As if the process of growing, carrying and delivering a baby isn’t a feat in itself, there seems to be an expectation for mothers to “bounce back” to the way their body looked before going through one of the most transformative physical processes known to humankind.
Sometimes, this pressure is unspoken. Other times, it comes through loud and clear, primarily in magazine covers and interviews detailing how a celebrity mum has “got her body back” and successfully erased all indications of having borne a child.
The Scandal star gave birth to her daughter Isabelle last year, and says she has no desire to ‘snap back’ to her pre-baby physique.
“I’ve been really focused on not being ‘back’ to anything, but being the best version of myself right now. My body is the site of a miracle now. I don’t want to be pre-miracle,” she says.
Washington, who has earned multiple nominations for her portrayal of Olivia Pope in Scandal, also takes issue with the way in which this topic is discussed.
When the 38-year-old's manager asked her, "Do you feel like you're back? I feel like you're back", she took the opportunity to highlight how loaded the word is in the context of a woman's body.
“She meant it as a total compliment, but we had this great conversation where I was like, ‘You know what? I try really hard not to use that language, because it’s not about going backward in life.'” (Post continues after gallery.)
This is absolutely spot on. Pregnancy changes a woman's body in countless ways, so it's unrealistic to expect giving birth, followed by a strict diet and exercise plan, will rewind everything by nine months.
Trying to do so can also be unhealthy, as supermodel and mum of two Elle Macpherson told The Glow earlier this year: "The last thing you need to do is be food restricting or exercising too much... I think the more slow process is better for the body and has more long term effects. Your body needs time to recover.”
That's not to say the physical changes associated with pregnancy can't be confronting and challenging to accept.
Earlier this year, Drew Barrymore said giving birth to two children has made her body feel "like a kangaroo with a giant pouch" because "everything’s saggy and weird”; and Olivia Wilde recently said she felt like a "partially deflated pool toy" in the weeks after her son Otis' birth.
The thing is, every woman's body and pregnancy is different. Some women do look similar pre- and post-birth, but for many, the process can result in lifelong physical changes. And they shouldn't be made to feel bad about that.
Although Kerry Washington isn't fixated on her weight, she does appreciate the importance of exercise for her general health and wellbeing. (Post continues after video.)
“I try to get it in so I can be back with my kid early... I have to take care of myself in order to live life the way I want to. It’s important to have rest days. But in the long run, if I don’t work out for, like, three days, I feel worse, not better," she says.
Washington and her Scandal co-stars like to hike around Los Angeles, but she's particularly enamoured with pilates because it doesn't involve "[leaving] yourself out of the room while you force yourself to do this thing".
“With pilates, I get to bring my true self. I cry, I laugh. I get to go: Where is my body today? What do I need today? How can I take care of myself and push myself past my comfort zone? How can I be both loving and challenging?” she tells Self.
Have you had children; if so, did you feel the pressure to "snap back"? How did you overcome this?
In celebration of the beauty of pregnant and post-birth bodies, check out these stunning images from Jade Beall's photography book project, A Beautiful Body.