In a world where it is considered ill-mannered to discuss a woman's weight, what I am about to say may shock you. I'm a little shocked that I'm writing it.
I weighed 210 pounds when my son was born.
That's right. 210 pounds.
I took up space, a lot of it. I wore only black yoga pants and t-shirts for months. (Just so we don't get distracted here, no, my doctor was not concerned. I'm 5' 10" so I have a little wiggle room on the scale. Yes, I was eating healthy food. No, I was not obese or diabetic.)
In the end, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy and we both went on our merry way, gaining and losing such weight as was appropriate to our respective bodies. It took me nine months to gain my extra 60 pounds and a year to lose them.
Now, can we all leave Jessica Simpson, Bryce Dallas Howard, Hilary Duff and any other Hollywood star who gives birth in the next year alone? Even better, can we stop comparing ourselves to super models and celebrities who lose their baby weight in weeks? Can we give ourselves a break?
There aren't enough cocktails in the world to block out the tidal wave of articles about celebrities' pregnancies and post-baby bodies. Poor Jessica Simpson. Her pregnancy was chronicled with constant references to her weight. The ongoing suggestions that she must be due any day were tied to the subtext that an imminent delivery was the only explanation for her enormous size. Less delicate articles called her an "absolute porker." Reports claimed she gained, gasp, 40 pounds! Or maybe 70! Why all the fuss? The woman was pregnant. If there was an issue with her weight, wasn't that between her and her doctor? I'm not sure when it became our business.
Despite giving birth to a healthy baby girl, Ms. Simpson is still in the crosshairs. The tabloids are currently filled with pictures of her heading to the gym. Do not be fooled. Weight Watchers deal aside, she's not being celebrated for taking a rational approach to getting in shape after pregnancy. I can't figure out if the articles are designed to make women feel ashamed of her weight gain, better about themselves if they didn't gain as much as Ms. Simpson, or just relieved that their pregnancies weren't captured by the paparazzi. Isn't being a new mom hard enough without being assaulted with images emphasizing the need for a quick return to skinny jeans?
The idea that there's something wrong with how much new moms weigh is making me crazy. Celebrities of all shapes and sizes are held up as either paragons of quick weight loss, or failures if they haven't bounced back to their pre-baby svelte selves. Those who fail to adhere to expectations are followed to their workouts, ridiculed by commenters, and will have unflattering pictures of themselves in spandex memorialized on the web. (A recent post about Bryce Dallas Howard actually followed her inside her gym to capture her stretching and doing sit-ups. Those more intrusive pictures were later removed.) Aishwarya Rai has been the target of criticism for failing to live up to her "duty" to lose her baby weight.
These women had the temerity, the audacity, the chutzpah not only to gain weight while pregnant, but also not to lose it IMMEDIATELY.
Their refusal to abide by the "rules" is highlighted by the praise we heap on mothers who have quickly bounced back to what society deems their pre-baby bodies. I mean, good for Beyonce -- she seems happy, but really, we're flashing photos of her up on the web for what? So we can participate in some congratulatory ritual? She did it! She's back to her pre-baby weight! Balloons shall rain down on her from the heavens and trumpets shall announce her arrival in a corseted gown and the rest of us will hide under baggy clothing. I'm not saying Beyonce did anything wrong. I am saying we should be cautious about viewing her new figure with awe and approval (or disapproval). The tyranny of comparison isn't helping anyone.
Our collective fascination with how "big" a woman gets when she's pregnant (and how soon she loses the extra pounds) is more than voyeurism or idle curiosity. It's destructive. It confuses image and health. It equates being slender with being successful, beautiful and, sadly, a good mother. It's unfortunate at best and misogynistic and demeaning at worst. Women's weight gain (or later loss) isn't a sideshow for our amusement. Nor should we use anyone else as a yardstick against which we measure our own health, beauty or sense of self. Some women gain very little weight, others recovery easily. That's great. But let's not require that we all follow suit. Maybe we could embrace the bodies we have -- jiggly bits and all.
Mothers, famous or not, are doing some damn hard work as human incubators. After they give birth, the fun doesn't end. There are feedings, and diapers and doctor appointments and soothing and swaddling and exhaustion. There's the daily grind of actual caretaking. All of that tends to take precedence over the gym, a diet or being a size six. That's true for every woman -- from those who grace the cover of magazines to those who do their parenting in relative obscurity.
These are mothers, not blow-up dolls who deflate upon popping out a new life.
Let's give them a little respect.