The post-pregnancy body is a controversial topic these days. Isn’t that…strange? It used to be that we embraced the maternal figure– the robust, zaftig, rounded physique of a Mom was celebrated and revered. What happened? I sat down with Lara Spencer on GMA to talk about body image, mothers, and what the trend towards plastic surgery means to our children.
Below, I talk about some of the questions I’ve received on the topic over the last few years:
What’s influencing our body image views as mothers and women?
Our society is obsessed with thinness, youth, and perfection (I talk about this in my book; Good Girls Don’t Get Fat). We see it in the magazines we read, the advertisements we see, and the celebrity weight loss stories we hear about. These things coupled with the fat talk we engage in in our own lives—among our friends and in our heads when we look in the mirror, create a picture of what we are supposed to look like and how we fall short.
In fact, according to Claire Mysko, author of Does this Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?;
We interviewed more than 400 women for our book; seventy-eight percent of them said that they worried about the body changes of pregnancy and motherhood. Unfortunately, those concerns are often intensified by all the “bump watch” and “lose the baby fat” messages in our culture. Instead of being encouraged to get support for body image issues, moms are expected to be waging war with their bellies, hips and thighs.
So it’s not surprising that many mothers are turning to plastic surgery to “fix” their post-pregnancy bodies that have been stretched out and marked by the amazing experience of birth. As it’s become so common, they even have a name for it: Mommy Make-overs.
“So how exactly are we supposed to look at our post pregnancy bodies and think ‘wow look at this saggy skin of stretch marks on my belly. And these dimpled thighs and butt and what about these not so firm breasts. Aren’t they HOT.’ Ill never look in the mirror and think what’s looking back at me looks good! Ever!” — Mona, a commenter from a previous blog post on this topic
We can’t blame mothers for feeling compelled to adhere to society’s standards of thinness, youth and perfection since everyone wants to feel valued, beautiful, and loved. The maternal body is looked at as “sub par” in our society. And as ridiculous as that sounds intellectually, it’s apparent that to recapture one’s pre-baby body means, in our society, recapturing what is admired and valued—youth, beauty, thinness and perfection.
The thin figure is tied in with positive attributes- studies tell us that what is thin is considered good, beautiful, worthy, controlled, and attractive- so it is easily follows that mothers want to essentially go back in time to reclaim that youthful body they had before their pregnancies.
What message are we absorbing? What message are we sending?
Our obsession with youth, beauty, and thinness grouped with fear of fat, the obesity epidemic, the ease of digital photo enhancement and the accessibility of plastic surgery has sent a very concrete message to mothers: Women’s bodies are devalued in our society by pregnancy and delivery. By recapturing the pre-baby body, mothers can feel confident, worthy, and valued again.
What’s changed– is this any different that it was a generation or two ago?
We now have 24/7 media blitz, photoshopping to perfection, celebrity’s baby bodies turn hard bodies in what seems like a near-impossible amount of time- this warps our perception of what is real, what is doable, and what is expected.
Will this trend die down or become more common?
As plastic surgery for mothers becomes more accessible and affordable and media remains unforgiving about the onslaught of diet ads, plastic surgery ads, celebrity instant body slim-downs continue to be celebrated, I believe it will become more normalized to get plastic surgery to regain their pre-baby bodies. People will be less inclined to ask “why” and more inclined to ask “why not?”
This may open the door for more fault-finding. Just because a person gets plastic surgery doesn’t mean their perception of themselves is “fixed.” Additional plastic surgery for some will be a natural progression.
With any transformational surgery, the mental aspect can be a challenge. The mental side of physical change doesn’t always come right away– sometimes it takes years– so even though the body has changed, the body bashing may remain the same. In fact, I just received this message this morning;
I enjoyed your piece on GMA this am. It is nice to finally find someone that is focused on this topic…My body is different but the thought process is the same and retraining your brain to see the change, accept the change and so forth…how do you tackle that mentally? (Hannah)
What are mothers comparing themselves to?
Mothers compare themselves to images that don’t exist or simply once were. Mothers compare themselves to the unrealistic standards set forth by the media- but also to the people right in front of us—friends, coworkers, in some cases, their preteen/teen daughters—and of course, to the picture of what once was- their own youthful bodies before they had children.
But what if moms are simply doing it “for themselves” rather than anything someone said to them or what society has conveyed?
I think we need to get honest with ourselves here. People don’t get voluntary plastic surgery just because. You can’t separate what society has conveyed from what we think. We live in a culture that embraces perfection. If we lived in a culture that embraced the maternal figure, mothers would not only be less likely to get plastic surgery, they would be less likely to harp on their changed bodies. They would be more likely to embrace the change because the culture would be celebrating it. Moms may be getting plastic surgery to feel better about themselves, there is no dispute in that, but to say that society’s views have nothing to do with it is just not possible.
So are mothers responsible for the messages they send to their daughters when society is so tough on them?
We can’t fault mothers for wanting to adhere to the unrealistic societal standards set forth by the media and underscored by those trusted sources closest to them. These messages are pervasive and unforgiving. However, as mothers we must be accountable for the messages these “mommy makeovers” are sending to our developing daughters; that women’s bodies become less acceptable as we age, that you must go under the knife to take care of it, and that the definition of what is beautiful is confined to what is young, thin, and perfect.
We may not want to send such a message- it’s the last thing on our minds to hurt our girls in any way- but our choices do have repercussions.
What messages are we sending our sons?
Our sons absorb from society that women must strive for the near impossible, that thinness and youthful firmness is to be expected, and beauty is limited to those who adhere to the standards of perfection set forth by media and, in many cases, echoed by those we love and those who love us.
As a mother, I can’t help but think of my daughter and what I want her to think of her own body as she grows up and perhaps eventually becomes a mother herself. What do I want her to think of her body? I hope she embraces it, loves it, keeps it healthy, nourishes it, and sees herself as the beautiful person she is. As these messages get louder, I can only imagine what we’ll be fighting against. (I talked about this on Tyra here)
And, as a mother of a son, I want him to see beauty in all types of women and that they are to be loved just as they are. I want him to know that a women’s value as a mother is not tied up in the shape and size of her body but rather in her character and inner beauty. I hope I always remember that my choices don’t just affect my daughter but also my son– and that I am raising someone who will likely be someone’s husband and someone’s father one day. With constant pressure from society, it’s not easy for any of us. Lord knows all of us are far from perfect. Isn’t that OK?
What do YOU think? How have you dealt with this issue? (As this is controversial, please use tact and kindness when posting here or on my FB fan page. We want to know your opinion, just know that young girls and people with feelings read this!)
Plastic Surgery Mommy Make-Overs: Dr. Robyn Discusses on GMA is a post from: Dr. Robyn Silverman – Child Development Specialist, Body Image Expert, Success Coach & the Creator of the Powerful Words Character Development System