also maybe try not being a giant piece of sh*t while you’re at it.
Images: Twitter (@tegwentucker, @Fattymustrun)