Jessica, if you are listening… “Your body is perfect, just as Maxwell!”
As many know Jessica Simpson gave birth to her first child last week, Maxwell Drew Johnson. Baby Maxwell, whose name has drawn harsh criticism (as if anyone’s opinion matters but mommy and daddy), was born at a beautifully healthy and hearty 9 lbs. 13 oz. 21 ¾. Maxi would be considered a larger baby when looking at Americas average baby weighing in at about 7 ½ Lbs. Would we put Maxi on a diet? Heck no! She is beautiful and healthy and her weight is not an indicator that there is something that needs to be “fixed.” This attitude toward baby Maxi’s weight would likely draw consensus; however the same cannot be said for the Media’s attitude toward her mother. The first headline I saw about Jessica giving birth was on my Yahoo news feed the day Maxi arrived. “Jessica Simpson’s Weight loss Plan”- my heart sank. Jessica has been criticized for years for her body, scrutinized, accused of breast augmentation, called names, and during her pregnancy the fixation on her body amped up with many non-experts chiming in “has Jessica gained too much baby weight?” Although I have not yet had the privilege of giving birth to my own child I can imagine that there are so many more important things on your mind: caring for this new life, doing things “right,” learning how to nurse/change diapers/swaddle/live on little sleep, etc. etc. etc.
As a Clinical Psychologist I am aware that approximately 15% of American women experience post partum depression after they give birth. This form of depression is not only emotionally devastating but holds a great deal of secrecy, shame and guilt as mothers feel pressure to be utterly joyful during this special time. Add to all of this the clear public pressure to lose the baby weight and the comparisons to other celebs like Heidi Klum, who famously strutted the VS catwalk just 5 weeks after giving birth in 2009. Worse yet, in the biggest display of “mean girl” tactics by the Media I have ever seen, Jessica’s pregnant body has been openly pitted against those of Vanessa Minnillo (Lachey) and Candice Crawford (Romo), the pregnant partners of her two famous exes.
Beyond the obvious deleterious effects of this sort of culturally acceptable obsession with “losing the baby weight” it is important to look to the biological functioning of a woman’s body changes both during and after baby. Babies need their mommies to feed them well both during pregnancy and after if nursing. Although we often joke about pregnancy cravings, they are nature’s way of ensuring babies are nourished. A woman’s hips widen to accommodate baby’s passage into the world, her breasts swell and stretch to provide milk, her tummy skin pulls tight to make room for baby sometimes leaving a roadmap of the journey towards love that is bringing a being into the world. These are the beautiful, wonderful, miraculous changes that occur to sustain life. On average women should gain between 25-35 lbs in order to facilitate these important and necessary changes, medically some women may be advised to gain a little more or less depending on their pre-pregnancy weight. Women who eat well and gain the appropriate amount of weight are more likely to have healthy babies. So isn’t this the whole point-Having a healthy baby and a healthy mommy? When did we become complacent with valuing form over function when life is on the line?
I must say this way of thinking about pregnancy is not terribly new to me as I work with college age women who have eating disorders in therapy. When working with these young women I often encounter these very same obsessions and fears about pregnancy and the body changes that come with it. Some women are overcome with grief over their awareness that in engaging in disordered eating they may be impacting their future fertility, and others experience terror and confusion about wanting to be mothers one day but being unable to fathom allowing the necessary weight gain. Although not every woman must be a mother to reach her full potential it should be every woman’s experience to choose or not choose motherhood based off of more than terror associated with a “pooch” or a “baby bump.” Our society is eating disordered, the Media is eating disordered. Maxi’s birth and Jessica’s subsequent weight-attack give us yet another reason to rally to each other’s defense. We have to help one another fight back against unrealistic and unhealthy cultural norms and media messages related to weight and weight-loss. We have to be a beacon – speaking truth loudly into the Media static. We have to do this for Jessica, for Maxi, for our sisters and ourselves. Maxi, maybe more than any of us, knows just how wonderful her mother’s body is! As she snuggles in close to the warm, soft-curves that housed her for 9 months, to be nourished and loved I am sure she is thinking “thank you Mommy, you are perfect to me.”
For body-affirming pregnancy support check out this beautiful website http://theshapeofamother.com/