Friday, April 24, 2015

To Whom Does Mom's Body Belong, Anyway?

OK, I admit it. I'm a sucker for click-bait, and I often give in to morbid curiosity about comments on online articles, despite more sensible people's (understandable, needed) warnings of "DON'T READ THE COMMENTS!" Heck, I even give that warning sometimes, because... well, usually because I did and became increasingly horrified and disgusted and don't want others to have the same experience.

So when pictures of moms post-baby surface online, I usually end up looking at them. I have gotten to the point that I wouldn't compare myself to any of these women, because I know no one has the same body experience during pregnancy/postpartum. I end up looking at them because I actually love the variety, the individual differences between the people who have all just performed a similar biological function... with vastly different but perfectly natural and normal results. I find all of their pictures lovely, whether the women still look similar to how they looked when pregnant or seem to have lost every pound they gained the moment they gave birth. I abhor the headlines, which are often meant either to celebrate women who have slender postpartum bodies and shame ones who don't, or to somehow tell the world that the only way to prove your body's worth after baby is to have more weight and more stretch marks... but the women themselves? All gorgeous.

What I don't understand at all is when a mom takes a picture of herself or has someone else take a picture of her pregnant/postpartum/when she has been a mom for a time, puts it "out there," and then has her body and lifestyle completely picked apart by The Photo Vultures* who can apparently gauge the character, emotions, and child-rearing skill of a woman from a mere photograph. I don't understand when she is told that she's a bad mom or bad person for sharing pictures. That she's narcissistic because of it.** That she should be keeping herself to herself because she's Now A Mommy.

Pregnant in a bikini before going swimming... 
and the only point I'm trying to make here is that
it's still my body and shouldn't be a big deal, 
but somehow to society... it is?

Put the camera down and actually spend time with your child! We don't care if she's napping or he's at Grandma's house or another parent/guardian is reading to them; you should be staring at the baby every moment of every day. ... Do you even care if your baby is sticking his finger in the electrical socket in the with a plastic bag over his head? Because obviously you put him down on the floor amid a barrage of safety hazards just out of the shot so you could take this "selfie." And put some clothes on in that picture, for goodness sake! Think of what might happen if your newborn son sees you in such skimpy clothes on the internet when he's a teenager. You have stretch marks? We applaud you, oh incredible embodiment of womanhood...  now why do we care, again? By the way, your top has a stain on it. At our house, we actually prefer to be clean. And why is your hair done? Why do you not have under-eye circles? You must not be tending to your child like the rest of us if you can look that energetic. Oh, wait, that's right; you're too busy taking pictures.***

Here's the thing, everyone: a mom's body is still very much her own when she's pregnant and after having children.****  It might nourish, carry, or soothe, but it does not actually belong to her child. If it did, there would be another name for it: the child's body. I'm not saying that for many women it doesn't feel like their bodies aren't their own, especially early on. Those are valid feelings--everyone is entitled to their own feelings about their bodies--but those feelings don't actually make her body their or anyone else's property.

In summary...

A mother's body does not belong to her children.

A mother's body does not belong to the general public even when exposed to the general public; it should be shown or covered up as she sees fit and not as strangers see fit.

A mother is not narcissistic or necessarily trying to "prove" anything when showing her body and being proud of it, whatever state it is in.**

A mother's body does not need to look a certain way to validate her motherhood.

A mother's body should never be called a source of potential embarrassment to her children as if the body she was somehow "allowed" to display on college spring break suddenly becomes unsuitable for viewing after having kids... because no bodies are shameful.*****

A mother's body is her own.

A mother's body is beautiful.

NB: I do not in any way think that women who adopt, use surrogates, foster, or otherwise have/raise children are not mothers.  And I don't think motherhood a woman makes, either.  I suspect some posts here will be geared toward women who have given or will give birth, but please know that they are never meant to be "othering" to women who can't, haven't, or won't, and I hope those women can take something from the posts as well.  

*Copyright TACN, 2015. 
**Narcissism is an actual mental disorder that affects ~1% of the population.  Narcissistic people often have various, sometimes severe difficulties in daily life because of their intense self-focus.  Using the term merely to describe being proud of features or accomplishments is... well... it's rather ignorant.  
***JUST IN CASE... this entire paragraph = sarcasm.
****With pregnancy in this sentence, I am speaking from a purely emotional standpoint; I am not making any claims or arguments about the physical relationship between a woman and an embryo/fetus.  If you want to discuss "personhood" or abortion, --this is not the forum in which to do so--.  Thanks in advance for staying on topic.
*****And let's not get into how sexist/presumptuous it is to say, "Think of what your future children might think!" when viewing those spring break photos in the first place.  Not. All. Women. Want. Children. OK?