Performing motherhood, you soon discover, involves positioning yourself at extremes. If you can’t be perfect, you must excel at ineptitude. Just bumbling along in the middle, being “good enough,” simply will not do.
Take our approach to health and beauty. At the time of writing this I am rocking a “full-on slummy mummy” vibe. I have one breast significantly larger than the other, thanks to my baby son’s insistence on feeding from one side only, and I’m housing a family of nits, kindly donated by my shaggy-haired seven-year old. I can’t remember the last time I exercised, beyond the odd, panicked pelvic floor clench. Some might call this slovenliness; I call it “taking an organic approach.”
At the other end of the spectrum we find the women currently being hailed as the “fit moms.” Like their predecessors, the MILFs, they don’t see making a real, live human being with one’s own body as any excuse to let oneself go. On the contrary, women such as Sia Cooper, owner of the Instagram account @diaryofafitmommyofficial, are to be found working out on the very day they give birth (apparently giving birth itself doesn’t count as a workout, at least if you’re not doing it in the downward facing dog).
As a registered slummy mummy, I suspect I am supposed to hate Cooper and her ilk. “Fit Moms,” writes Allie Jones in The Cut, “are both revered and shamed for their determination to stay lean and muscled throughout gestation, making them the perfect tabloid subjects for the internet age.” It’s the Mommy Wars all over again, only this time it’s with added selfies. Just as stay-at- home mothers are played off against those in paid employment, and breastfeeding mums are pitched against those using formula, the “fit mom” is on hand to “stoke the outrage cycle,” prompting accusations of vanity and selfishness from those of us who’d rather lick cake mix with our offspring than use him or her as a makeshift dumbbell.
What these women do with their own bodies is their choice. Pregnant bodies are already policed to such an alarming extent – don’t eat this, don’t drink that – that we shouldn’t be adding “stay away from the gym” to the list
And yet I don’t think we should be going there. So these mothers of newborns make me, whose own baby is already nine months old, look like a flabby, uneven-boobed slob. So what? What these women do with their own bodies is their choice. Pregnant bodies are already policed to such an alarming extent – don’t eat this, don’t drink that – that we shouldn’t be adding “stay away from the gym” to the list. As trainer Chontel Duncan and her friend Nat showed with their viral bump-and-baby comparison photos, the bodies that gestate healthy babies vary hugely in appearance. So much of what goes into making a baby is down to luck, whereas so much of the advice aimed at pregnant women is down to a need to control women in general, and mothers in particular.
I suspect that much of the resentment towards “fit moms” is driven by the belief that these women are “showing off.” Girls may grow up in a culture which tells us that our only value lies, first, in our appearance, and second, in our reproductive abilities, but god forbid any of us should be seen boasting about either of these things, let alone both at the same time. We are supposed, one assumes, to follow the rules, then wait demurely for our efforts to be noted and approved. Sod that. If I looked like Sia Cooper or Chontel Duncan five days after giving birth, I’d be rubbing people’s noses in it, too.
If there is anything that bothers me about the “fit moms” phenomenon, it is nothing to do with these women themselves. We should be celebrating diversity in how pregnant women look and behave. What concerns me is that the specificity of maternal bodies and their needs could get lost in a one-size- fits all approach to “making the most of oneself.” I find it striking that almost all contemporary ideals for the female body – whether we are dealing with being ultra-thin, having no hips or removing all body hair – involve some degree of looking as though one has not gone through puberty. While “fit moms” are proof that some women can still conceive while maintaining a low body fat percentage, many others cannot. There is a strange dissonance at play, as though the maternal body can only be celebrated if it is also denied, if not individually, then on a much broader cultural level.
It’s for that reason, I suppose, that I could argue that women like me, floppy-boobed and hairy, offer our own form of resistance to the homogenization of maternal flesh under patriarchy. Perhaps I should start my own Instagram account. I’ll just wait for the nits to leave first.