When I picture a “mom bod,” I think of one woman, or rather, one 5 ½ -inch hunk of plastic: the mother from the Fisher-Price dollhouse set I had when I was nine years old. She was a blue-eyed, ruddy-faced lady with a sensible blond bob to match her sensible teal flats and knee- length, apron-style skirt. Not overweight exactly, but unlike her fit Fisher-Price dollhouse husband (who resembled a post– Jurassic World Chris Pratt), she had love handles and dimples on her thighs and a slight abdominal pooch. She looked exactly like what she was supposed to be: a woman who had popped out a few kids and was too busy schlepping them to soccer practice to go to the gym, someone whose hectic schedule demands she prioritize comfort over style. She looked like, well, a mom.
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Mom bod is of course the female equivalent of the “dad bod”—that sexy, schlubby, slightly paunchy physique of men like Vince Vaughn and Leonardo DiCaprio (who doesn’t even have kids). But unlike her counterpart, the mom bod isn’t generally thought of as appealing. It’s essentially code for a frumpy, asexual woman who has, to borrow a charming colloquialism that is almost exclusively applied to women, “let herself go.
Recently, however, tabloids and a handful of celebrities have recast the mom bod in a new, empowering light. Last July, for instance, model Chrissy Teigen tweeted a video of herself with the caption “Mom bod alert!,” showing off her (only very slightly) saggy stomach and stretch marks. The internet loved it. In August, Khloé Kardashian was snapped on the beach—her tummy flat, her waist cinched—a mere four months after giving birth to her daughter, True. TMZ crowed that Khloé was “embracing her revenge body philosophy” by debuting a “hot mom bod.” That, too, the internet loved.
The conversation around the mom bod is confusing. Postpartum bodies are viewed as either a source of strength and pride—flaunt your cellulite and own your scars!—or as something to be hidden away shamefully under tent dresses and caftans, if they leave the house at all. As a mom (and presumably one who also has a bod), I’m not sure that I agree with either conception of the term. In fact, generally speaking, I think the concept of the mom bod is pretty stupid. Yes, I’m a mother. Yes, I have a body. I’m also a daughter, a sister, a wife, and a fiercely loyal friend. Those relationships have impacted my body in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The constellation of moles on my stomach? The paternal side of my family is covered in them, including my unusually hot grandmother, whom I like to think I look like. Does that mean I have a hot granddaughter bod?
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Of course, it’s no secret that women’s bodies go through dramatic changes during pregnancy and childbirth: Your torso and thighs may become dappled with stretch marks, your stomach droops no matter how many crunches you do, and your breasts shrivel up the moment you stop nursing, resembling two deflated fried eggs. All of this, I am sad to report, is true.
Unfortunately, regardless of what the Kardashians would have you believe, many of these changes are irreversible, no matter how much you exercise or diet. Like a recently departed Airbnb guest who leaves behind an Arby’s bag or a pack of cigarettes, the person who lived inside your body will leave behind some reminders of his former presence.
I gained 60 pounds during my pregnancy. The first few months after I gave birth, I felt like Vincent D’Onofrio’s alien character from Men in Black, navigating the world in a saggy human suit. And though I eventually did lose the baby weight, I can’t help but look down at my newly tiny fried-egg boobs and not-quite-faded C-section scar and mourn the taut-abbed, perky-titted twentysomething I used to be.
It’s awesome that women like Khloé Kardashian are able to bounce back into prebaby shape quickly (though unlike most women, she can afford the luxury of nannies, trainers, dietitians, and a lifetime membership at a cryotherapy spa); it’s similarly awesome that women like Chrissy Teigen embrace their postbaby bodies, complete with stretch marks, dimpled thighs, and sore, bleeding nipples.
But I take issue with the notion that my body has to be divided into two distinct stages of pre- and postbaby, or b.c. (before child) and a.d. (after delivery). Our culture likes to tell mothers that we were totally different women before we had kids, as if our roles have suddenly been recast midseason with different actors. The second we become mothers, every other aspect of our lives has to align with our new identities; everything is newly prefaced with “mom”—mom haircuts, mom jeans, mom vans, mom bods.
Motherhood is a transformative experience in many ways. I am never going to look the way I did before I had my son. That’s not a good or bad thing so much as it is a biological reality. But it’s okay to have conflicting feelings about it—and for those feelings to fall outside the mom bod’s tidy dual narrative of “I hate my postpartum body” and “Yassss queen tiger stripes and saggy tits FTW.” My body is neither the source of my strength nor a source of shame. My body just is.
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of ELLE.