How Postpartum Bodies Are Affected By Fatphobia
Being pregnant is complicated and societal standards for postpartum bodies can breed parent to child resentment. Parents struggling with image issues after giving birth may feel like the child is to blame or the pregnancy “ruined their body” and those who already suffer from eating disorders may risk miscarriage.
By Shia Diefotze
If you’ve never been thin, you battle with a weight scale your entire life. Even if you lose weight and meet “societal standards,” inner conflict wages and tells you that you’ll never be small enough. For many women and girls, not being small enough means not being beautiful. It means you don’t deserve love and your existence is either repulsive or funny. I definitely feel confident in my appearance, but it fluctuates when I gain weight and that’s an issue. This issue grows for some pregnant people and for many it can lead to worsening symptoms of prenatal and postpartum depression and suicidal thoughts.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in nine women experience symptoms of postpartum depression and according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suicide and high blood pressure is a leading cause of death in pregnancy and the first year after giving birth. And Black women, regardless of their class or education level are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth than non-Hispanic white women.
Pregnant people not only have to deal with exceptional hormone fluctuations, but they also have to worry about body standards, racism, access to healthcare, resources, family expectations, and other life stresses that depend on class and status. Being pregnant is complicated and societal standards for postpartum bodies can breed parent to child resentment. Parents struggling with image issues after giving birth may feel like the child is to blame or the pregnancy “ruined their body” and those who already suffer from eating disorders may risk miscarriage.
Loving your postpartum body isn’t easy, my clothes fit differently and I knew they would but I was still disappointed. In pop culture and throughout society, pregnancy has a glamorous image, and it’s not just glamorous: it’s white, upper class, sand between your toes, and sunset. Google “beautiful pregnancy photos”, what do you see? Normative bodies—mostly thin, cisgender, heterosexual, married white women. What we are told are the ideal situations that are completely unrepresentative of reality. That lack of representation is detrimental.
All too often I observe “snapback” photos with high compliments praising already thin people for recovering their default, thin body type. Celebrity women rush to post snapback photos weeks after a life changing, organ shifting event. This societal pressure has made it so we as pregnant people don’t give ourselves time or space to love ourselves or heal. Nor do we truly admire and absorb what our bodies are capable of. While it is completely okay to celebrate a speedy and healthy recovery, it isn’t okay to reduce childbearing bodies to our ability to please or abide by the male gaze or a white supremacist, fatphobic and ableist society’s restrictive notions of “good bodies”.
The way we support pregnant people typically falls along the lines of ensuring that they know they aren’t “ugly”, or in more direct terms “fat”. The inner conflict that most feel while pregnant is a result of the fatphobia plaguing our relationships with ourselves and the child birthing journeys we find inspirational. Let’s digest why these changes make us so uncomfortable. Fatphobia is institutional oppression and our media and dieting culture profits from the consistent degradation of anyone who isn’t “the right shape.” We don’t see photos of thick, curvy, or fat pregnant people in popular culture and we definitely don’t see fat people as sexy. Otherwise, images of fat folks would exist alongside skinny people in porn and in advertising without being more than the occasional token or fetish.
It’s okay for your body to be different after it carried a baby. It’s okay to have a pudge, wider hips, and stretch marks in all of the so-called “undesirable” places. Current body standards–thin bodies or thick in the “right” places with tiny waists—aren’t realistic for people whose bodies aren’t naturally formed this way and no one needs to meet that standard. Pregnancies are drastically different and socioeconomic status plays a role in the kind of pregnancy you have.
We still aren’t at a point in our activism and progression where stretch marks, pudges, scars—all valid signs of being a human with experience, frequently circulate our media. However, we are also in the perfect place for a change. The reconstruction of our language can affect the emotional, and physical health of the womb bearing person and child. The idea of snapping back is not just oppressive, it’s rooted in our fear of weight gain. Fatphobia convinces us that we are no longer lovable if we don’t adhere to the hourglass standard and that standard desperately needs deconstructing. Your pregnant and recently pregnant friends deserve more than topical, body standard based support.
Shia Diefotze is an Alaska-based freelance writer, student and artist with a passion for lifestyle journalism, advocacy, and activism utilizing print and art based mediums.
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