In case you missed it, here’s the clip of me from earlier in the week, talking about our bodies after giving birth. If you’re like me and actually hate clicking on videos (my brain is less patient without the written word as a visual stimulus), the spot can be summarized thusly: love your body even if it’s not what you want it to be, and stop beating yourself up for not losing all the baby weight or not having a perfectly toned stomach. This is a great message, and particularly timely for me, considering that I’m polishing off a box of Cheez-Its as I type this.
Although the segment was less than 5 minutes long, I put a ridiculous amount of energy and preparation into this opportunity to be on live national TV. I also learned a number of things from the experience, including:
1. It’s not all about you.
The reason I got to be on this panel of three women talking about body image is because the show reached out to the blog to see if one of us could participate. So if you want to be on TV, it obviously helps to have existing media ties, but that’s not really what I’m getting at here. I’m part of a community of bloggers—mom bloggers to be precise—but I’m also part of the larger community of moms, and of women in general. I mean seriously, in that moment, I felt so totally CONNECTED with other moms and women. I didn’t even need to pretend that I was an appropriate representative of moms nationwide, or that I knew what I was talking about; in that moment, I totally got it, and just realized that I was there to deliver a message. In that moment, it wasn’t about me. I was Everywoman, or at least Everywomanwhohasgivenbirth, talking about what it means to have a baby and then struggle with body image.
2. Preparation pays off – even if you’re the only one who notices.
I actually scripted out what I would say in preparation for the segment. I have spent less time preparing for seminars I have given (though out of necessity, not because of some brazen attitude that I don’t need to prepare). I was really concerned that I wouldn’t be representative enough of moms with post-post-partum tummies, so I felt the need to rehearse. Of course, when I opened my mouth and started blabbing, everything came out a little differently than I had planned, but that’s ok, because it was natural. But it’s like, I needed to prepare for it to sound natural in a good way, if that makes any sense. Because when you want “natural,” you want natural as in “I brushed my teeth, dug the crusty gunk out of the corner of my eyes and crawled back into bed for morning sexy time” natural, not “I rolled over to kiss you this morning and you screamed because you mistook me for the St. Bernard” natural.
I knew that all I had to do was remember to be myself and speak from the heart to do this segment. But it just made me feel more relaxed and confident to have an idea of what I would say before I was asked to say it. I’m sure no one watched that and immediately thought to themselves, “you can see how much effort she put into carefully choosing her words and what kind of message she would send when talking about how she feels about her stomach after having children!” But just know that even my spontaneous self puts a bit of preparation into being spontaneous.
3. Women feel strongly about the issue of post-baby weight and body image after giving birth.
This sounds like something I would already have known before the segment, and in a way I did. But after the flood of comments, messages, and phone calls I got following the show, it hit me how much it matters to women that they hear positive messages about our bodies. There is a lot of guilt and shame attached to how we feel about our bodies and our selves after the incredible, powerful, amazing journey of pregnancy, labor and birth. Even if we don’t admit that we feel bad about our bodies, some of us go to great lengths to lose weight and get toned after birth.
And of course, that can be a very good thing. I lost something like 60 pounds last year after the birth of my second child (and then gained back around 15), and I credit that to careful eating and a semi-consistent exercise routine. But I really wish that “losing weight” had not been the primary motivator for that stage of my life. I wish it didn’t take the fear of being “fat” (I hate that word) to motivate me. Instead, I wish our culture was such that we started from a place of acceptance of how we look and who we are (not the same thing), and from there, learned to lead healthy, sustainable lifestyles, just because it makes us feel good and is the right thing to do.
Women want and need to hear positive, powerful messages about how amazing our bodies are and how little we should worry about extra tummy flab or a bit of thigh jiggle. At the same time, if I am a true representative of women who have not bounced right back after pregnancy, I know from my own experience that most women silently shame themselves for not looking the way they “should” while outwardly supporting others in their own struggles with body image. Why not start with loving and supporting ourselves? I’m glad the message resonated with so many women, as my Facebook page amply demonstrates. But now it’s time to really take it to heart and be kind to ourselves—really this time.
4. When speaking on one topic, expect others to come up.
Yes, that was Mel B., aka Scary Spice of the Spice Girls, who was guest hosting that day and called me “brave” when I mentioned that I had two homebirths. Without even thinking about it, I gave my standard response to being called brave for doing something women have done since the beginning of humankind: I wasn’t brave. I just didn’t want to give birth in the hospital!
You see, those of us who have had homebirths tend to be huge fans of the experience and want other women to know just how awesome childbirth can be when you don’t have drugs, beeping things, and sharp pointy things to get in the way. We’re not fans of the “brave” label, because we’re not looking for a medal; we just trust that women and their bodies know how to give birth, and we know that EVERY WOMAN has this ability. So while I knew I wasn’t there to plug homebirth, I needed to address the “brave” thing once it came up, just as I would in any other situation, live broadcast or not.
On a related note, not only did TODAY do a segment on homebirth later in the week, but my own midwife was featured in it. Small world.
5. The message will always be lost on someone.
In the sea of praise I received, only one person I spoke with had something negative to say about the segment, and it had to do with his opinion that “people will always find an excuse not to exercise.” I was prepared for that kind of comment, and I suspect that there are others out there who feel the same way but wouldn’t dare say it.
If I had been asked the question directly, I would have emphasized that I am in no way, shape or form stating or implying that after kids, we should all sit back and polish off a box of Cheez-Its nightly (seriously, are these things baked with crack?) and forget we ever set foot on a treadmill. In fact, I started off by saying that I have a little more weight I would like to lose. The point was that, as moms, we have a gargantuan amount of responsibility already heaped on us, and we don’t need the GUILT or SHAME of “needing” to lose weight on top of that. That kind of negativity does not motivate us to be healthier (note the emphasis on healthy, not skinny). We are already doing so much, and feeling awful about eating junk one day or skipping the gym the next is a waste of emotion and energy. And as one of our bloggers pointed out to me the other day, some of us actually do exercise daily and eat right consistently, and STILL aren’t back to our pre-pregnancy weight or size.
So while you can hope to get your point across to the most people possible, just know that someone out there will always see things differently. That’s ok, and good, even. We need a variety of opinions and viewpoints to continue to grow as people and shape our society and culture.
If you ever get the chance to appear on a show like this, I strongly encourage it, and if you have a positive message to share, all the more reason to do it. My fifteen, erm, less than five, minutes are over now, but I’m hoping that more opportunities like this find their way to me in the future.