The Rise of the Postpartum Selfie
On the heels of the Maria Kang controversy, bloggers are posting body selfies that defy societal pressures
When the photo of fitness blogger and model Maria Kang went viral, it attracted plenty of outrage. In the picture, Kang’s rock-hard body was clothed in an athletic bra and short shorts as she posed with her three young children beneath the slogan “What’s Your Excuse?” Critics accused the California woman of “fat-shaming” and helping fuel unrealistic expectations of what women’s bodies look like not long after childbirth.
But in the months since, at least some of the spotlight has shifted away from Kang and onto women without washboard abs who are accepting of their figures nonetheless. These women, particularly bloggers, have been posting photos of their own partially-clothed bodies while spreading the word that it’s OK not to look like a gym goddess.
“Let’s not try to make other people feel bad about themselves (no matter the motive or reason even if it’s helping people get healthy), and let’s all try to be okay with what we’ve got,” wrote Divine Secrets of a Domestic Diva blogger Susan McLean, who posted a photo of herself in a sports bra flanked by cookie boxes.
McLean’s blog post on the subject included a round-up of other pictures that parodied the Kang photo to inspire, excuse the pun, full-bellied laughs. On other sites, bloggers posted their selfies alongside passionate rebukes of the aesthetic pressures facing women today.
“No one else can change the way we view ourselves, but the solution to self loathing is not conforming to idealistic standards. You can look like a supermodel and still hate your body. The solution has nothing to do with body shape, but rather the acceptance that our weight is a complex subject and ultimately our bodies are perfect no matter our size,” Jes Baker, of The Militant Baker blog, wrote on The Huffington Post.
Mother of three Jenna Karvunidis, who blogs at High Gloss and Sauce, had a very personal motivation when she recently posted a photo of herself lifting weights at the gym, her baby carrier at her feet, on Facebook. Karvunidis hit the gym just four weeks after giving birth and a difficult pregnancy: she was originally pregnant with twins, but lost one during the pregnancy and was put on bedrest.
“I posted a selfie of me in the gym not because I was fit or looked good by any means, but I was hoping the world would excuse my body on the basis that at least I was trying,” Karvunidis told BabyZone.
The photo garnered more than 100 “likes” on Facebook.
“It’s like when unemployed people fill out job applications in public,” she joked. “The net result might be still not getting paid, but it’s always better to look like you’re doing something.”
Karvunidis said that despite the controversy, Kang’s viral photo actually did inspire her to work out.
Though her initial reaction to it included “unexplained rage,” she later changed her mind. Kang, she decided, had a point.
“Normally I sit around congratulating myself for about a year after having a baby, but not this time. If Maria Kang can do it, well, not like I totally can, but it did behoove me not to spend the winter inhaling caramel,” she said.
Dr. Daniel Roshan, the director of a maternal-fetal medicine practice in New York City and an assistant professor at the New York University School of Medicine, said it’s “not a bad thing” for women to be encouraged to exercise after pregnancy, noting that many women don’t lose the weight gained during successive pregnancies, putting them at risk for obesity and other serious health problems, such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
“If they can get in shape, they can eliminate those problems,” he said.
Dr. Roshan also said that generally, it’s safe for a woman to do any exercise six weeks after delivery and possibly even as soon as four weeks–about how long it takes for the uterus to shrink back to normal size–if it’s not her first child or if it was an uncomplicated delivery.
For those who delivered via cesarean section, he advises waiting eight weeks.
But doing too much too soon, he warned, comes with risks, including abdominal pain or the possibility of opening up suture lines. C-section patients should also be wary of hernias.
The risks posed by exercise really vary depending on the nature of each person’s childbirth, Dr. Roshan said.
“Somebody who has an uneventful vaginal birth can do a little bit more than somebody with big tear,” he said.
While doctors like Roshan are concerned about women staying healthy, some argue that the selfies posted by Kang and other super-fit moms–including celebs–is putting too much pressure on women to attain not just healthy bodies, but perfect ones.
Taryn Brumfitt, a self-described “positive body image activist” in Australia, argues that women should strive for good health without going overboard and sacrificing priorities like spending time with their children. Brumfitt, whose body went from hard-as-can-be to slim but noticeably softer after pregnancy, has been proudly posting selfies before Kang’s photo lit up the Internet.
“I AM a health advocate,” Brumfitt wrote on the site Mamamia recently. “I run, I lift weights, I eat healthily but I also have a cookie with my soy latte and knock back the odd burger or yiros when I feel like it. It’s called balance.”
“And whilst I am getting on my soap box (I’ll just be here for another minute) health is not dictated by your looks,” she added. “Health is physical, emotional and spiritual and so much more that is not visible and not always obvious to others.”
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