There is always a new concept that is created to encourage women to not only question themselves and their confidence, but also the agency that they have over their bodies. From their pubescent years of awkward bodily changes to filling out in their 20s, and keeping up their shape in their 30s and 40s, the critique of a woman's form is never-ending. No matter their age or circumstance, all women get critiqued—even mothers.
The mommy-blogging era introduced not only an unsustainable, picture-perfect experience mothers were set up to “look forward to,” but it also enabled the body-shaming, fatphobic movement of snapback culture. Yes, there were platforms that provided honest and endearing content around becoming a mother, but a few years after mommy bloggers became a hit, the treacherous snapback convo followed. With this came celebrities and stay-at-home moms on our feeds who had the financial means, time and trainers to push their bodies back into their pre-pregnancy form in no time at all. We’re also witnessing the influx of social commentary on women’s post-partum bodies. Remember the praise Beyoncé received after having her twins for the intense workout routine that she did in preparation for her iconic Homecoming Netflix special?
As a Black woman who has thought about having kids, I can admit that one of the fears I’ve had about pregnancy is “losing my body.” And why wouldn’t it be? Society puts so much pressure on us to maintain our youth, despite any circumstances that our bodies naturally go through as humans. There isn’t much support for women to enjoy their youth or even age gracefully in peace. So it’s not shocking that women are being told that their bodies can’t even look like they carried and gave birth to a new being.
Influencer Gabrielle Gambrell, is a 36-year-old mother of two who’s had her body commented while she was pregnant and afterwards. “Being from Los Angeles, California, a lot of your currency and success, and how people treat you is based on how you look. This has impacted my personal thoughts on snapback culture. You see beautiful women have a baby and when they have the cue to start working out, they do it [with gusto]. In both of my pregnancies when I was approved by my physician to work out again, I did. I actually hurt myself this past pregnancy,” shares Gambrell. “I [definitely] think society and our culture have something to do with it. But for me, personally, I don’t want to be a “new size." I have a lot of clothes that I just want to fit into again.”
”I do care about the number that is on the scale," she continues. "I know I shouldn’t care so much but I do. I get on the scale all the time, which my trainer tells me to stop doing. She tells me to care more about inches and how my body feels, but I do look at the scale.”
Gambrell’s honesty is eye-opening but not shocking.
Ashley Winters, from Houston, remembers vividly the lengths she went to snap her body back into shape after her delivery. “Naturally, as a woman, when you walk in your closet and put on your favorite pair of pants and they can’t get above your thighs, it can be a very depressing experience," shares the 34-year-old. "I started wearing a waist trainer three weeks after having my baby. Here I was zipping myself into a too tight corset while trying to breastfeed so I can get my body snatched. It was just a lot.” When asked if she felt that she would handle another pregnancy differently than her first, Winters adamantly stated yes. “I would be way more patient and kinder to myself, and not so hard. And I would not put on a damn waist trainer; I felt like a stuffed sausage,” she adds.
35-year-old Tiricka Tripplett wishes that more mothers—and future moms—knew that snapping back doesn’t always happen for everyone. This is a harsh reality for many, if not the majority of women, but it is a truth I think many of us should hear. “There’s no real timeframe for snapping back, and it may be unrealistic for a lot of mothers,” Tripplett says. “Pregnancy journeys differ, and so do women’s bodies. Instead, give yourself grace and space to adjust and embrace your new body,” she added.
And that's what Syreeta Martin, mother of two, did. She was told that cosmetic surgery would be the only way for her to remove the “pouch” that resulted from diastasis recti—a separation of the abdominal muscles—after having her two daughters. “After trying to snap back, my doctor informed me that a tummy tuck would be required [to get my pre-baby body back]. To date, I haven’t gotten the surgery. While I’m not always comfortable in my skin, I’m confident in my style and sense of self,” shares Martin.
According to Wasidah Francois, a doula and fitness trainer, women need to take the time to understand their body as it transitions through pregnancy and postpartum. “Social media makes women think so many women are just looking great, having babies and just bouncing back. That’s not true. It’s about loving yourself and realizing you sacrificed your body to have a human. I don’t think I even realized that until I became a doula,” reveals Francois.
When asked if women could have any control of how their bodies experience pregnancy, she gave additional insight. “I definitely think that you can have some control around your eating and how active you are, but it depends on your pregnancy," explains the fitness trainer. "If you have a workout routine down [prior to getting pregnant], then it’s easier to keep it going [at a reasonable level] when you get pregnant. Plus, doctors will usually suggest doing nothing “new” after the first three months. So you want to have a workout down prior so that you can wind down as you advance in your pregnancy”.
“I would say to pregnant women or women who want to get pregnant to expect not to look the same. Some women even end up looking better than they feel they did before giving birth. Just try to clear out the expectations from other people, and make sure you have a partner that supports you and your self care for yourself,” adds Francois added.
I have a gut instinct that as more Black women share the truth about becoming mothers—from the struggles that some face getting pregnant to the actual experience of sacrificing their body for a new life—there will increasingly be less pressure for us to have unrealistic expectations. Will that hinder society from collectively giving us the blues about our bodies? Probably not. There’s capital in insecurity; it’s literally what drives the beauty and fashion industries. Yet, I do think that having the confidence to buck the system internally for ourselves will decrease the access society as a whole has to our mental health and mindsets.
Giving birth is a beautiful, serious, and at times dangerous experience for women to go through. The process is grueling for some, and easier for others. No woman will have the same journey during or post birth; thus, we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others.
"If your body doesn’t look the same as it did before, just know it’s OK. After all, you aren’t the same woman as you were before you gave birth. Focus more on creating a happy and healthy environment for yourself and your baby," explains Tripplett. Wise words, indeed!