I think pregnancy is a wonderful thing and I would really love to have a baby someday. Some of my friends and sisters think that being pregnant is scary because of the whole pain-of-childbirth thing. Still, others think it is gross because you get very big and you end up fat and with stretch marks. Although I see their point (I am actually very scared of childbirth and getting stretch marks), I still stand in awe whenever I see pregnant women. I am amazed at the fact that our bodies are capable of producing, developing, and sustaining a new person. Pregnancy is one of the main reasons why I think being a girl is still so much better than being a boy despite this patriarchal world that we live in. Girl power!
That aside, I do have to admit that pregnancy is pretty daunting. You carry around a baby in your stomach for 9 months. Towards the end of the pregnancy, just imagine how heavy that is! Some friends say that you really won’t be able to see your feet anymore when you stand. Others say that your back will be sore all the time. Plus, with a belly that big, how will you sleep? And then they talk about what happens to your body after giving birth. When I thought about it, I did in fact wonder, what the heck happens to your stretched-out stomach once the baby comes out?! I’m not a very vain and superficial person; I am low maintenance and I’m not excessively conscious about the way I look. But then again, who would want to have a sore back, swollen legs, varicose veins, and a big saggy stomach? Not me. But I guess that’s the price of rearing a child in your womb for 9 months. (You bring a child into the world and what do you get? Stretch marks. Nice.)
Then again, women can always bounce back from this postpartum state and achieve a fit body once again (hopefully). I was watching a Hollywood news show one day and saw a segment about how Victoria Beckham looked so good in a short dress merely a couple of months after the birth of her third child. OKAY, so maybe Victoria Beckham wasn’t the best choice for comparison. But I’ve always thought that it would at least be possible to look good again even after blowing up after pregnancy. In line with this, especially for us normal people who don’t have the Victoria Beckham genes and bank accounts, how does the constant pressure from society to always look good and maintain a slim figure carry over to pregnant women?
Dworkin and Wachs (2004) did a textual analysis of a magazine in the United States entitled Shape Fit Pregnancy from the time of its inception in 1997 up to 2003. Shape Fit Pregnancy is a magazine devoted to pregnant women’s “pre- and post-partum fitness needs.” Their study aimed to analyze how fitness discourse and practices are perceived in the context of pregnant women and new mothers. Their findings suggest the notion that the pregnant form is presented as maternally successful yet aesthetically problematic. Likewise, contemporary mothers now have an additional third shift (aside from the first shift of working and the second shift of household and childcare), which is bodywork and fitness practices. Their analysis also revealed that fitness practices for pregnant women are explained as training for labor, that is, they are encouraged to do such exercises as a way of preparing their bodies for childbirth. Also, Shape Fit Magazine assures readers that the second and third shifts (household and childcare, and fitness practices) are highly compatible. This is why the magazine is filled with creative workout ideas that incorporate chores and childcare with being able to bounce back from their postpartum bodies.
I was reading this article while I was in the Third World Studies Library and the guy that I shared a table with kept looking at me as I repeatedly shook my head and went “What in the…?” Some workout ideas were just downright funny. One major suggestion of the magazine is that childcare and working out can be incorporated because babies can be used as weight barbells. Seriously? I see the point that merely taking care of a child can be a workout in itself, but the ideas presented were so out of place and forced, to the point that it was ridiculous. Such ideas include “kiss the baby pushups”, where the mother places the baby on the floor underneath her body as she does pushups and lowers herself to kiss the baby before pushing back up. Another is what they call “baby crunches” where the baby is draped over the mother’s shins as she does sit-ups and holds the baby with one hand. I didn’t know how to react when I read these suggestions. First thing that came to my mind is that the baby pushups could be dangerous if the mother falls on the baby, and as for the baby crunches, well now that’s merely using your baby as a dead weight. It’s like any idea that can be related to working out and pregnancy can be jotted down on the magazine. Just any idea that could make a profit.
It’s kind of funny, or maybe sad, that even with such a beautiful thing as pregnancy, the notions and expectations about what is acceptable still dominates. It is of course expected for women to get bigger and lose that taut, toned body they used to have. I mean DUH, that is what getting pregnant does to you, isn’t it? It’s a natural thing that, I thought, was widely accepted. So in line with this, the authors also suggest the paradox of the whole concept. Feminists, in their attempt to empower women, encourage them to incorporate their bodywork with all their other tasks as mothers and wives. This then becomes ironic in the sense that the feminist discourse to produce fit mothers merely emphasizes that feminism has yet to succeed — it provides such strong pressure that after the beautiful and amazing process of pregnancy and childbirth, there is something that they have lost and should get back.
And as afraid as I am of getting stretch marks, it’s hard to agree.
Dworkin, S.L. & Wachs, F.L. (2004). “Getting your body back”: postindustrial fit motherhood in Shape Fit Pregnancy magazine. Gender and Society, 18(5), 610-624.