In 2015, a new trend emerged that got the internet talking – the Dad Bod. It was widely reported that men with cuddly beer bellies and unintimidating physiques were now more attractive than chiseled faces and washboard abs. Naturally, this led a lot of women to respond: when will the Mum Bod be a thing?
I myself am not a mother, but I am fascinated by how the modern body positivity movement has caught up to motherhood. A quick Google search unearths as many women proudly showing off their ‘real’ bodies, as there are of celebrity mums back at their pre-baby shape mere weeks after giving birth. Women like Taryn Brumfitt have been celebrated for sharing their struggle and embrace of their body – complete with sharable before-and-after photos.
So although we all apparently now love our bodies, where is the pressure for new mothers to ‘snap back’ coming from? I wanted to hear the truth from real mums, so I reached out to some friends and asked them all about it...
The first thing I found out: Body image issues aren’t birthed, fully formed, at the same time as your newborn! They start much earlier, all the way back to when we were babes ourselves. It was unsurprising to hear from my mum friends that the biggest influence on their body image was their own mother. Studies show that a woman’s personal relationship with her body can be transferred to her daughter – even if she never directly comments on her daughter’s appearance. Allegra and Emma both said that the perpetual weight loss attempts by their female relatives definitely made an impact on them.
Despite this, the majority of my friends described themselves as positive about their bodies before falling pregnant – eating well, exercising regularly, and in a generally healthy place. Emma said, ‘It took approximately 8 years to get to that point, where I had to undo a lot of negative feelings I had towards my body.’
Of course, every woman’s physiological experience of being pregnant is different. Some of my mum friends had relatively uncomplicated pregnancies, which allowed them the freedom to celebrate their new curves. ‘I really loved my new shape,’ said Darragh, while Hannah also felt more confident: ‘I really liked the way I looked while pregnant and tried to embrace it.’
Others had a more difficult time dealing with the sudden changes to their body, and were concerned that people would mistake their pregnant belly for excess fat. Emma spoke about putting on a lot of weight and developing carpal tunnel in both her hands: ‘I felt gross and useless many times, which is nuts because I was creating life!’
In fact, Heidi felt almost separated to her own body and less like herself: ‘I’d often joke that I was a transformer – like there was some secret part of my body’s blueprint that was now being unfurled without notice.’
If these mothers felt disconnected from their body during the pregnancy, they immediately reconnected to it after the birth. They each remarked on the new (and often unwelcome) additions to their post-recovery body: cellulite, stretch marks, a change in breast size, or a weight gain that wouldn’t go away.
‘I lost all my pregnancy weight very fast and then gained weight only when I went back to work, a product of juggling so much and being so exhausted all the time,’ Darragh said. Although Hannah said she quickly lost most of her baby weight, she hadn’t expected the width of her hips to change: ‘It did get me down.’
Emma was frustrated that she lost a lot of her core strength, when starting back at the gym when her baby was 3 months old. ‘I felt so weak… I know what my body is capable of and I wanted to see the same results that I had before.’
All the women pinpointed the pressure to return to their former figure as coming from themselves – no longer did their loved ones factor into it. Some mothers even described their partners as being supportive of their post-birth shape. ‘I am lucky to have a wonderful husband who regularly tells me how much he loves my body,’ said Hannah.
Comparing their progress to other mothers, both on social media and in real life, also made a significant impact on their body image. ‘It’s very hard to combat these kinds of internalised attitudes… The feeling that your body has been ruined is very hard to shake,’ said Allegra.
Several of my friends spoke about guilt and skepticism on the rise of mum-branded self-love. Heidi believed it was being used by brands as a marketing tool, while Darragh said, ‘I don’t think those women are really happy with themselves.’
However, some women tried to combat their negative thoughts with appreciation that they were able to conceive and carry a healthy child. Emma described how she gets through her bad days by trying to be kinder to herself: ‘I remind myself that I am more than my body.’
Most of the mothers also explained they wanted to set a good example of body image for their growing kids. ‘I want my daughter to love herself… I hope that the way I talk about myself in front of her sends the right messages,’ said Hannah, while Heidi said, ‘I want my daughter to see in me a life built on values and heart, rather than image.’
In today’s world – where women are expected to be flawless Supermums that can do it all – there is as much pressure to be body-positive as there is to be thin. But what I’ve learnt from my amazing friends is that most women’s bodies will permanently change after giving birth. And the fact is, this change is something you can’t control – it’s not a failure of your willpower that your body cannot ‘snap back’.
Learning to accept your new mum bod is important, but acceptance doesn’t mean needing to love your body unconditionally. As Darragh said, ‘I’ve come to realise I have more important to things to think about – like my child!’
How do you feel about your post-birth body?