Let’s start using true narratives about having children and aging as women
A conversation most women—or middle-class white women?—have before giving birth is, “How do I get my body back after birth?” Women’s fitness culture and women’s media have plenty to say on the subject. Advice for “getting your body back” can range from “breastfeed for the first year to lose weight!” to “Keggle exercises to get that vagina back in order!”
I didn’t understand before having my own baby that the narratives surrounding childbirth (and women’s life experiences in maturing and aging in general) are inherently flawed. The culture surrounding women’s health suggests that a woman’s body can be brought back to it’s virginal, youthful state. Flat tummies, tight vaginas, perky hard boobs, smooth skin, and a lack of aches, pains, and wrinkles. The problem is, a woman’s body is not a re-programmable, wipe-the-slate-clean entity.
The truth is, a woman’s body will never be the same after giving birth, and time cannot be turned back. And why would we want it to? Unlike a man’s body, which remains essentially the same throughout life (with the exception of fitness level) a woman’s body changes over and over again. One of the inherent truths of being a woman is that our bodies and minds will biologically change as we experience life.
A more helpful narrative for women to tell each other is, “Yeah, girl. Having a baby changes you. But we’re here for you, to help you each step of the way.” Women could tell each other, “After you give birth to your beautiful baby, just worry about resting and bonding with your baby and your partner, your body will take care of itself. And if you have terrible scary thoughts, or you get sick, tell me, because I’ve been there and will help you get what you need.”
When women tell each other to focus on our looks, on “getting our bodies back”, we take away from life experiences that matter and invite us to grow as women. Stories and beliefs teaching us that our looks, the conditions of our vaginas, and reaching for the past state of our bodies creates a wall between us and being a woman.
Woman is a changing being. She evolves, grows and contracts, is malleable and immeasurably resilient. Tell stories of embracing the change that comes from choosing things that only women can choose. Yes, your body will change. Your mind will change. You will experience pain and sadness unlike anything you’ve experienced before. You will also love as you’ve never loved before. Your body will be a new body. Your hormones, uterus, vagina, joints, ligaments, breasts, will all change. Your life will be different and how you feel about your life will be different.
Do not wish for the past because your new present and your future are just as beautiful.
When women tell each other stories that are true and helpful, it gives us space and the expectation we need to grow. It also helps us overcome the toxic expectation for women that they are always to “have their body back” and to be the same woman she has been since she was young. The worshipping of the youthful woman doesn’t help women to become wise, experienced, strong women.
Let’s start telling each other the truth.