Mummy tummies, jelly bellies and other cutesy ways to describe post-natal self-hatred

Mummies! You know how it is – you’ve just had a baby and sure, it’s the miracle of life and all that, but just for one moment (during nap time, once you’ve set the washing machine to ‘delicates’) let’s all take time to consider your tummy – that tummy which, for the past few months, has been glorious and drum-tight – and let’s now focus on how terrible it’s looking. One big mass of shapeless, useless flesh, brimming over the maternity pants you thought you’d never be wearing by now. Urgh. ‘Baby weight’ is far too cutesy a term for something so repulsive, is it not? Look, I’m not asking you to feel ashamed. On the contrary, it’s far better just to be honest. Say it loud, say it proud: “I look shit! And I hate all those women who snap back into shape in five seconds flat! The bitches!” Come on ladies, out with it! It’s the perfect post-feminist rallying call. No longer do we have to rely on men for misogyny. Independent and resourceful, we’ll make our own!

It might seem like an insidious means of cutesifying self-hatred, but actually, beating yourself up about being a fat new mummy is totally acceptable. Everyone’s doing it. That’s why a TV ad for the new Cussons Mum & Me range – a heartstring-tugging montage of “realistic” pregnancy and new motherhood moments – includes a brief scene in which the new mummy stares, miserably, at her fleshy post-natal tum.* At which point I and all other mummies are supposed to think the following:

Ah, the dreaded mummy tummy! We’ve all been there during the course of our paths towards motherhood by cliché montage! Frankly, I’m impressed that a toiletries manufacturer can milk the sense of shared identity that comes from body hatred to sell its own products. For a moment, I was terrified a fat cow like me just wasn’t good enough to buy Imperial Leather.

Is it just me – and I’ll be honest, I’m prepared for the possibility that it is just me – but anyhow, is it just me, or is all this not just really, really exploitative? It seems to me that, far from pretending we should all be supermodels, we never shut up about how rubbish women who’ve just given birth are apparently looking. The fact that we do so using a pseudo-sympathetic tone – “it’s okay, how dare anyone expect you to look nice, dear?” – and twee language – mummy tummy, baby weight, jelly belly – just makes it all the easier to stick the knife in. We have not become more accepting of post-natal bodies. On the contrary, we’re just more accepting of self-hatred. We’ve normalised the idea that new mothers shouldn’t like their bodies. If you’re feeling okay, actually, and couldn’t give a toss whether or not Hilary Duff lost weight faster than you – well, there’s something wrong with you. And by that I mean something in addition to the fact that you’re unacceptably fat.

I lost weight quicky after both my children were born (a combination of breastfeeding and suspected thyroid issues). Even so, for me it never felt quick enough. I have pictures of the early days. I look tired, but the joy of new motherhood – and the beauty of my new children – is clear for all to see. It’s only me who can look at these photos and think that day I felt rubbish for the entire morning due to my stomach spilling out over the top of my waistband. And those doughnuts you can see on the table in that photo – well, I binged on them later and used the whirr of the electric breastpump to mask the sound of self-induced vomiting. This should not be normal, but I worry that it is. What’s more, I don’t understand why we’re approaching it in such a light-hearted manner. Ah, the little mummies and their weight worries. Just a normal part of parenthood. Just part of the process. Well, I’m sorry but it shouldn’t be. It just shouldn’t.

If you are a new mum who is reading this, congratulations. If you are also the biological mother of your child, then I hope you are recovering physically. And by that I don’t mean ‘getting thin’. You look fine. There is nothing remotely grotesque about you that needs to be dissected, discussed and come to terms with. You’re great. Now put the baby down and have a cake – you bloody well deserve it.

* I’m conscious that many other mummy bloggers like this advert and do find it realistic – which means it probably is! Nonetheless, the cynicism of the tummy exposure moment – calling up a real yet misguided sense of repulsion in order to sell bodycare products – seems to me completely wrong.

10 thoughts on “Mummy tummies, jelly bellies and other cutesy ways to describe post-natal self-hatred

  1. Thanks for writing this. My daughter is almost 1 and I’m really struggling with how my body has changed. It’s not just the added weight but the entire shape that is so different now. I’m still breastfeeding but that failed to shed the pounds in the way I hoped it would, maybe just too much cake and sitting on the sofa?!

    1. I had an eating disorder for many years but was relatively okay – the changes of motherhood did prompt a bit of a relapse. And it feels so odd and frivolous – having a child is lovely, the best thing that’s happened to me – but I guess none of us experience this in a vacuum in which we’re not still judged by our bodies. I hope you are starting to feel better about it (I think breastfeeding affects women in different ways – I lost weight but ended up very lopsided due to my son’s preference for one side!)

  2. I agree and yet I don’t. This really is a tricky one.

    I agree it is wrong to exploit women’s sense of post-baby low self-worth to sell products, but on the other hand I applaud the fact that images of real mums and their post-pregnancy bodies are being seen in a public forum.

    I don’t think it’s ever a good thing to endorse self-hatred. However, is this really what these ads are doing? I don’t think that presenting an accurate view of how new mums feel about their larger, softer, often stretch-marked bodies is “normalizing” or perpetuating self-hatred. The fact is, in these situations moments of self-hatred are almost inescapable. Surely even Heidi Klum had days when she couldn’t stand the sight of her tum. In all honesty, I just don’t think we are going to stop feeling those kinds of feelings. If you are having one of those days when you can’t stop thinking about your floppy tum, no amount of cheery “you look great!” reassurances are going to make that feeling go away. I think the better approach is to reassure women that they are not alone in their weight gain and newfound flab, and they are not alone in feeling like shit about their post-baby bodies, but that time and reasonable expectations can help.

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. I do see where you’re coming from (and am not sure what a better solution is!). I think it’s perhaps the context of it within the ad that irritated me – but there are far worse examples of companies trying to make money out of women feeling bad. And yes, it’s not great if women can’t talk about these feelings – I just worry about it becoming part of what being a mummy is meant to be.

  3. What about baby-free women with not-so-flat stomachs, huh? We deserve to be humiliated in exactly the same way – I demand a specialist range with a piss-poor advert too.

  4. Looking at the other comments I don’t think there is a ‘right’ answer to this. I haven’t seen the advert (it can’t be as bad as the P&G mums one which makes me shout at the tele, surely?!) and I do think its a good thing that people are honest about how their bodies look post pregnancy. Some of us are lucky and our bodies pop back into shape. Some peoples don’t and media pressure is awful ( I remember looking through tabloids and hating famos new mums). Some people are bloody ill all pregnancy and would probably swap that for some extra weight to lose post pregnancy. On the other hand, my husband gained some weight while I was pregnant too, and I don’t see any adverts about that…

    1. Ooh, that happened to my man, too!
      No, I don’t think this ad is as bad as P&G either. I guess I reacted to that one scene more as hitting on something I feel more generally about new mother insecurity as a marketing tool. But maybe it’s not the best target.
      Just seen P&G ad for Fairy dishwasher tabs. Yes, definitely worse!

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