New mothers rarely look their best. Birth is a big deal even when it goes well and exhaustion comes as standard. In the early days it’s hard to get a shower and even harder to leave the house. A new mum finds herself stranded on the sofa with a hungry baby and a remote control a long way from looking (or feeling) her best. Every woman cares about her appearance to a lesser or greater degree. Some of us are comfortable not to wear much make-up & to do the school run in our tracksuit bottoms, whilst others spend a long time in front of the mirror before nipping out to the shops. Some people feel naked without their lippy/ eyeliner/ mascara and others only bother with these things on special occasions.
Still, how many new mums do you know who’s first outing was to the hairdressers? How many new mums do you hear complaining about their jelly belly or stretchmarks? The answer is, most of them! How many will tell you they’re desperate to start losing their baby weight and get back in their jeans even before they’ve had their six-week check? Lots – it’s almost like a competition.
We live in a ‘virtual’ world.
I don’t just mean the internet and online ‘social networking’ either – it goes much deeper than that. Whenever we turn on the tv/ internet how often to do we stop to think about the ‘reality’ of what we’re seeing? The vast majority of presenters and actresses we see on our televisions have had their appearances radically altered. They’re not just in movies either, they’re in advertisements, dramas, the daily magazine shows and even in the news. The women you see are using fake tan, teeth whitening & dental veneers, hair dye, expertly applied make-up, nail extensions, weaves and hair extensions, waxes, threading, push-up bras, ‘magic’ knickers, stylists, clever camera angles and expert lighting. Some of them have their meals cooked to a diet plan and delivered to their houses and many more see personal trainers on a regular basis. Then, consider that many of them will also have had cosmetic surgery – liposuction, breast implants, a nip here and a tuck there, nose jobs, brow lifts, injections to plump and fillers to smoothe, botox – the list could go on and on! The truth is out there, but it’s rarely to be found on the box, or in the airbrushed pages of a magazine. The truth isn’t found outside your front door either. Every person you see in the street has taken steps to alter their appearance. It might just be a haircut or a higher heel, or it might be considerably more than that. Half the time you won’t know whether that girl with the lovely long hair you saw in Sainsburys was wearing a clip-in weave or not. You can’t tell if another woman is wearing chicken fillets in her bra or if her lovely figure is the result of eating nothing but cabbage soup for six weeks. That friend who says she eats chocolate every night might be masking an eating disorder for all you know.
No – the truth is usually found when we’re alone in front of a mirror. That’s when we see (if we can actually bring ourselves to look) a real body, and it’s ours. For a new mum it’s an even more daunting prospect as for most women pregnancy and labour leave real scars. Even when we haven’t just come through pregnancy and labour we hide our true selves from the rest of the world. We are careful that no-one else sees our grey hairs, we cover-up our stretch marks and our spots, we hide our cellulite and pluck out stray hairs. We buy the push-up bras and ‘Trinny’ pants. We use the spray tan and the make-up. We wax and de-fuzz, we light candles so our partners can overlook our imperfections – imperfections that they themselves probably couldn’t give a fig about. We aspire to be like the women on the tv and in the magazines.
Are we even truly honest with ourselves about our bodies?
In the early days after having a baby – living as we do in this virtual world – it is easy to understand why some new mothers struggle with the idea of breastfeeding. In an informal online survey I conducted with 65 respondents, 7 said they had chosen not to breastfeed because they were concerned it would damage their figures. That’s more than 10%. It’s easy to criticise these women and call them vain, but really that’s too easy. There’s something else going on and it’s just as big a deal as those misleading formula ads.
Our society has forgotten what it is to be human. Somewhere along the way we have convinced ourselves that we’re more than mammals, more than animals. We don’t seem to want to face the fact that however evolved we may be, we are still mammals. The preoccupation with ‘keeping up appearances’ has infiltrated our lives to the extent that we hide our bodies away and conceal one of it’s most important functions – that of feeding our young. For fear of revealing a stretch mark or a nipple some of us would rather hide shamefacedly away or spend hours expressing milk to give in a bottle. No wonder people give up feeding. Added to the initial difficulties which face many new breastfeeding mothers there is also the fact that our society still seems to consider breastfeeding unseemly.
Many people even consider it ‘weird’ to breastfeed a child older than 12 months. We doubt our body’s ability to feed so much that we’ll give formula ‘top ups’. We’ll be persuaded by the advertising industry (and even some health professionals) that formula feeding is somehow better for our babies than our own milk. Worse still – if my small survey is in any way representative – something in the region of 10% of mothers (that is 60,000 babies a year in the UK) won’t even try to feed their babies their own milk for fear of damaging their figures. Something has gone seriously wrong and we need to reclaim our humanity and be honest about who we are.
We need a reality check.
View the rest of this blog at www.mythnomore.blogspot.com