opinion

Mia Freedman: "Dear women who post photos of their post-baby bodies."

I have a question. It’s not a snarky question. Or a bitchy one. It’s not an aggressive question or a sarcastic one or a question meant to subtly shame or humiliate the women I’m asking it of.

I’m not even going to name a single woman in this story because it’s not about any individual.

I have a genuine question born of wanting to understand a phenomenon I see as being an inherently bad thing for women. Here it is:

Dear Women Who Post Photos Of Their Post-Baby Bodies In The Days And Weeks After Giving Birth,

Why?

Why do you do it?

And who is it good for?

I know who it’s not good for and I want to take a moment to tell you a bit about those people because there are a lot of them…..

"I'm not even going to name a single woman in this story because it's not about individuals." (Image: Instagram)
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It's not good for new mothers to see the promotion and resulting fawning worship of a skinny, toned body (or any one kind of body) held up as a mythical ideal towards which all women must implicitly strive.

It's not good for girls or young women who are looking ahead to their imagined futures as mothers and learning about what they 'should' look and act like in future life stages.

And it's not good for mothers of any age who look at your post-baby-body photos and how soon you post them (One week after birth! Two months after birth!) and feel humiliated and ashamed and inadequate because we gave birth two or seven or 10 or 19 years ago and our stomachs don't look remotely like yours.

To us, your photos can feel like a punch.

"To us, your photos can feel like a punch." Image via Snapchat.

This is not an attack. I realise you are probably not thinking of other women when you pose to show off your body with your newborn tucked under your arm or bundled over your shoulder and share those photos with the world.  I will always give you the benefit of the doubt because there's not nearly enough of that these days.

But I'd like to gently explain the effect of what might seem to you to be a fun, harmless, sexy thing to do.

I know you already know this but we live in a society that values women almost exclusively for how we look and demands that we look hot and sexually attractive at all times. From puberty until death. This places a huge and impossible burden on all of us and I suspect you are feeling it as much as every other woman.

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Your photos certainly suggest that. Sharing a picture of yourself in a bikini or activewear or underwear or nude so soon after giving birth signals a need for praise, compliments and reassurance. It belies a desire to   publicly reassert your body as hot and sexual after nine months of it being something else: a home for your growing baby.

It's about saying: "I'm back".

In part, I really understand this desire to reclaim your body after having someone else living inside it. I've had three children and the days, weeks and months after being pregnant are indeed a sort of reclaiming yourself and your body.

"It's about saying: "I'm back"." Image via OK Magazine.

This can be a very personal experience - albeit often a truncated one if you are breastfeeding when your body is not wholly your own for as long as you choose to do it.

But still.

Pregnancy, with its unavoidable weight gain and the way it transforms every parts of you, inside and out, sits more easily for some women than others. I imagine for someone in the public eye, whose physical appearance as a model, actress, media personality, Instagram star or celebrity is indexed to their career and income, it can be particularly challenging and confronting. It can cost you actual money.

Listen: A strong case for being "body neutral" if "body positivity" doesn't work for you. (Post continues after audio.)

I've not walked in those shoes. I cannot speak for those experiences. I can imagine though and I can see it might be tough.

Here's the thing though. We all play a part in how women are portrayed. All of us. And I've always believed that those in the public eye - those women with a profile and a social media following and media attention......they punch way above their baby weight in terms of influencing how society views women beyond just their own Instagram account or magazine cover.

Those women can make a difference.

As I write in my book, Work Strife Balance, the word "empowering" is vastly misused by women who are in fact accidentally doing the opposite (benefit of the doubt, remember?). When you promote yourself in a way that conforms to sexist ideals that hold women back (for example: the pervasive, farcical idea that our bodies can and should 'bounce back' immediately after giving birth), you do a major disservice to your sisters.

"We all play a part in how women are portrayed. All of us." (Image: Instagram)

You might be fine with that and if so, it is your choice.

I'm just suggesting this one thing. Before you post a shot of your post-baby body with the focus being firmly on your body not your baby (the baby in these post-baby bodies shots is always facing away from the camera almost as an afterthought or proof-prop that the flat-stomached new mum has in fact given birth, have you noticed?).... I'm suggesting you think for a moment about other women and the power you have to make them feel good or like shit.

Think about the other women who have, like you, given birth recently and who are at home leaking milk from tender breasts, blood from vaginal or caesar stitches, tears from their eyes due to hormones, sleep deprivation and overwhelm.

Think about the women who don't have the luxury of anyone to take care of their baby or make them meals so they can prioritise losing weight. Think about the (vast majority of) women whose baby weight doesn't just fall off like yours may have but takes a long time to go - and sometimes never does.

"Think for a moment about other women and the power you have to make them feel good or like shit." (Image: Instagram)

Think about how you're perpetuating the destructive, distressing idea that women should erase all physical signs of the most incredible, life-changing experience of our lives as quickly as possible after we give birth. Even though almost nothing about your life is the same after you have a baby. And that's why we have them. Isn't it?

Think about all the women who haven't yet had children but want to one day who are watching and internalising the image you portray and filing it under "how a woman should look a week or a month or a few months after giving birth". Think about how they will feel when they invariably look down after a week or a month or a few months and don't see a flat stomach or toned abs.

Think about the fact that climbing into a bikini or skimpy underwear is nearly impossible for most of us because we have a pad the size of a surfboard shoved in our undies for weeks.

Think about the message you're sending women and girls and men and society about what matters most after a woman becomes a mother: her baby or her body?

And think about the kind of validation you need after having a baby, the validation that matters. Is it that you look hot or that you've done a truly remarkable thing: grown a tiny little human in your body and brought it safely into the world. Instead of looking into the mirror, look into the eyes of your baby because that's a whole other kind of validation that's far more meaningful and far less transient.

Have you compared yourself to other women on social media? How does it make you feel?

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