With debate raging over dadbods and mumbods, isn’t it time we stop judging people by their body shapes, asks Chitra Ramaswamy
The mumbod is officially a thing. That is, the real mum’s body: cellulite striped, tubby around the tummy, wrinkled, drooping, puckered, scarred, overworked, tough, weak, tired, and awesome. The news just in is that the bodies many of us walk around in day after day, the ones that birth babies, take us to the supermarket, and defiantly sprout hair despite all our best efforts at extermination, are on trend. Lucky us. We knew we would make it on to life’s hotlist if we waited long enough. Maybe if we bide our time it will become “a thing” to stop judging women’s bodies once and for all. What next? Wrinkles are cool? Hairy chins are hot? Equal pay is the new sexy?
It all started with the dadbod, just in case you were, erm, labouring under the misapprehension that mumbods (the ones who actually give birth) came first. Earlier this month an American student coined the phrase on the grounds that her generation of young women are “all about the dad bod”. Not David Beckham with his bronzed dad-abs and bottom so shelf-like a child could perch on it, but the sweet, soft-bellied man (Jason Segal is the archetype, according to the New York magazine) who says things like “I go to the gym occasionally but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eight slices of pizza”. He sounds charming. Anyway, the post went viral and social media has since been inundated with pictures of out (of condition) and proud men showing off their penchant for pizza.
Now women, quite rightly, are getting in on the action. It was so refreshing to witness last week’s birth of the mumbod hashtag and the hundreds of women across the globe posting pictures of their postpartum bodies in all their glory, softness, vulnerability, insecurity, and strength. Then came the buzzfeed lists, the hypocritical tabloid picture spreads, and a satirical YouTube video by comedian Akilah Hughes called Move Over Dad Bod, Mom Bod is The New Hot Bod. Watch it: it’s hilarious. Seriously though, it’s about time the real post-pregnancy body got an airing. We see dadbods everywhere; on our streets, television screens, and in our homes. They are the cultural norm. They don’t need a hashtag. Meanwhile mumbods, the ones who endure first the hardships (and pleasures) of pregnancy and birth then the vicious scrutiny of society, remain hidden, zipped up, shrouded in shame. Or just photoshopped.
Now the cat is out of the bag. Women who have given birth look like women who have given birth. It’s not much of a secret when you speak it out loud. The fact is it isn’t healthy, never mind desirable, to bounce back from pregnancy and birth quickly. Women gain up to 20 per cent of their body weight during pregnancy and it’s best to lose it gradually. After all, you’ve just had a baby: it’s not a time for squat thrusts. And what of the strain on new mothers’ mental health that arises from the demand to lose baby fat? A Royal College of Midwives survey of more than 6,000 women found six out of ten felt pressurised by the focus on celebrities losing weight immediately after giving birth. One government study found that new mothers who are worried about their postpartum weight can struggle to bond with their babies.
It seems no coincidence that the mumbod movement kicked off during the same fortnight that Kate Middleton emerged from the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital in London looking more like she’d just got back from a spa holiday in the Maldives than pushed a baby out of her body. She looked fabulous: slim, serene, and styled to within an inch of her life. For those of us who staggered out of NHS labour wards looking like we’d just got back from a war it was a tad destabilising. On the other hand, most of us don’t have to labour while the world live streams the “action” from outside the hospital walls. Kate Middleton only really had one choice: to look like what had just happened hadn’t happened. The rest of us should be permitted the basic freedom to acknowledge what our bodies have achieved.
I was 35 when I had my son. A big girl, yet I had no idea what my body would look like after giving birth. It’s not something women talk about, even amongst ourselves. I had a lovely pregnancy and a dramatic birth: hours of operatic labouring culminating in an epidural, forceps, and an emergency C-section. Afterwards, my body felt like it had been turned inside out in both the best and worst of ways. I was weak, exposed, and exhausted. I also felt like a warrior. I was so chuffed with myself and my baby. Two years later, I still can’t quite believe I did it.
But my body remembers everything, and has the scars to prove it. Twenty months of breastfeeding will take their toll after all. I have lost hair in some places and gained it in others. I have a “bikini cut” scar from my C-section, which has faded but is still raised and itchy on one side. An expanse of numbness across my belly where the nerves have yet to grow back and may never do so. The rest of my body is much the same. If anything I am probably a bit slimmer than I was because I spend most of my time running after a toddler, which is the most gruelling personal fitness regime known to humankind. The main change is to my stomach, which is a bit pillowy. I don’t think much can be done about it and sometimes its sack-like appearance does gets me down. But then my son will pull my top up, rub his face all over it and shout “CUDDLE TUMMY!” at the top of his voice. It helps.
It’s not easy to feel comfortable in your looser skin after pregnancy and birth. You are handed a new baby, and you get a new body too. One that is expected to instantly “bounce back” from the most gruelling nine months it has ever experienced, to move on without complaint or acknowledgment, and to sustain the tiny mewling creature that has demanded so much of you already. In some ways I recovered from the birth of my baby in the customary six weeks. In other ways, the work continues. My body, like my life, will never be the same as it was before I had my son. Why on earth would I want it to be?