Few things strike fear into the hearts of women quite like the post-baby body, or so the cultural narrative goes, which is probably why we collectively start peeing our pants any time a mom steps out and shows her real shape. Such is this case with this viral photo of Rachel Hollis from The Chic Site. Hollis recently shared a photo of her post-baby bikini body on Facebook, and at the time of this writing, the photo has been ‘Liked’ 354,685 times and has 45,308 shares.
Beneath the photo, Hollis wrote an inspirational, feel-good caption justifying her right to wear her postpartum flaws with pride and encouraging others to do the same:
“I have stretch marks and I wear a bikini. I have a belly that’s permanently flabby from carrying three giant babies and I wear a bikini. My belly button is saggy… (which is something I didn’t even know was possible before!!) and I wear a bikini. I wear a bikini because I’m proud of this body and every mark on it. Those marks prove that I was blessed enough to carry my babies and that flabby tummy means I worked hard to lose what weight I could. I wear a bikini because the only man who’s opinion matters knows what I went through to look this way. That same man says he’s never seen anything sexier than my body, marks and all. They aren’t scars ladies, they’re stripes and you’ve earned them. Flaunt that body with pride!”
Her words are an all-too-familiar call to action, and I can see how they would resonate with so many women and moms, but pardon me if I’m not falling all over myself to applaud a thin, conventionally attractive woman for daring to wear a bikini.
When I look at Hollis’ photo, I see a completely normal looking woman with an enviable figure. When I read her words, I see the same tired tropes about stretchmarks being some sort of badge of honor — because it’s unacceptable to just let them be stretchmarks and leave it at that — and how we should be proud in spite of our saggy belly buttons, as if overcoming a saggy belly button is somehow a revolutionary act.
It doesn’t inspire me. Instead, it makes me angry that society holds our bodies up to such impossible standards that normal, attractive women feel like it’s bold and inspiring to simply not hate yourself. It makes me angry that we continue to allow it. With every ‘Like’ and every share, people are agreeing that yes, this is revolutionary. Yes, it is brave to not allow bearing children to make you ashamed of your perfectly normal body.
If Hollis’ photo inspires someone to stop hating on her body, that’s fantastic. But it doesn’t change the fact that the reasons we’re given to hate ourselves in the first place are utterly absurd. Stretchmarks shouldn’t need to be repainted as ‘tiger stripes’ in order to make them acceptable. We shouldn’t need to preface our bikini photos with the fact that we’re wearing one in spite of how we look.
It’s understandable that women would be fearful of existing in their own skin — particularly post-pregnancy — given the messages we’re bombarded with on a daily basis, but participating in viral campaigns like this one isn’t helping. If anything, it’s keeping us locked in the narrative that postpartum bodies should be a source of shame and it’s rare and courageous to feel otherwise.
Hollis’ photo isn’t the problem, but it is a symptom of the problem, which is the persistent and pervasive myth that motherhood makes heinous monsters of ordinary women and that minor imperfections are so horrid it’s practically an act of disobedience to leave the house every day in your ghastly mom bod. If seeing a photo like the one Hollis posted inspires you or can help ‘normalize’ postpartum bodies, then by all means, share away. But in doing so, please don’t forget that there was nothing abnormal about existing in a postpartum body in the first place.