Mothercare’s post-baby ads challenge ‘snapback body’ myth

Squeezing into pre-pregnancy jeans is now a priority just below ‘keep baby alive’

 

The latest poster campaign to brighten up the journeys of London’s commuters features lots of semi-naked breasts and bums – and also a healthy sprinkling of stretch marks, cellulite, generous bellies and post-surgery scars.

Channelling the spirit of Dove’s groundbreaking Campaign for Real Beauty, the Body Proud Mums campaign by Mothercare is an effort to “normalise [women’s] experiences, spark a positive conversation and help mums feel confident and proud of their bodies”, the brand said.

How prevalent is body-shaming in our society that real women’s real bodies are seen as something that needs to be “normalised”?

This campaign is just the most high-profile expression of a backlash against one of the more dubious trends to come out of social media. Let’s call it “snapback body bragging”: the phenomenon whereby Instagram stars such as Kylie Jenner post photos of themselves with a tiny waist squeezed into a corset weeks after giving birth, and dish out advice on how to get your “snapback body” back. (And if there’s an answer less appealing than “wear a corset”, I am struggling to imagine what it could be. Eating tapeworm, maybe?)

The long-overdue backlash also started on Instagram, with accounts such as @takebackpostpartum which collects photos and stories from new mothers celebrating the ways their bodies have changed after giving birth.

“Almost every day, I receive messages from other mums asking me how I look the way that I do. How I got my ‘pre baby body’ back. Here’s the truth ladies - I DIDN’T. I have the excess skin. I don’t have stomach definition the way I used to. My hips are a little wider. I don’t want there to be any misconceptions. My body did not just ‘bounce back’,” writes one mother of twins in a typical post.

The idea that the human body is – or should be – capable of “snapping” or “bouncing” back is so ludicrous that, in any sane society, it would not need debunking. But when it comes to women’s bodies, women’s choices and women’s lifestyles, this society is anything but sane. So I’ll put it out there: we are not made of elastic. We are not designed to snap. Or bounce.

We are all different, and for every Kylie Jenner, Vogue Williams or mother with washboard stomach, there are hundreds more left with stretch marks and strange squishy bits and what Kate Winslet once adorably called her “crumbly belly.” (It’s also worth remembering that for every woman hating her post-baby body, there’s another one wishing she had that problem.)

It has been 13 years since my first pregnancy, and almost five since my last, and I’m still waiting for my pre-baby body to do a geriatric shuffle back into view.

My husband is also waiting for his pre-baby body to bounce back, only I’ve noticed he seems to have been spared 13 years’ of near-daily advice on how to starve or bully his dadbod into submission and, as a result, is annoyingly unbothered.

I have been a woman on this planet long enough to have absorbed the message that squeezing back into my pre-pregnancy jeans should have been one my top priorities after having a baby – hovering just below “keeping the child alive”, but well above “learning how to peel a butternut squash” and “looking after your mental health”.

Why is it such a badge of honour? Yes, health and fitness are important, and maintaining a healthy weight is part of that. But having a body that hints at the fact that it once grew another human should not be a source of shame. I’m with the actor Olivia Wilde who once said: “The truth is, I’m a mother, and I look like one.”

That’s not to say there is anything wrong with missing your old body, or feeling like you’d quite like one day to be able to see your toes again. Nor is there anything wrong with working hard to get back in shape, if that’s important to you.

And sure, there are some women for whom the pregnancy pounds really do melt away – though equally, that can turn out to be a sign that all is not right. One friend who was diagnosed with postnatal depression later confessed that compliments about how quickly she’d “bounced back” came as a frequent, hurtful reminder of what she saw as her failure to cope with motherhood.

The point is that we should all get out of each other’s Spanx, and as a society, we should stop seeing women’s bodies as a source of shame, or a statement of who they are and what they stand for.

We are all more than the sum of our waist measurements or cup sizes or the number of stretch marks we have or the number of months it took to get back into your old jeans. There are more important things to worry about in the first few months or years – or, let’s face it, decades – of motherhood than trying to live up to some Kardashian-inspired Instagram hashtag.

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