While having a routine check-up at the hospital yesterday, my midwife remarked that I’d lost a couple of kilos since my last appointment.
The fact that I’ve lost weight in my third trimester isn’t as unusual as it sounds. You would too if you were nauseous, refluxing and recovering from a nasty stomach bug. What struck me, though, was the comment she made next. “Oh you must be happy!” she burbled. “You’re already losing weight. That’s fantastic!” I was bemused. If I had to choose between a couple of extra kilos and constantly having my head down a toilet, I’d take the love handles any day.
My midwife’s comment about weight loss and pregnancy isn’t out of the ordinary. A quick scan of current advertisements and the women’s magazines on supermarket shelves reveals what the media thinks pregnancy should look like: slim bodies, perky breasts, taut bellies, flawless skin. No publisher will show you the reality of pregnancy, that is, the cankles, the stretch marks, the fact that most maxi dresses will make you look like a floating tent, not the bronzed fertility goddess of your imaginings. Remember when we used to talk about that pregnant woman glow? These days, glowing is not enough – nor is it enough to be happy, healthy or simply thankful a woman has been blessed with a pregnancy. Today expectant mothers need to look sexy in order to be appealing – or more specifically, conform to a specific definition of sexiness that tends to look like an extremely slim woman with a basketball neatly tucked under her top (or sans top, if you’re Christina/Jessica/Britney/Demi).
The entertainment media’s preoccupation with sex appeal isn’t limited to expectant mothers. Throughout various stages of a woman’s life, the drive to be sexy is ever present. For young mums, it’s about being a Yummy Mummy and losing that baby weight as fast as possible. For young teens, it takes on more pernicious forms with pressure to dress and act in increasingly sexualised ways. Then there’s the biggest perceived enemy of looking hot and sexy: age. With cosmetic surgery becoming the norm and pop icons like 53-year-old Madonna setting a new standard for what older women should look like, the ageing process (or or if you’re an advertiser, ‘the Seven Visible Signs of Ageing’) is fast becoming an unwanted element in our culture.
Of course, our physical appearance plays a significant role in how we feel about ourselves. I’ll be the first to admit I’m in a better mood when I step out of the house in a nice top as opposed to trackies splattered with dried weet-bix. However, I do find our culture’s obsession with sex appeal concerning. Sexiness is a limited definition of beauty. While the image of a beautiful woman can encompass many things – personality, creativity, sense of style, humour, different body types, etc – sexiness in our culture tends to be a homogenous concept; limited to the plastic, hard-bodied fantasies of a teenage boys.
Sexiness also seeks to eradicate the physical manifestations of motherhood as flaws. Something I’ve noticed in my conversations with other women is how we talk as if there’s a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to look when you’re pregnant. While it’s okay to gain weight around your middle (aka the skinny basketball image), we react negatively to the idea that a pregnant woman would gain weight anywhere else: her hips, legs, arms, face, feet or chin. Once, when my top accidentally rode upwards and revealed stretch marks from my last pregnancy, an acquaintance physically reacted to it’s appearance and asked if my stomach bothered me (short answer: no). Another friend was horrified at being told her breasts would not only get bigger, but oh yes, start to sag with the effects of gravity post-pregnancy. It’s only natural to find the physical symptoms of childbearing confronting, even difficult to adjust to, but our culture’s narrow concept of sexiness doesn’t help. It has no room for the necessary (and in my opinion, amazing) changes that happen to a woman’s body when she bears children. Which is a shame.
Instead of buying into concepts like anti-ageing sexy pregnancy bellies and Yummy Mummies, I say we redefine what it means to be a beautiful woman in our culture.
Let’s broaden the concept to include different types of physical beauty rather than confine it to a size 8. Let’s treasure how strong our bodies are and the battle-scars women wear to bring children in this world. And as ridiculous as this sounds – without pouring too much cold water on my midwife, who is actually lovely and was only making conversation with her remark – let’s give ourselves permission to gain weight in pregnancy, permission to relax and enjoy this temporary phase of life without feeling the need to rush off to a gym and shed the kilos straight away.
What do you think? Is our culture obsessed with sex? Do you feel the pressure to be a Yummy Mummy?