The comment was made so offhandedly that at first I didn't realize that I should actually be kinda offended.
I was more focused on the clock, truthfully, wanting to get out of the salon—with a fresh gel manicure for the first time in months—and run the roughly 500 feet back to my apartment before my then-3-month-old decided she wanted to eat again.
But as I sat there, silently watching the technician cut my cuticles I started to stew over the remark that I looked "so much thinner than the last time I'd been in." Uh, thanks?
I knew the instance she was referencing. This was only my second visit since giving birth in May 2019, getting my nails done one of those pre-baby activities that had to be temporarily shelved because I worried my daughter might start screaming mid-polish. And the first had been about five weeks postpartum. With friends coming in town—an actual real social activity—and my husband working from home, I felt like a slight glow-up was in order.
I remember having felt proud that I was in my non-maternity leggings and had actually styled my hair. There may have even been makeup involved?
I thought I looked medium decent, but even the most generous description of my belly wouldn't include the word flat. Without getting into the sort of details that would scare others out of actually having children, I was nowhere close to healed. Was she expecting an actual toned stomach situation?
Maybe? Perhaps? Truly it doesn't matter. The point is that as a society we've normalized dissecting pregnant bodies so much that a virtual stranger felt totally comfortable commenting on mine. And while I'm sure it was intended as a compliment, it didn't feel all that great.
For the nine-plus months of pregnancy, women are appropriately celebrated for being the mother-effing warriors they are—dealing with nausea and swelling and strangers' opinions about everything from their bump size to whether it's really okay to have that cup of coffee. "There's sort of this emphasis on like, 'Oh, it's so amazing and look what your body's doing,'" licensed marriage and family therapist Carla Korn noted to E! News. "That's, like, one of the only culturally acceptable times for women that it's okay to be gaining weight."
Then, continued the psychotherapist, herself only three weeks removed from welcoming her third child, "the minute that you give birth, it's like, 'Okay, it's time to regain your body.' Whatever that means."
For celebrities, that experience is even further magnified, stars asked about their plans to lose the baby weight while they're still battling morning sickness knowing full well the first time they emerge from their home after delivery, their post-baby body will be discussed.
So they work to lose the weight—using any manner of in-home personal trainer, private chef, perhaps even a good plastic surgeon—like it's their job. Cause it pretty much is.
"I already started to say in my head, 'Okay, January 2021, Nicole, you better have your abs back, you better be this weight, you better be in this shape," she admitted on the July 22 edition of her and twin sister Brie's Bellas Podcast, some 11 days before son Matteo made his grand entrance. "Because so many women in the spotlight get their body back so quick, I'm, like, holding myself to this level that everyone's expecting it, so I better deliver it."
I, personally, have written countless articles praising the celebrities for sprinting, boxing and dieting off their baby weight. At the time, I told myself that celebrating their hard-earned achievements did not equate to shaming those of us who don't manage to slide back into our pre-pregnancy skinnies weeks (or, let's be honest, two years and one pandemic) after giving birth.
But it doesn't take all that much imagination to arrive there on your own, particularly if you're a new mother staring at a body—and a life—you don't entirely recognize.
"Becoming a new mom is such a transformative experience," explained Korn, who works with clients dealing with disordered eating and body image distress. "And you're never going to be the person that you were before you had a baby. Your body's not going to be the same, no part of your life is going to be the same."
And yet, she continued, "There's this kind of false narrative that I think we have in our culture that if you can just get your body to look the same way it did before, maybe you'll feel some comfort. Because becoming a new mom is really, really uncomfortable. Everything's out of control. Baby's not sleeping when you want baby to sleep, baby needs to eat all the time. None of it's in your control, right? And so I think that in postpartum, especially, we're kind of sold this message by diet culture that if we can get our bodies to look a certain way, that we'll feel a certain way."
That's not to say there's anything inherently wrong with wanting to reclaim just a piece of the person you were before becoming Mom.
As Shay Mitchell, mother to 19-month-old daughter Atlas, told E! News in March, "There are people that can kind of mom shame and be like, 'Well just be happy, don't be sad about your body now. It provided this beautiful life.' Yes, it absolutely did. But I don't think that there's anything wrong with wanting to feel strong again."
So more than a year after Atlas' arrival, she recommitted to a fitness program, celebrating each pound she was able to lift ("I've been active my entire life—I have never lifted a 40-pound, lifted a 50-pound," she marveled) rather than the ones she dropped.
"I celebrated my body before, I celebrated my body when I was pregnant and I want to celebrate my body when I feel my best again after that," she explained. "Yes, this is a stronger version of me. But it's because I put in the work and I allowed myself to have some me time with this program and now I do feel great again, you know? But I don't think we should feel bad about not feeling great because our bodies were a new thing for us as new moms. And then include a body after giving birth and then a pandemic? Like, no, it can take a toll on our mental health. And it did for me."
It's an incredibly common feeling, allowed Korn, who would love to see a shift away from this focus of having to get your body "back" and more on the reason why that feels so important. "Is it because we feel really, really uncomfortable as new moms?" she put it. "Then let's try to normalize that." It's okay to feel like you're in a foreign body, she stressed, "It doesn't mean you automatically need to be able to find the quickest fix to that."
Nor does that mean you need to proclaim a newfound love of your tummy or thighs if you're not truthfully feeling that way, even if you super appreciate them for helping grow a healthy baby. The goal is to simply treat your body with love, nourish it with good food and movement, rather than punish it with restrictive diets and intense workouts, and most importantly, Korn noted, "Understand why expectations to look a certain way are harmful."
Celebrities pushing back against the assumption they'll do anything and everything to return to sample size ASAP certainly helps.
Each time someone like Maren Morris slams the idea that she needed to get her figure back after birthing son Hayes last March a body positive angel gets its wings. "No one took it, I didn't lose it like a set of keys," she wrote on Instagram. "The pressure we put on mothers to 'snap back' is insurmountable and deeply troublesome. You are and always were a f--king badass."
Weeks later at April's Academy of Country Music Awards "The Bones" artist shared she was inspired to post the message "because it was important for me to realize it. And I realized that if I am coming to grips with this realization, I can't be the only one."
Feeling constant pressure to eliminate any sign that she'd created a whole human, "I just realized how unhealthy that was for me and my workout journey—to be like, 'I need to get back to where I was before'—because that's not really the goal," she continued. "That shouldn't be the goal to just sort of erase the fact that you had a kid. And I think that I'm really proud of where my body is right now, even if it's several pounds heavier. It's like, I did something that half the population can't do, so I think that's pretty f--king rad."
These days, she's feeling "really proud" of the body that made her son and muscles its way through regular workouts. "I'm not, like, a stick, but I love the fact that I've got curves now and it proves that I did something really amazing and wonderful with my life," she said. "So, that's where I was at in my life. And whether you've had a kid or not, it's like who cares? Just enjoy working out if you want to do that. Enjoy eating rich, hearty foods like I did last night. Like, I was eating short ribs before the ACM Awards. Do it all. Like, who cares?"
Snaps all around to that messaging.
Same to stars such as Katy Perry, Ashley Graham and Dancing With the Stars' pros Witney Carson and Lindsay Arnold sharing an unvarnished look at the realities of postpartum, disposable panties, pumping bra and all. "They can be helpful in that it's sharing a celebrity not in a gown on a red carpet," explained Korn. "It's showing them in mesh underwear with a pad. And if that feels relatable, then that's helpful."
Still, she cautioned, new moms "have to be honest with themselves when they're consuming social media about how they feel when they look at images. If it helps them feel better, then great. But if they're finding themselves dissecting how they look against someone else's body, then that's something to be aware of."
Basically the only thing we should be saying to new and new(ish) parents (save for any extreme, harmful circumstances) are the sage words of Kris Jenner: "You're doing amazing, sweeting."
If self-care postpartum looks like getting some steps in or logging a doctor-approved workout while someone holds the baby for a minute, lean in. If it feels like sitting on the couch while your partner feeds you grapes and tells you how amazing you are, we are here for it.
Korn also has advice on things you can do "to respect your body and try to accept your body in a self-compassionated, loving, caring way." She always recommends clients avoid the scale ("Sometimes you ask people, 'How do you feel when you step on the scale?' And it's rarely good"), be mindful of what they're viewing on social media and to shove any "triggering" clothes they're upset they can't fit into somewhere deep into the recesses of their closet while giving themselves permission to embrace maternity wear for the fourth trimester.
Learn from Blake Lively who talked about struggling to feel good in fashions after welcoming her third daughter Betty in 2019. When booked to appear on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon months later, she had to pull together an outfit from pieces in her closet "because no one had samples that fit me after giving birth," she revealed in a January post on Instagram Stories. "And so many clothes from stores didn't fit either. So. Many. It doesn't send a great message to women when their bodies don't fit into what brands have to offer. It's alienating and confusing."
Despite that (and her call for brands to do better "helping women to not feel alone"), she continued that she wished "I felt as confident then as I do now, a year later looking back. That body gave me a baby. And was producing that baby's entire food supply. What a beautiful miracle. But instead of feeling proud, I felt insecure. Simply because I didn't fit into clothes. How silly is that in retrospect."
And should anyone ask you about your plans to "get your body back," might we suggest responding with a, "Damn, did I misplace it again? I knew I should put a bell on that thing!"