Mom Bod and Body Policing in Motherhood

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Image courtesy of Tatiana VDB of Flickr.

You may be aware of the phenomenon of “Dad Bod”.  It typically describes a man who is “chubby” or a bit rounder but certainly not morbidly obese.  It’s actually a fairly endearing comment to make about celebrities that is less about making fun of a guy who has gotten a bit “soft” and more about showing that now he’s a dad so he’s got other things to worry about.  At least that’s how I’ve interpreted a lot of this rhetoric.

But “Dad Bod” is not without complication.  Brian Moylan, a writer for Time, called Dad bod a “sexist” commentary on bodies.  His editorial basically talked about how this creates an unfair double standard.  It’s okay for the Dad to let himself go a bit. Moylan presents point after point about “Dad Bod” in popular culture – arguing that it’s really always been around but that it now has a name.  It’s evident in sitcoms, funny stories, and pretty much every day life.  Dad can be silly and a bit soft.  He’s just as lovable – if not more so – this way.

So, in sum, Dad Bod is fine for men but there is no acceptable counterpoint.  While daddy can be fluffy and lovable, mommy can’t have a “Mom Bod”.  Never okay.

Women are still largely talked about in terms of appearance rather than action. For those of you who are incredibly familiar with body politics and the like can just turn off your brain.  But for those who aren’t already burgeoning feminist scholars, think about the last time you watched an award show or an interview with a woman on the red carpet. What are the things you can expect her to be asked?  A main one is “what are you wearing?”.  Another conversation you can be sure will occur is that which covers the rest of her appearance – her hair, how beautiful she looks, etc.  They may ask about her sexy costars and how that worked for her on set.  But now think about the men on the red carpet.  They are traditionally asked about their current projects, charity work, other pursuits.  You may say “of course in Hollywood, shallow conceptions like beauty are going to be most prevalent” and while I would say this is partially true, it’s not just Hollywood.

Looking at questions Hillary Clinton is asked vs. Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump is about all you need to do.  She often has to address comments about her spouse and her role as a mother and/or grandmother.  Reporters comment about her hair constantly.  While she was Secretary of State, it was a common complaint.  Her lack of hair ability was a constant talking point.  Donald Trump has a tragic head of hair which is often lampooned but rarely does he get maligned for it in the same way Clinton did.  People may joke but they weren’t downright awful. And rather does The Donald or does Bernie have to answer repeated questions about his role as a father figure? For Clinton this is a central question she’s asked in almost every interview.  She may very well be the most qualified candidate on credentials but clearly her appearance or ability to play a mom are more important factors in her capabilities as a potential president.  I’m not a huge Hillary fan myself but I feel this is totally unfair and very illustrative of the difference between the way we perceive the roles of males and females in the West.

Mom bod isn’t acceptable.  Ever since I’ve gotten pregnant, people have been curious about how much weight  I’ve gained and how much I am expecting to lose post baby.  I haven’t exactly had time to worry about that. At 14 weeks, I just threw up in a bagel company parking lot after taking an entire Zofran because my body hates me.  I recently wrote about my struggles with extreme morning sickness and the constant hell I’ve experienced because it really HAS rocked my life.

Recently, I posted about a craving on Facebook, and was basically told my chosen food (a Vienna beef dog because I’m a Chicago kid) was not healthy and could harm my baby.  I explained that my doctor is concerned about weight loss and dehydration and we get excited when I eat basically anything these days.  So, whatever I crave and stays down is good.  I know I am not stick thin but I also suffer from hypoglycemia and since my body hates protein right now and I’m allergic to nuts, not eating pretty much every other hour is somewhat dangerous for me.  The people who commented on this post KNOW about my issues.  One of them tells me “Oh, my friend got WAY healthy with morning sickness and lost 50 lbs and she’s better now than ever”.  I responded with, “I actually have a medical condition.  It’s disconcerting.  I don’t want to be losing weight and should be gaining so I don’t appreciate the big congratulations over weight loss.”  Several other people pile on telling me I will SO appreciate it when I don’t have to crash diet post baby.

People, I was never crash dieting.  I’m sorry the world has led you to believe that you can’t be even 5 lbs heavier post-baby.  That is really screwed up.  But what is even MORE screwed up is a group of self-proclaimed feminists – many who have the same PhD that I do and who have studied subjects like feminist theory and representation of women in politics – is reacting POSITIVELY to the fact that I said I am sick and my doctors are worried about my weight.

Losing 5% of your body weight in a month should never be a thing to get excited about if you weren’t on death’s door due to obesity and weren’t actively working to lose weight.  It’s disturbing that the quest to avoid never-described but often talked around Mom Bod is so strong that we feel the need to congratulate pregnant women who are losing an unhealthy amount of weight.

And this isn’t even the worst of it.  Those of you who have been pregnant or have ever just had a baby have probably been FLOODED with those stupid “IT WORKS!” wraps or some dumb green tea cleanse.  I have a coworker who sells these things.  She confronted me with them the FIRST DAY she knew I was pregnant.  She was SO SURE I needed to be taking this green tea stuff.  First of all, I would never take a diet supplement because they are not regulated.  Second of all, I would ABSOLUTELY not take one while pregnant.  NO NO NO.  But I needed it so I could stay thin through my pregnancy and “speed up my metabolism”.

Or, to go even a step further, my friend recently had a baby.  She received a mailer from her hospital about 3 months postpartum. It was from a plastic surgery firm in the hospital that wanted her to “get back her body” and “target problem areas”.  As if at 3 months postpartum your body could even begin to be representative of “normal”!

Here’s the biggest contradiction and the most misogynist point, though.  The fact of the matter is that our society, in general, is terribly unsupportive of mothers yet it expects us to be runway ready 5 minutes post-baby.  I really want to know how we are supposed to be the primary caretakers for baby (because we’re supposed to breastfed or be shamed), go back to work at 4 weeks because we have no paid leave, and hit the gym regularly.  And all of this WITHOUT any affordable childcare options!  This is the biggest scam.

So, wear your Mom Bod proudly through pregnancy and after you have kids and tell people to shut it.  And, fellow feminists, know that if a woman is in pain and struggling during pregnancy or postpartum, please please please don’t make her even MORE self-conscious about her weight.  If she indicates she wants a running buddy and you’re game, tell her.  If she intimates she needs some healthy recipes, help her out with your favorites.  And if she says she’s puking a lot and on a ton of drugs and it’s depressing all she can eat are hot dogs, realize it’s a BAD TIME.  Don’t compliment her on weight loss.  It’s not okay.

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