A woman's body determines and signals success for her whole family.
I'm jumping on the bandwagon to talk about this post, and these followup posts here and here and here. I found them over at Tertia's this morning. Please read at least the first post of the series and Tertia's post, or the rest of this won't make sense. If you read all of them you'll get more context for my comments. (I apologize in advance to any women with female partners, because this post is all about women with male partners. I don't mean to exclude anyone, but I don't think the issue applies to your relationships in the same way it applies to opposite-sex relationships.)
Here's what I wrote over at Tertia's:
Here's my question about that: What gives? I don't mean that idiomatically, I mean what's got to give in the family's life for a mom to lose her pregnancy weight (harder with each subsequent pregnancy, to my utter shock and dismay)? For many of us, our lives are so stressful that the only way we can keep our heads above water and manage our emotions is to medicate with food. "If I can make it to preschool drop-off I'll have a latte and a scone." "Once the kids are in bed I can have some ice cream." Take away the reward/comfort/fuel of food and many of our houses of cards would fall apart.
And when is a mom going to exercise? With one kid you can go for walks and go running with a jogging stroller. WIth two or more it becomes significantly more complicated. What mother of a baby would choose exercise over sleep? (Lack of sleep slows down your metabolism, BTW.) What mother of older kids would choose exercise over doing a load of laundry and cleaning the bathroom?
The only time I'm successful at losing weight or exercising is when my husband's on board with it and picks up the slack in our family when I'm running or not eating to control my moods. I would wonder about husbands who want thin wives but aren't willing to do their share of the work it's going to require for their wives to lose weight. If a man isn't willing to be on solo parenting duty while his wife's at the gym or a WW meeting, if he's not willing to give up his food treats while his wife's eating sprouted grain bread and endless salads, if he's not willing to take night duty with a baby so his wife can get enough sleep to function, then he has absolutely no right to even expect (whether he says anything or not) that his wife will be anywhere close to her former weight.
It took two people to make the baby that created the weight. It takes two people to take the weight off.
I've been thinking about this topic all day. The notion that a woman owes it to her husband or her relationship to keep her body thin (or whatever way the culture decides is beautiful--I'm sure there are women in Africa who feel pressure to stay fat) is part of the truth that when a woman gets married her body no longer belongs to her, but instead is the property of and a symbol of the marital unit.
It's the woman's responsibility to get and stay pregnant. Even if she gets pregnant easily, she's the one who takes the entire physical hit of the pregnancy. Heartburn, acne, sciatica, backache, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, PSD, tendonitis, skin tags, stretch marks, insomnia, swelling. And the labor and delivery is a horror, featuring pain and often cutting or tearing, even when it's relatively easy. Even if a woman loses all the pregnancy weight, her body is never the same. She sacrifices her body for the family unit.
If a couple doesn't conceive easily, the woman bears almost the entire brunt of diagnosis and treatment. Blood draws, vaginal ultrasounds, injections, headaches, crankiness, blood draws, depression, added weight, loathing of her body, ovarian stimulation or overstimulation, cramping, blood draws. And if she's unlucky toss in a round of methotrexate and a D&C or two. The man gives sperm samples and holds her hand.
Once the baby's born she's expected to feed the baby with milk from her body. If she succeeds, she's a "good mother." If her body doesn't cooperate and make milk, she's a "bad mother." Again, her body is responsible for the success of the family unit.
It doesn't end once the child is out of infancy. Thin, attractive mothers have the advantage at the playground and in school admissions, on school committees and at parent-teacher conferences. The mother is usually the face of the family at school, so a more attractive mother indicates a more successful family, and this influences teachers and administrators' opinions of the children.
The same is true in the workplace. An attractive working mother appears more successful. A man with an attractive wife is seen as a "real go-getter" with sparkling family support--even if the attractive wife is on the verge of a brreakdown, and a less attractive wife is at the top of her game. (FWIW, I don't think L's husband is a horrible person or that they have a horrible marriage. It's not my place to have an opinion on that anyway, but I think her Hub is just conforming to the culture in which he was raised, in which we were raised. He knows that a plump wife, even if she's happy with herself, isn't going to make him seem as successful at work as the guy with a thin wife.)
I think most of this is a given. We can advocate for change from now until we all die of bird flu and it still won't alter the culture we're immersed in. How we negotiate this within our own relationships is what interests me. If a woman's body signals success for the whole family, then it's a man's duty to do whatever he possibly can to give the woman support to be able to make herself as attractive as she can be. If that means diet and exercise, he needs to support her by giving her the time, money, and support to do that. If that means relieving some of a too-heavy burden, it's his responsibility to do more or find someone else to take over some of the duties. If it means learning to love her body as it is so she can start dressing for who she is and not who she wishes she was (for more on that, listen to this great interview with the super-skinny fashionista Stacy London from "What Not To Wear" about dressing for your real body), he needs to get over his own issues about what a "wife" should look like and find room in the family budget for good clothes for her.
(Chances are, a man's expectations of what a woman should look like were formed in his youth. If he grew up in the 60s, his mother may have smoked or taken diet pills to keep her weight down. Not losing her baby weight was not an option. But those women's sons didn't see the self-loathing or the naked body scrutiny; they just saw impossibly thin mothers baking cookies. That plus the Cheryl Tiegs poster set up a preference and set of expectations that's controlling relationships all across the United States today, if not the world.)
A married woman who is happy with herself and whose husband supports her, no matter what her weight, is going to be attractive and successful. But I think it's not very many of us that can get there about ourselves. I was asking my husband what he thought of the topic. "I want to help you feel happy with where you are and what you look like. I don't think you're happy right now." And he's right. I'm not. So is my effort at weight loss an indictment of other women who aren't trying to get thin? If I can't lose the weight, how will I feel about myself? About my husband? How will he feel about me? What signal will we be sending to the world?
I thought I was going to be able to come up with some great point here, but all I have is more questions. Do any of you have answers?