The myth of the “pre-baby body”

Jack

Two weeks before having my son

After having my baby something I heard a lot of the time, apart from “is he sleeping?”, was “oh my god, you look great!” or “wow, I can’t believe you just had a baby!”. While it is nice to be told you look great, it felt like what the surprise in those comments was really saying was “I expected you to look not great.” That having a baby would ravage my body, that it would make me a lesser version of myself. It often came from other mothers who would then tell me how terrible they thought they looked after having babies.

Society is obsessed with this idea of a “pre-baby body”. A quick glance at any pregnancy or parenting magazine will tell you how important it is to lose the baby weight, how to gain “just enough weight” while pregnant, what super foods to eat, and how to feel sexy again (by losing weight). The celebrity gossip magazines almost always have a story about some star returning to their “pre-baby body” with a step-by-step guide on how you can do it too by exercising 6 hours a day and eating nothing but kale protein smoothies. But surprise! there is no returning to your “pre-baby body” – because you had a baby. Your body has changed in an irrevocable way. You grew an actual human inside you. Why is this something to be ashamed of? I am what society would call “lucky.” Without doing much of anything, my body, when in clothes, resembles mostly what it looked like before I fell pregnant. Take those clothes off though, and my breasts hang loose with stretch marks, my tummy is dark with lines and the incision scar from my emergency caesarean looks like a smile under a pouch of soft skin. My back aches more easily, I bear scratches on my chest and arms from baby newborn talons, and my feet are sore in anything that doesn’t have an insole. My eyes are dark from 6 months of sleep deprivation, my hair is in a perpetual state of mess and my face breaks out constantly from forgetting to eat or eating poorly.

Jack

Eye bags for days…

Other markers I bear of motherhood are strong arms from rocking and nursing, an ability to open almost anything one-handed, a clear voice from constantly singing lullabies, a soft and squishy body which my son loves to grab in great fistfuls and my cat loves to knead, bruised knees from rolling around playing games on the floor, and a heart filled with joy. Whilst I sometimes look wistfully at old photos of myself (being a burlesque performer I’m in the unique position of having many semi-naked photos of myself) I wouldn’t want to return to that body. I am grateful for my body with it’s many bumps and lumps. It’s like a constantly evolving map of my life: here is that scar when I fell off my bed as a kid, here are the lines from many laughs and smiles, here is the incision that my baby was born through.

Jack

Bath time is the best time

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel good and healthy in your body, and maybe for some people that means losing some weight, or hitting the gym, or wearing makeup, or wearing suck-me-in undies. What is wrong is when we expect all these things of women, and especially when we expect mothers to “bounce back”  straight away. Bounce back to what? I think most mothers would never want to bounce back to their life without kids (although it is nice to visit every so often).

So, next time you see a new mother feel free to tell her she looks great because she’s a mother and not in spite of being a mother. And whatever you do, don’t ask her if the baby is sleeping at night.

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The worst thing about being grown up.

I think the worst thing about being an adult is having to make decisions. Life is so much easier when you’re a kid – all of the major decisions are made for you! The biggest thing I had to worry about was what I was going to buy at the school canteen with my pocket money. The jam tart or the sausage roll? But when you’re grown up, the decisions are bigger and there is no one to make those decisions for you but yourself. And that SUCKS!

Mini me!

Mini me!

I recently realised that I was actually quite unhappy. I felt overworked (and of course, as an artist, underpaid) and had no passion left for what I was doing. Overall I loved the work, but I think I loved the idea of it more. I never really realised that I was unhappy because I was so busy and there always another project to focus on. But when I really thought about it, I saw that I was down more than up. So I decided that I had to make some major changes.

Sapphire and I in our very first photo shoot! OMG we were such babies!

Sapphire and I in our very first photo shoot! OMG we were such babies!

The decision to downsize my business (The Swing Sesh), and leave the partnership I had been in since 2009 (Peaches n Gin Burlesque) was the hardest decision I think I’ve ever had to make. I felt like I was letting everybody down and that people would be angry with me. I really struggle with letting negative judgement get to me. I was also terrified that I would regret it, that I could never go back, and that I would miss out on a lot of opportunities. I agonised over it, but when I said to myself “I’m doing this”, I instantly felt like it was the right decision. The hardest thing was telling people I cared about – especially the teachers at The Swing Sesh who I was essentially letting go, and Sapphire.

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Now that I’m a few weeks out of letting everyone know, I have a much clearer head. I still feel bad that my decision has, in some cases, had a negative impact on people, but I also know that if I hadn’t made it I would have burnt myself into the ground with the same result (except I’d be ashes!). I think Peaches ‘n’ Gin will run a lot smoother and more efficiently now that there is one person at the head, and I will still be involved and doing the things that I love, like teaching and performing. With regards to The Swing Sesh, I’m excited about having more time to focus on planning awesome classes and events – I can feel the fire start to burn in me already without the burden of running a large school. I’m confident my classes are going to be much better with more time to dedicate to them.

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Decisions really do suck. But sometimes you have to make them even when they don’t please everybody. If you don’t look out for you, who will? I am so happy that I get to spend time with family and friends now, and still have time for burlesque and swing dancing. As a friend aptly put it, I’m “right-sizing” not “down-sizing”. I think I’m done for major decision making for a while though now, so if anyone needs me I’ll be on the playground. 😀

Last night I sang in front of people and I didn’t die

I have this crazy anxiety about singing in front of other people. I don’t know why – I enjoyed singing as a kid and was in my primary school choir, but I also have memories of feeling like I wasn’t very good and feeling ashamed of that. I think I stopped singing fairly early on. Up until recently I couldn’t even bring myself to sing in front of my husband – not without putting on a funny voice and making a joke out of it.

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Ella Fitzgerald – one of my favourite vocalists.

When we were writing The Gin Sisters the plan was to have a couple of songs in there, and I was going to do a song by myself. The idea terrified me but I was determined to give it a go and get over my fear. The first time I tried to sing in front of our director I was a mess – as soon as I stood up the anxiety washed over me and I could barely get anything out. The next few times I got a bit better, but my voice was still shaky and I was so nervous that we pulled it from the show. I was bitterly disappointed in myself and angry that I was letting my own self-doubt get in the way of my goals. I put it away for months while we focused on the rest of the show, and said to myself “well that’s just one skill you can’t do”. I beat myself up so badly over it – ridiculous right? I stopped practicing and became shy about singing at home again.

I played my uke in The Gin Sisters but didn't sing!

I played my uke in The Gin Sisters but didn’t sing!

We did two runs of the show – Perth Fringe World and Adelaide Fringe, and I tried to see as many shows as possible. I’ve been so inspired by the work I’ve seen that I decided it was time to step out of my comfort zone even further than I had with The Gin Sisters (where I still have my partner in crime Sapphire to rescue me when I forget my lines!) and do a one woman show, which I am writing at the moment and will be performing in the Cabaret Fringe Festival in June. In that vein, I have been trying to do new and scary things and so I decided that I would try singing a little song in our amateur night, Bloomers.

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Some of the gals performing in Bloomers with Sapphire – some for the very first time!

One of my biggest problems is that if I don’t start in the right place, I can be singing way out of tune but not know how to get back in tune. Sometimes when I hear notes next to each other I can’t tell which one is higher or lower, and I also struggle to tell when I am doing it right. The fear of being out of tune really puts me off. So, to get over that, I sang accompanied by two egg shakers (skilfully manned by audience members), so I wouldn’t have to stress about being in tune with anything except myself. I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do it so I could back down shame free, but I also didn’t bring a plan B which meant I pretty much had to do it.

You know what, I was ok. My voice didn’t break, I think I hit the right places and my words didn’t come out muffled. I’m not going to be doing musicals any time soon, but I did it. And I’m really proud of myself. It was just a silly little song that lasted all of a minute, but it’s a wall I’ve been running into for years, and it feels great to have broken through a little, and I’m interested to see what’s on the other side.

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#dearme: Life turns out awesome

Tiff and Jesse

My sister and I. I think I’m about 14?

Today is International Women’s Day and Youtube is currently running the project #dearme, asking women from all over the world to record what they would say to their younger self. Here is my contribution – I’m talking to myself in high school. What would you say to your past self? I’d love to hear from you 🙂

Play it again!

I’ve been working on some stuff about concepts of “adultness” and “childishness” lately, and it has gotten me thinking about how I’ve lost a lot of that spark of carefree fun we instinctually have as children. I don’t “play” like I used to. One of my earliest memories is finger painting at kindy. I remember the table being enormous (it was probably a standard size), and our teacher pouring so much beautiful, colourful paint on it and we went to town. Another early memory of playing was slipping and sliding around in a mud pool in a brand new outfit my Mum had bought me. Yep, I got in a ton of trouble, but I can still remember the wild abandon I felt tummy flopping into a giant pool of mud. I also remember that my sister and I, in Autumn, would always play the same game. We would gather all of the leaves that fell from the giant (to my tiny figure) tree in our front garden and we would shape them into nests and pretend to be dinosaurs. This was in the era of The Land Before Time and we were pretty obsessed.

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My Mum, my sister and I one Christmas morning

I like to think I still have a healthy amount of “play” in my life. After all, it can be lots of different things: playing sports, listening to music, watching movies, joking with friends, flirting with my fella. I also get to play a lot on stage as a performer, and as a swing dancer I get to engage in social play whilst dancing with other people. But in some areas of my life play is severely lacking. I love doing artsy and craftsy sorts of things, but only if it turns out “good”. If I can’t make something well than it isn’t worth doing. If it has no purpose or practical value than I dismiss it. How ridiculous! A prominent play scientist, Dr Stuart Brown (who founded the National Institute of Play) sums it up pretty well in his TED talk: “If it’s purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it’s probably not play”.

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Animals are hard wired to play. Nat Geo photographer Norbet Rosing captured photos of a hungry polar bear and a husky engaging in play. Click the pic to see more of his work.

I’ve realised that I am shackled by my fear of not doing something useful and by my feelings of self-conciousness. It’s odd, on stage I am happy to be a total goofball and do silly things and so I want this to translate more in my every day life. I want to indulge the inner kid in me more. So, for the purpose of “research” 😉 I’ve been trying to do more of the things I loved doing as a kid. I spent some time making different kinds of paper aeroplanes and the glee I got from throwing them around my apartment and watching my cat chase them was wonderful! I’m trying to sing more and whenever I feel like it, even though I can’t really sing in tune and I’m always embarrassed. I picked some flowers and than proceeded to throw them over my head and roll around in them at the park. Simple pleasures, but on the days I did those things I noticed an uplifting in my mood and I find I’m seeing more opportunities to play the more I play. Today, I have a huge stack of paints and I’m going to spread them all over my table, and go to town.

Daisy chains....

Daisy chains….

What did you play at as a kid? 

Resources to check out: 
Dr Stuart Brown’s TED Talk: Play Is More Than Just Fun
The Benefits of Play for Adults (also links to many more articles)
Play In Mind Blog