When it comes to our bodies, we women just cannot win


Ellen - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children

“You look fat,” my son said, prodding my tummy. “No,” I replied. “I look pregnant.”

He poked a finger at my left bum cheek. “You’ve not got a baby in here too have you?” he grinned.

Pregnancy is probably the only time in a woman’s life when she can let it all hang out.

No judgment over her burgeoning size because she’s growing the miracle of life behind her belly button. Ha! I wish.

Women’s bodies are there to be nit-picked over – the subject of intense scrutiny whether she is expanding to accommodate a child or not.

Kim Kardashian is the perfect example of how modern maternity plays out in our skinny-obsessed society.

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Granted Kim has never been one to shy away from media coverage.

She launched her career on the back of a sex tape I believe.

But when she fell pregnant with daughter North, the media frenzy that follows her everywhere stepped up a gear.

The press delighted in charting her inevitable weight gain and had a fat-shaming field day every time she wore something unflattering.

Now normally I would roll my eyes at any mention of the Kardashian clan.

But it’s hard not to take your hat off to the woman for embracing her ballooning boobs and puffy ankles, and for shunning denim dungarees and smock tops to show off her baby bump in all its glory.

She’s not the only female celebrity to get attacked for her expanding waistline antenatal or post-partum.

Despite having little or no control over how her body was changing, Jessica Simpson was publicly admonished for her weight gain during her pregnancy.

Actresses Kate Winslet and Drew Barrymore have both spoken out about the tremendous pressure facing women to live up to unrealistic ideals of the perfect body while pregnant – and afterwards.

And so have singers Adele and Lily Allen, the latter of whom suffered a tragic miscarriage late in her pregnancy and was still criticised for not dropping a dress size with immediate effect.

Last year Jennifer Garner, mother of three, was subject to constant speculation that she was carrying a fourth.

She responded by saying: “I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump.

“From now on I will have a bump. Get used to it. It’s not going anywhere. I have a bump, its name is Violet, Sam and Sera.”

Are women who are pregnant – or indeed those who have just given birth – expected to have a perfect physique then?

Well no.

In fact our critique of the female form also allows us to attack ladies who do their best to stay trim – even through morning sickness, food cravings, water retention and post-labour.

Just a few months ago model Sarah Stage caused controversy when she flaunted images of her toned abs while eight months pregnant.

Throughout her pregnancy she showcased her lingerie-clad body on social media but instead of being praised for her determination to stay fit (isn’t that what we expected Kardashian to do?) she was deemed “malnourished” with a Twitter storm claiming she was “starving her baby”.

Honestly, women just cannot win!

Sarah recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy weighing 8lbs 7oz – and was pictured in a bikini a week later.

Good for her! Though I have to say that I was thankful the Duchess of Cambridge didn’t sashay out of the Lindo Wing last weekend in a Baywatch number however.

Although she too received her fair share of unhelpful comments regarding her relatively small bump during her pregnancy with Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana.

And when she did appear on Saturday in a floaty Jenny Packham number to greet the crowd with babe in arms, her immaculate appearance quickly became a hot topic.

Her flawless hair and makeup was praised by some and criticised by others who thought it cheating to get the help of a professional hairdresser and make up artist hours after giving birth.

Would they have rather she had ventured out of the hospital haggard with exhaustion, gingerly shuffling along with swollen feet, suffering from the pain of an episiotomy?

Of course not.

She was duty-bound to emerge, smiling and waving to parade before an army of well-wishers and paparazzi regardless of how she may have been feeling.

That would be the absolute last thing I would want to do after pushing out something the size of a watermelon.

But at least she hadn’t been strapped into a corset and was allowed to sport the unavoidable after-bump that remains when a woman’s uterus, abdominal muscles and epidermal layer have been stretched to capacity for months.

Given that our tabloid culture regularly humiliates celebrities for failing to live up to punishingly unattainable ideals of femininity, it’s perhaps not surprising that we can’t recall another famous woman in recent history who was willing to face the cameras after giving birth and before starving her body back into submission.

Trust me, being pregnant is hard work.

But being a new parent – whether it’s your first, second or third, is even tougher.

You have far better things to be worrying about than whether you can squeeze back into your old jeans.

There is a tremendous pressure facing women to live up to the completely unrealistic ideals of the perfect body.

But during – and after – pregnancy is the perfect time to genuinely celebrate women’s bodies.

You’ve made a baby. A life. A person.

It’s a massive achievement. So who gives a damn if you haven’t won a beauty contest while doing so?

@EllenWiddupSee more from Ellen here

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