I'm a mom who loves working out. I'm unapologetic about my love of all things exercise, despite the fact that society tells women we should give up on the notion of fitness once we become parents.
Celebrity moms are expected to "bounce back" after giving birth but for us non-famous folk, far too often the image of a mom that's presented by the media is a slovenly woman sitting on the couch with a bag of goldfish crackers in her lap, wearing yoga pants that she never uses for their intended purpose.
Men aren't held to the same lowered expectations. Beyond jokes about partners of expectant moms gaining "sympathy bumps" from overeating, we don't comment on men's appearances once they become fathers. There's no male equivalent for the mom haircut or mom jeans. You'll never see an interview with a male athlete that starts off and continually mentions the fact that he's a father as is so often the case with female athletes.
Whenever you read or see anything about a mom who enjoys working up a sweat, the woman we see is depicted wearing skimpy clothing with her children surrounding her flat stomach. There's never a hint of a stretch mark or saggy skin, no outward signs that her body once bore a child (or several). And for those of us who can and want to pursue fitness and aren't naturally slender, that's a problem.
The concept of being healthy is often thought of as synonymous with being thin. And while eating well and being active can lead to weight loss, not all thin people are necessarily healthy, and not all healthy people are what society would consider "thin." After a twin pregnancy and a c-section, my lower belly pooch isn't going anywhere anytime soon. But thanks to a steady training program, me and my jiggling shirt are in much better shape than I ever was five years and two jean sizes ago.
Occasionally I'll hear the unsolicited comment that I look good "for being a mom." While it may be well intended, telling a woman she looks good "for being a mom" isn't a compliment, it's an insult. Not only does it perpetuate the idea that people need to be within a certain weight range to be considered sexy, it insinuates that moms aren't supposed to be attractive, that our sex appeal comes out along with the placenta of our first born.
Regardless of appearance, when those of us who once housed a human do make the choice to hit the gym, we face judgment for leaving our children behind while we workout. I consider myself to be what I like to call a stealth fit mom. I work out pretty consistently, two days of weight training per week, three cardio sessions (four to five in the summer when I'm training for races) and an amazing Saturday morning Pilates/yoga fusion class whenever I get the chance. But very few people know this about me. I don't tell people about this huge part of my life that brings me such joy because mothers who make exercise a priority are sometimes judged to be bad parents because we could be spending that time with our children instead.
Pinterest crafts, book club, knitting or even running your own blog are all considered appropriate hobbies for moms to have, but weight training isn't. I spend about seven hours a week working out during the winter, most of which is either early morning before my children wake up or after they go to sleep. I spend far more time than that playing around on the internet while my kids are awake, but people on website message boards aren't asking me, "Where are your kids?" like other people do before step class.
The other reason I'm not posting my workouts to Facebook (besides the fact that it's obnoxious and no one cares how far or fast I ran this morning) is because I'm afraid of being told I'm not fit enough. Every time I complete a race and my family is there to see me, they take photos of me at the finish line. And every time I look at these photos, I don't see my smile or the fact that I'm clearly doing something I love. I see my wobbling gut, thick thighs and multiple chins because these pictures don't depict the image of an in shape mother as I've been conditioned to know it.
If anything we should be encouraging moms to be active if they want to be, not for the effect working out has on your appearance (though if that motivates you, go for it) but for the impact it has on physical and mental health. Besides helping moms be able to run and jump and keep up with our kids, working out releases stress reducing hormones. I think most mothers would agree with me when I say that raising another human is the most stressful thing I've ever done, so we should encourage and support moms working out to help counteract that stress rather than making them feel guilty over it or making them feel like they aren't doing it correctly for not attaining a particular body type.
Have Baby,Will Exercise is a column dedicated to fitness and health for moms, by a mom. As a former personal trainer, group fitness instructor and cupcake addict, I hope to encourage and motivate moms who want to make fitness a part of their lives.
There's a place between washboard abs and muffin top, where the goal is to be strong, not skinny, and it's ours for the taking moms, if we want it. We don't even have to change pants.