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They are everywhere—images of mothers in bathing suits and
the headlines laud them: "Mom of Three Flaunts Bikini Body." "Brave Moms In
Bikinis Inspire Women Everywhere." "Proud Mom Shows Off Stretch Marks."
I am a mother of two. I have a flabby belly. It's probably permanently
that way. But I don't really know, since I'm not about to give up the requisite
pizza and beer to find out. I also wear a bikini and other forms of two pieces. But let me tell
you this: It is not brave. It is putting on a swimsuit.
Do you know what "brave" is? Brave is my sister standing up to
her abuser. Brave is my friend leaving her drug-addict husband after 15 years and
two kids. Brave is learning to walk again after a devastating car accident.
Brave is many things, but it is not putting on a swimsuit.
Don't get me wrong. While I believe that any body is a
bikini body and all women should wear what they want in order to be the person
they want to be, I still come face to face with myself in a changing room
mirror, vowing never to eat any more bread if only my side fat would stop being
And some days, it takes all that is within me to stop
sucking in my belly and just relax and have a good time at the pool with my kids.
But these things, while they involve an amount of inner turmoil, they don't
define me as a mother or a woman. And they most certainly are not brave.
There is a lurid element to the celebration of these female bodies, in that it seems to be just another way to sell clicks based on flesh and label it all under the guise of feminism.
In an Instagram post, blogger Jessica Kane (pictured above) posted this picture of
herself in a swimsuit with the caption: "THIS WAS NOT BRAVE. I've been told how
brave I am for not having a coverup, but going with out a wrap would only take
bravery if I cared what others thought of me, but I don't. I spend my time worrying
about things I CAN control, and this day, I was only thinking about how fab I
felt and how much sun I was catching."
Indeed. The catch-22 of insisting a picture of you looking
good is "body positivity" presumes that you care what other people think in the
first place, which isn't really body positive at all.
Additionally, these posts and articles that laud women are no more than clickbait to gawk
at women in bathing suits. If this is truly about all bodies, where are the
images of men with their paunches skimming the tops of their swim trunks and the
headlines declaring, "Justin Timberlake Reveals New Dad Body"? Where are all the bodies? Black, Asian, disabled? Why is it just attractive white women? There is a lurid element to
the celebration of these female bodies, in that it seems to be just another way
to sell clicks based on flesh and label it all under the guise of feminism.
I am in no way suggesting we hide women's bodies. But I also
think that we should temper our clicks with the understanding that all of these
celebrations are not equal.
Furthermore, brave bikini pictures are even more problematic
when shoved under the banner of motherhood. Go deeper down the rabbit hole of
social media, beyond the pictures of "brave" women in bikinis and you'll see
even more pictures that laud stretch marks as the "tiger stripes" of "warrior
mothers" and C-section scars as the "battle wounds" of "brave women."
My body isn't the only marker of what I've accomplished as a mother, or hell, even a woman.
And while these attempts to praise women for marks they
might otherwise feel ashamed of are noble in a sense, the sheer volume is having the opposite
effect. Instead of freeing women from bodily standards, these photos are in turn defining
women by their bodies and defining our bodies by our role as a mother.
Motherhood is a uniquely physical pursuit. In order to
become mothers our bodies wax and wane—we stretch wide, we
swell and sigh, we rip and bleed. We are marred, torn, stitched, put back
together. And with these wounds come an ambivalence: We love the children they
produce; we may not love the sight of our stretch marks on the beach. The struggle to
reconcile our bodies with our hearts is surely challenging, but it isn't
definitive of the experience.
There are many paths to motherhood, many of which don't involve
our own bodies. Mothers adopt, foster or use surrogates. Our scars and wounds
shouldn't be the banner under which the nation of motherhood unites. It's
alienating to others who identify as mothers, but whose bodies bear no markers
of the journey.
Additionally, as a mother, I'm tired of my experience being
summed up by the marks on my body. And I'm tired of having my bravery and
identity reduced to my willingness to show them or not. I do have marks and
they will remain. Some days I'll show them, some days I won't. But my body
isn't the only marker of what I've accomplished as a mother, or hell, even a
woman. My body is not my manifesto. My physicality and whether I don a two-piece
or a one-piece or a swim burka doesn't define me.
These articles and pictorial praise—that's all they do.
These stories are not empowering, they just essentialize women and motherhood
to the clickbait flesh on the screen.