Print media, social media, society as a whole all have a huge obsession with women’s bodies, be they the breasts on page 3 or the breasts feeding a child, the tummies of bikini-clad models or the tummies bearing stretch marks. I have my opinions on all of the above but don’t tend to concern myself much with any of them. That said, I keep seeing a lot of articles about how the tummy of a ‘Real Mum’ looks and it’s getting to me.
Before I continue, I’ll lay down some facts: I am a size 8 and I always have been. I didn’t get any stretch marks during my pregnancy. My exercise was limited to walking and nothing more until at least 6 months post-partum. I had an amusing jelly belly for a while after giving birth. I have an unhealthy addiction to Costa mocha lattes and to bread. I enjoy fruit and veg. Those are the facts about me, so does my size 8 body and lack of stretch marks make me less of a real mum? According to an article I recently read on Parentdish it does, I quote “Forget uniform size eight, toned, gravity defying physiques; this is the real deal.” I did not rush to get my figure back after Toby’s birth, with a baby who was constantly screaming with the pain of silent reflux (oh the irony of the name) for several months it was the last thing on my mind. My focus was on my son and his needs, surely that love and devotion to him makes me a real mum, nothing to do with my stomach.
I have mummy friends of every imaginable shape and size and without fail they are all real mums because their babies are the loves of their lives. What makes life great is that we’re all different and I long for the day when the focus is not on shape or size but personality, humanity. So some women don’t put on any weight during pregnancy and others swell, some get stretch marks and others don’t, some lose weight after giving birth and some gain it. I personally couldn’t care less which of those categories myself or any of my friends fall into because, and I’m going to make this very clear, it simply does not matter. What about the mums who have adopted or used a surrogate? Their bellies may never have swollen as a baby grew inside of them but without a doubt they are as real as every other mum out there because they love their children.
I totally understand that projects such as Jade Beall’s ‘A Beautiful Body Project’ are there to embrace the fact that women are beautiful with stretch marks and not-so-pert breasts and I totally agree, but as neither a washboard-bellied model or a stretch-marked size whatever, where is the celebration of my beauty? We should not make women feel bad for being a size 18 any more than we should make them feel bad for being a size 8, so why is it that I have received snide comments on more than one occasion about the fact that I got my figure back after having Toby? It makes me feel like hiding, like I shouldn’t put a picture on social media of me wearing a nice dress or write about an achievement in the gym because it seems that as a nation we hold the celebrities up as idols and we encourage those on diets but anyone in the middle just has to stay quiet.
I know that I will probably be accused of not understanding what it’s like from the perspective of someone who’s a bigger dress size or has a lot of stretch marks and no, I haven’t been in that situation. I have however been bullied for being ginger, having acne from the age of 9, wearing glasses, having sticking-out teeth as a child, being a geek… Need I continue? Maybe I’ve never been above a size 8 but you had better believe that I have spent a lot of time being judged and degraded for how I look. Now that I’m an adult the playground bullying is long behind me, but the emotional scars are there so imagine how I have felt when I’ve been told “It’s easy for you being skinny, you don’t have to put any effort in” (Incorrect, I eat healthily and I go to the gym) or a sarcastic “It must have been nice to only crave fruit then to just pop him out and have your figure back” (Incorrect, I had a jelly belly then was practically starved for 4 months because Toby was so unsettled) No need. No need at all.
When will it be okay to just be a mum? To be revered for raising a human and for loving it with all of your heart and soul, whether you gave birth or adopted, whether you lost weight or gained it. Everyone has body issues at some point in their lives and when you fall pregnant your body goes through some unbelievable changes which take their toll. I repeat that I wholeheartedly agree that ‘Mummy Tummies’ are beautiful, but how about we start celebrating motherhood, womanhood, without paying attention to shape or size, without labels and categories because we are all mums and we are all amazing.