Thursday, 14 June 2012

'What's Good About This?': Reframing Our Post Baby Bodies

Children are natural visionaries, but life tends to whack this out of us as we grow up. Those people who are able to retain or rediscover their childlike ability to dream constantly and create unapologetically usually make a big and positive impact on the world. One such visionary was R.D.Laing, a Scottish psychiatrist, who published several works on 'madness' or 'psychosis' from the 1960's onwards. At a time when most people viewed mental illness as a shameful blight that was best kept hidden from view, Laing 'reframed' this, comparing episodes of mental ill health to a shamanic journey, from which it was possible to return a wiser or more insightful person. "Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through", he said, and he even famously suggested to a patient with chronic catatonia, 'I hear you are very good at sitting still, have you thought about getting work as a life model?'. This she did, and through seeing her condition in a positive way, she was, paradoxically, able to recover from it. In a time when most doctors were asking, 'What's the problem?', Laing instead posed the question: 'What's good about this?'

What's good about this? What's good about this? I've been asking this question myself recently whilst packing for a holiday and being forced to try on a variety of bikini's, tankini's and swimsuits I've got shoved at the bottom of my sock drawer, most of them purchased in a state of pre-baby body confidence I took entirely for granted. I've already written about my post-natal 'melty down tum' here, and my desire to make my peace with it, but I'll admit, standing in front of the mirror this week looking like an elephant in a handkerchief factory, I felt I had a long way to go yet. But who can blame my insecurities, when the news seems to be constantly full of stories about celebrities regaining their six packs just weeks after giving birth? Just this week, we've seen Michelle Heaton (lost the weight), Jessica Simpson (trying to lose it), and Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai leaving critics perplexed (not losing it, not trying). Each week, the names are different but the stories the same: they got their pre baby body back, or they didn't. I didn't.

Aishwarya Rai has been accused of 'betraying her country' by failing her 'duty to look good and fit'. Cinema professor Shohini Ghosh has commented: 'There is a glorification of motherhood in India and Indian cinema. But people are confused because they don’t know whether to glorify Aishwarya in her new motherhood or lament that she is not looking like a runway model.' I know how they feel. Part of me wants very much to celebrate my body and it's earthy curves that brought forth my two beautiful daughters. But part of me laments, yes, laments is a good word, the loss of my 'Ta-Da' beach and bedroom bod, and constantly feels the pressure to erase the evidence of pregnancy from my appearance. Rain and sunshine, sunshine and rain...

A few days ago I was just getting into the bath with my visionary four year old and I noticed her looking at my tummy. 'What do you think of it?', I asked her. 'I think', she said with her usual careful nonchalance, 'I think it looks like an upside-down rainbow.' An upside-down rainbow. R.D.Laing would be proud of this perfect reframing, this ability to look at the world with optimism and wonder, and to find beauty in unlikely places. To me the rainbow seemed just the right image, and I won't be able to look at my tummy again without seeing it there, or thinking of her, or her sister, or the thunderclaps and sudden sunshine of pregnancy, birth and motherhood. As usual, my daughter inspires me, and I resolve to try harder to remain oblivious - like her, and R.D.Laing - to the norm, the flow, the status quo - and instead reframe the world with the simple question, 'What's good about this?'.


11 comments:

  1. I initially saw this picture small (a link to this post shared on Facebook) and at first glance I genuinely thought it was a picture of the moon or a planet or something else beautiful and galactic from space. It is BEAUTIFUL. - Daisy

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    1. Oh that is nice Daisy, what a lovely thought...celestial bodies! Thanks! x

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  2. Thanks for sharing this. I have been significantly overweight since I was 20, after a birth control shot. Before that, I was mildly chubby since early teens. Now I've had a baby, and although I'm only slightly heavier than before, it's all been rearranged, everything is looser (breastfeeding hormones in part, I think). Throughout these changes, I've never managed to feel good about myself or my body. Each time a change for the 'worse' happens I lament not having enjoyed what I had before. I don't know when I will learn to love my body. Even it's power to grow a baby hasn't swayed me! I struggle with this daily. I'm glad to see this being talked about, because I don't want to pass on this body shame to my son, I worry he'll notice my discomfort with my appearance and am doing my best to model different behavior around him. And although I never had a pre baby bikini body, I didn't enjoy what I did have. Sorry this is a bit negative, but it's my truth. Thanks for your blog, it's helping me to think about how to reframe.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your feelings so honestly, I think that when we do this it is so helpful to people who are feeling that they are alone or in a minority and are afraid to be honest in the same way.
      I was reading a book called Buddhism for Mothers today and found it very helpful. It might be of interest to you.
      I hope you find a way to make your peace with your body as it is right now.
      Love and thanks for your comment x

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  3. Another fascinating post. You've taken something as complex as the way we identify ourselves and made it as simple as seeing the rainbow in things. Having both past episodes of mental ill-health and a mummy tummy, I've really appreciated this post. And go, Aishwarya Rai! I hope she doesn't let the media get to her.

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    1. Yes, it will be interesting to see what becomes of her and what she decides to do. Thanks for your lovely feedback! x

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  4. My kids say that I am soft like a pillow, and they love it. They notice my stretch marks and I tell them they are evidence of their life beginning inside of me. My children tell me that I am beautiful, that I am the most beautiful woman in the world, and they mean it with all their hearts.

    I believe them.

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    1. Oh that is lovely! And you must be giving out a lot of love and positivity about yourself for them to give so much back to you...I think this is important, especially as a parent of girls, but I don't always manage it.
      x

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  5. I love that phrase "mummy tummy"! Thank you for this post - as so often, you have a wonderful talent for putting into words the feelings that I have but can't quite articulate, even to myself! I too aspire to adopting an attitude towards my body of which, to my regret, I often fall short.

    I love the image that "Ta Da!" brings to mind, of your pre-pregnancy belly! Yes, I had one of those - my best feature. I wish I was brave enough to post a picture of my "mummy tummy" (after four kids!) like you have, but I'm afraid I tend to simply wear swimsuits these days in preference to bikinis.

    My dream is to wear bikini bottoms with confidence, to be a role model for my 16 year old daughter. But I still struggle with the message that I would be transmitting: that I don't care what other people think? (that would be hypocritical - I tell my children how important it is to be careful to give a good impression at interviews etc) That I, at 50 with a mummy tummy, have just as much right to display my body as anybody else? (I defend this position, but maybe I feel it would be better if everyone wore swimsuits and displayed a little more decorum! No - that's disingenuous. As an ex-pat Brit living in Germany I really admire the way people are so much more comfortable with nakedness here. But my upbringing runs deep... as discussed in other of your posts....!) Well, that discourse has helped me, and given me food for thought!

    Thanks again. Love your stuff. Better stop waffling now.....

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    1. Oh thanks Esther, what a lovely comment! I so TOTALLY know what you mean... I feel the same dilemma about make-up in a way...is it ok to wear it and put it on in front of my daughter (yes - you should make the best of yourself, like planting flowers outside the door of your house / no - you are perfect as you are and shouldn't have to please others with your looks etc) Nightmare! I actually wore a bikini on the beach a few times on a recent holiday, for reasons similar to some of those you outline...it felt odd and I was happier in my tankini...but also somehow liberating...and so we go on, round and round! Thanks for your lovely thoughts and words anyway x

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  6. How beautiful. A rainbow upside down. Amazing how children can help reframe things. I have a toddler and am pregnant with my second. This is a fantastic reminder to me to stop freaking out about stretch marks and the like and just marvel at the changes my body makes to grow this little human being into existence. Thank you for sharing. X

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