Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mothering, Judgment, and Kate

I almost can't believe I'm weighing in on this, but after seeing a few links to articles today, and actually reading the articles in question, I decided I had enough of an opinion to comment. Part of me wants to open this with a snappy call to correction: something in all caps, perhaps, like, 'LET'S ALL STOP JUDGING' or 'ENOUGH OF THE MOMMY-SHAMING ALREADY!' But none of that really seems to get at the whole point of what I'm trying to say, and anyway, I'm not some snarky op-ed writer trying to score a blow for the over-stressed, under-valued Everymom.

First, let me tackle the third article that my internet daisy-chain brought me to: Caroline Palmer's piece for Vouge: The Post-Baby Hospital Exit: The Royal Standard and the Rest of Us. Palmer starts off by recounting - in what, I'm sure, was meant to be grisly detail - her foggy memories of exiting the hospital after giving birth to her son. But then, she lets out this gem:
 the sight of the Duchess of Cambridge exiting St. Mary’s Hospital this week was yet another blow to my already shaky postpartum self-esteem. Let’s leave aside the Barbie-dream blowout, the subtle eye makeup, and the neatly manicured nails—the woman was wearing a dress with a zipper, people. A zipper!
Can I please start off with a simple, So What? The 'Barbie-dream blowout' aside (for the time being),  putting on a bit of make-up and doing your nails isn't terribly hard while you're still in hospital. I'm not necessarily saying the Duchess did or didn't do her own manicure and make-up, but between any visiting grandparents, your waiting husband, and an army of midwives who will take the baby at any time of day or night if you ask them desperately enough (oh yes, I'm speaking from experience), a new mummy can certainly find a 10-minute window to touch up her face or nails if that's what makes her feel better.

via, The Daily Mirror
So, I suppose, this is where the call to stop judging comes in. Palmer grudgingly admits that as a public figure and future Queen of England, Kate is held to a higher standard than your average mum wobbling her way out of hospital, baby in tow. But let's also consider that in spite of whatever we may have to say about the objectification of women and society's unrealistic expectations, perhaps having herself done up made Kate feel better. I mean, even for someone who's had some time to get used to being in the public eye, it has to be at least marginally daunting to know that you'll be facing an army of press mere hours after squeezing a human being out of your body. You might not have slept. Your newborn baby might not have slept. You may still be working out that post-pardum shuffle that happens when none of your supporting abdominal muscles are anywhere near where they ought to be to help you walk. You could feel tired and gross and ungainly - but if you're the Duchess of Cambridge, you'll still be expected to smile nicely, and give a few blurbs about what it was like to give birth, what you've named your baby, and what he seems to be like. In the face of a proposition like that, I can't think of who wouldn't feel a little more confident and ready to bear it with a tiny bit of pampering time to make you feel more like the usual you.

Perhaps some of this judgment is coming from the way we women judge ourselves. That old saying about being our own worst critic is true, up to a point, but it seems that with those in the public eye we allow ourselves to take our insecurities out on them: after all, we aren't saying it to their faces.

But I'm not really out to simply condemn that sort of spiteful, 'couldn't you just look bad once?' sort of rhetoric, because it really does seem to be coming from a place of hurt (though that doesn't make it acceptable). The mantra here should be, '...and that's okay.' Let's try it out a bit, shall we?

Kate Middleton came out of hospital looking as gorgeous as usual...and that's okay.

Even 6 months after my baby I didn't look as thin as JLo 6 weeks after her pregnancy...and that's okay.

I barely had the energy to put on lip gloss after I left the hospital...and that's okay.

The thing is, the media are going to continue touting post-birth recoveries that would rival Lazarus for how miraculous they are. Should we try to change that? Sure. Let's denounce harmful attitudes wherever we find them. But that also means we need to keep reminding ourselves that these sorts of things aren't the norm. And even if every other woman you know barely gained 15 lbs. while she was pregnant, that doesn't make your 35 lbs. or 10 lbs. some sort of moral failing. And to blame someone like the Duchess of Cambridge for not looking enough of a hot mess after giving birth, or for not gaining enough weight during pregnancy to be 'normal' certainly doesn't give the blamer the moral high ground. (Around 7:40 in the video, panelist Wendy Widom insists that the Duchess was 'way too slender; way under what the average woman will ever be.' As for why I think that's bollocks, the Daily Mail sums it up nicely.)

That's the sort of attitude I see here. And it's the same sort of problem that derides women in the media spotlight for not being thin enough, or for trying to get too thin, or for getting a nose-job, or being anything other than what we think they ought to stand for. So for those who felt that Kate wasn't big enough to represent a 'real' pregnant woman: get over yourselves. Some of us get barely the bump. Some of us look like we're smuggling a watermelon. For some of us, being pregnant means that our cups floweth over in all directions: a little side-boob here, a little love-handle there, a little saddlebag just for good measure. ...And that's okay! And as for her being too well-presented and made-up after birth? Surely, as part of the royal brand, that comes in the job description.

I gained what was an apparently average 30 lbs. when I was pregnant with Ethan. Now, I'm the same height as Kate, give or take an inch, but even allowing for some difference in weight gain, my bump was far more prominent than hers. Was I doing something wrong? Was she? Neither. My height is mostly legs: I have a fairly short torso, so after about 20 weeks there was nowhere for baby to grow but outwards. Kate, on the other hand, seems to be like a friend of mine who had her baby back in January: very long in the torso. This friend of mine and the Duchess; they're both tall, thin ladies, and they both carried with what looked like quite small bumps all through pregnancy, despite having healthy-sized babies. Some people just carry the weight differently. And unless these writers are digging through her little blue antenatal folder and interrogating the midwives like they're Woodward and Bernstein, pictures alone aren't a good way to tell if she's gaining enough weight. And who's defining 'enough' anyway? If mum and baby are healthy, then it was obviously enough to get them through.

So this isn't my variation on a theme of 'Leave Britney Alone' or anything like that. It's more about the general unhealthy attitudes about pregnancy, body image, reality and the media, motherhood, and personal insecurity that I see being manifest through all the hype about whether or not Kate Middleton ought to roll of bed with raccoon eyes and fuzzy hair just to make the rest of us feel better. If what you need to feel better about yourself is to see someone else struggling at life and looking like James Brown's mugshots, then that just means you need to do some work at being a better human being and finding validation somewhere other than at another person's expense.

Is this what y'all want?

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