Gwen Stefani with 4-month-old Zuma Nesta Rock. If this is “gross, big and uncool” sign me up! No seriously, I want those arms SO bad!
Gwen Stefani is hot. I think everyone, regardless of gender or orientation, can agree on this one. I have long loved the blond bindi-sporting No Doubt singer – their Tragic Kingdom album is still in my top ten list of albums that most affected me – so I was a little torn when I came across this quote from an interview she did with contactmusic.com:
“I hadn’t planned on doing a tour; I’d had Zuma, I felt so gross – I got so big and felt so out of touch and not cool. I was trying to write this cool record and nothing came out.”
On one hand I can totally understand pregnancy making you feel not like yourself (believe me when I say I understand!) but on the other hand did the post-pregnancy weight really make her so “gross, out of touch and uncool” that she could no longer write music? Really?? I’m not judging her. I’m just surprised, you know, because she’s Gwen Stefani. But maybe I shouldn’t be. Our bodies – and especially how we feel about them – are a powerful, defining force in our lives. When I’m really honest with myself there are many things I’ve missed out on over the years because I’ve been too worried about how I look. For instance, I refused my cousins when my cousins offered to teach me to water ski because I was too self-conscious to strip down to my swimsuit in front of them and all their hot friends. (Okay and I also despise being wet and cold. There’s that too.)
Gwen’s post-baby body insecurities reminded me of a conversation I had with another fit mom (whose story I share with her permission). Maryam, a 30-year-old group fit teacher with impossibly beautiful auburn hair and a super-fit figure, shared a story that I think most women can relate to whether or not they’ve ever been pregnant. She is the mom to three adorable children and after her last one was born, she returned to teaching a mere 8 weeks later. As she explains,
“When I received that phone call from my boss asking me to come back, I had a very basic decision to make: Was I willing to endure the humiliation of standing overweight center-stage in front of my fit participants and proceed to lead them through a vigorous work out? Was I even fit enough to keep up myself?”
None of my fitness gear fit. I had to go shopping for some seriously baggy clothing. Don’t even mention the multiple layers of Spandex I had to employ to ensnare my extremely buxom nursing bosom. The first few classes were brutal. I’m the type of instructor who does the entire work out with my participants but alas, I had no strength. No core strength. No upper body strength. My legs were weak. I felt like an utter failure when I could only hold my plank for 25 seconds.
Reliving this experience, it all sounds like a really bad idea and a sure let down for my class participants. But something really cool happened. I connected with them in a way I previously had not. Many of them attended my classes before the pregnancy and were happy to have me back. But even more than that, they were opening up to me on a much more personal level because they could identify with my struggle to become fit again.”
The part that really stuck with me was not the part about trying to wrangle nursing boobs into multiple sports bras – although that is both true and hilarious (double bagging isn’t just for groceries!) – but the fact that her class participants loved her more after her puke-tastic pregnancy and weight gain. And it wasn’t out of schadenfreude. They truly didn’t care about her jiggly parts, they cared about her and her willingness to share her struggles.
When people ask me why I wrote my book I usually say something like, “Well I’d just had my third baby and like many new moms I wanted to get back in shape…”
But when I said that in front of my sister Laura (I miss you like Jell-O popcorn!) she shot back with, “Charlotte, pregnancy is a shape. And so is being post-partum. And so is being menopausal. And being a kid. And being a grandmother. They’re different ‘shapes’ of you but they’re still you and they are all normal and healthy.”
She’s right. Pregnancy is not a disease and pathologizing child-bearing is insulting. It isn’t something you overcome, it’s something you experience. And the really cool thing about being female is we have this whole sisterhood to experience it with. The media may tell us – and Gwen Stefani may even have believed it (temporarily I hope) – that weight gain, pregnancy or otherwise, robs you of your self and the only way to be loved is to get “high school skinny” again but I think we women know better. Even if we do complain a little bit about not being able to fit in our jeans (ok, some of us complain a lot) we recognize the beauty that is in other women, regardless of their stretch marks or pants size or squishy bellies. Hopefully someday we’ll even learn to love them – and ourselves – because of them. It’s the evidence of our journey; the stories of our lives written on our very skin. (If you haven’t seen it yet, check out The Shape of a Mother to see beautiful evidence of this! Link is kinda NSFW.)
Like Gwen, have you ever been held back from doing something you love because of how you feel about your weight? Or did you push through your insecurities, like Maryam? Have you ever had a fitness instructor that you loved even more because he/she chose to share their struggles with you rather than hide them?
PS. A huge thank you to all of you who take the time to share your stories with me through comments here or e-mail. I have a file folder in my e-mail where I keep them all! No, not to write about or use here (I will ALWAYS ask you before reprinting anything you send me) but rather because I just love reading them. I love being a part of your lives.