Norwegian fitness blogger and soccer wife Caroline Berg Eriksen’s controversial Instagram photo of her postpartum body begs the question, what is the point of all this body-focused discussion, really? She posted the photo four days after giving birth, and already her body looks perfect, – no stretch marks, no sagging skin, no out-of-proportion breasts. You can’t even tell that she had been pregnant at all. This comes on the heels of all the hype about fitness instructor Maria Kang's controversial bikini photo with her three young sons and the caption “What’s your excuse?” that went viral and spurred numerous online discussions about postpartum body perceptions. Ms. Kang was accused of fat-shaming, bullying, and presenting unrealistic expectations for postpartum moms.
When I saw both photos, I was shocked. How annoying! How unrealistic! What bullies! Why would they be so arrogant and attention seeking?
Then I swung back to the other side. Wow, they look amazing! I wish I could look like that too. I’m eight months postpartum, and that level of fitness doesn’t even seem like it’s possible. What’s their secret? I want to work harder and be fit and sexy, so good for them for sharing their success and inspiring others.
But wait, let’s back up. What’s really going on here? No matter what your reaction to these photos, it’s worth taking a moment to get some perspective.
Why do we moms feel the need to judge each other on our postpartum bodies at all? What is the point?
The fact is, there is no point. Your body says nothing about how good a mom you are. It does not provide any information about how patient, loving, strong, protective, and nurturing you are. It can’t say how you’ve grown now that you’ve become a mom.
Instead of, “Have you gotten your body back?”, how about, during the postpartum period, we ask each other, “How are you doing balancing work and motherhood?” or “How are things going with your husband?” or “How has motherhood changed your life purpose?” or “What can I do to support you in your new role better”? I can think of thousands of questions that would be more worthwhile than, “Are your stretch marks fading yet?”
I’ve experienced postpartum body pressure firsthand. One family member even asked me recently (eight months postpartum) if I was pregnant again (I’m definitely not). For about half an hour, I was deeply offended. But then I realized that this is the culture we live in – where we focus on the mother’s body, instead of focusing on her spirit. It’s not personal – it’s just going with the flow of our culture. Every mom needs our support, not judgment about her body, whether it’s positive or negative. And remember, once we learn to focus on what’s in the mom’s heart, it will seamlessly transfer to teaching our daughters that what’s valuable is on the inside, not the outside. We have a long way to go to get there, but woman to woman, husband to wife, parent to child, we can stem the tide of body-focus and redirect our attention to much more pressing matters.