“You don’t look like you’ve had a baby!”

Has anyone ever said this to you? Or you to anyone else?

As the media continues to scrutinise and debate women’s bodies continues this week (I know it’s every week but I seem to be noticing it more than usual right now), this particular ‘compliment’ has been playing on my mind. We seem to constantly reduce women to a collection of body parts; last weekend’s Times Magazine hit the nail on the head in an article that described our obsession as “fat scoring”. Nigella Lawson is “55… an icon of survival as well as a celebrity chef, and still the most defining thing about her is her fat rating.”

I don’t see this changing: every era has had an idealised body image women (and men) strive for. The only change seems to be what that shape is. It feels like we’re making progress though; many women are more motivated to lose weight to be healthier, not skinnier, and the body postive movement is gaining traction.

But then I come back to that compliment.

“You don’t look like you’ve had a baby!”

What does someone who’s had a baby look like exactly? Although this is delivered as a statement, it’s meant as a compliment isn’t it? What’s so bad about looking like you’ve created life? It could be referring to looking radient despite sleep deprivation. It could be a lack of stretch marks. But I think we all know it’s really about size: well done, you’re small again.

Telling someone they’re small is still a compliment, and I’m not sure how I feel about this. Naomi Wolf’s words spring to mind for a start:

postnatal baby weight

“You don’t look like you’ve had a baby!”

Do I want to look like I haven’t had children? What do we think a woman who’s had a baby should look like? Not very desirable apparently.

Thing is, and what I didn’t expect, isn’t how having children affected how I look. It’s how it has affected how I feel.

I feel stronger, more confident. I feel more concerned with how my body feels than how it looks. I feel more concerned with the person than the vessel, and I feel a bit like saying “who gives a fuck what our arse, tits or tummies look like? We have gone through labour, we have known love like never before, sleepless nights and exhausted days, and still found the energy and patience to answer the endless questions about who is stronger, Hulk or a T-Rex?” (Well, most of the time anyway. And it’s definitely Hulk).

Recently this amazing post on Facebook came up on my newsfeed.

“No one is comfortable in their own skin 100% of the time. Constantly labelling people and piling expectations associated with these labels on them is harmful to everyone…including those doing the labelling.

What we should be worrying about is if people are ok, not what they look like.”

And she’s right. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with complimenting a mum (or anyone) and making them feel good, it is possible to do it without pushing a standard of what society considers ‘good’ on them. Without making it sound like showing signs of being a mother is a bad thing.

So I suppose where I’ve ended up is: you want to lose weight- good for you. You want to stay this weight- good for you. Same goes for whether you wear your tiger stripes with pride or massage in bio oil every evening.

No judgement; do what you need to feel good.

Just know that what matters, what people see when you walk in to the room, is not a woman whom they love because she looks like she hasn’t had a baby, or whom they judge because she does, but an awesome human whose smile lights up the room, or whose laugh is infectious, or whose shoulder is always there to lean on, or whatever amazing qualities make you, you.

And if you ever feel unsure about what best to say to a new mum, “you look great/ so healthy/ happy” are all safe bets. Especially when followed by “can I make you a cup of tea?”