By Annie Ridout
Late last summer, I was photographed for a feature in a brilliant print magazine called The Fourth Trimester. It offers an honest – sometimes sad or shocking, sometimes funny – look at new motherhood. This particular piece was about mothers who keep up hobbies after having a baby and I was photographed playing the piano. I was honoured to be asked, loved playing the piano for the camera and was excited to see it in print.
When the magazine arrived, I flicked through and found a double-page spread with a selection of photos of me tapping the ivories. It's presented beautifully; and the photographer is very talented, but – if I'm honest – one of my first thoughts was: "blimey, I look a bit fat. And slightly bald." I was 20 weeks pregnant at the time, had crazy 'morning' sickness and was feeling uncomfortable in my body. I was also too big for normal clothes but not quite pregnant enough for maternity wear so my get-up wasn't quite cutting the mustard. In summary: I felt crap then, and I felt a bit embarrassed when I looked at the photos. The focus should have been on the piano playing but I shifted it on to my appearance.
So when I wrote an Instagram post about being featured, I mostly celebrated the fantastic magazine but added a "P.S." – criticising my fat back and thinning hair situation. At the time, I wondered if I should leave out the "P.S." but I kept it there for two reasons: 1. Because I felt it would be dishonest to say I was overjoyed by the photos when in reality, that wasn't how I felt. And 2. Because I'm all about honesty – and sometimes, hearing another pregnant woman or mum say that she, too, feels shit about her body from time to time is reassuring. For me, anyway.
A woman who follows me on Instagram took offence at the "P.S." – saying that with a few thousand followers, I had a duty to be careful about sharing negative body image messages. I was upset by the comment because in some ways, she was right – I do have a responsibility to my followers. But also, because I felt criticised for being honest. I couldn't work out if honesty, when it comes to negative body ideals, is ok. My response was that women should be able to express themselves, and that to silence a woman who is having a 'bad body day' isn't in line with my way of thinking.
But it did make me reflect on how I feel when other women shame their bodies. I tend to feel that if it's expressed as a joke, a look-at-me-when-I-look-crap comment, it's ok. Though I’m aware there’s a rather subjective line between someone who really is having a bit of a rough day saying she feels gross for a laugh and someone who is perhaps craving attention, or some body image encouragement, asking social media followers to compliment her. In fact, perhaps they are the same thing; only the joke is thinly disguising the need for reassurance. Anyway, who am I to judge whether a woman’s real feelings about her body are reflected truthfully in her online comments, and what her motive is?
On the whole, I accept my body as it is. I love the way it made, birthed and nourished my first baby. I am in no way ashamed of my stretch marks. And I love that is has made a second baby. I feel proud of my body. When not pregnant, I keep fit by running. I eat healthily (most of the time) and enjoy fashion. But occasionally, I feel disappointed by the way it looks. It might be down to hormones, or a throw away comment, or women's magazines (that I tend to avoid) or being mid pregnancy and eating shit loads of crisps and feeling crap because I knew I wasn't treating my body with respect.
I feel a great duty to my toddler-aged daughter to be positive about bodies, eating and exercise. I would never denigrate my form in front of her. I don’t talk about diets or needing to lose weight, because I know that a fixation on appearance and consumption can be contagious. But she is two. I tend to think that grown-up women have their own ideas about these things already, and so if I share an honest thought about finding my appearance a bit shameful – they are better equipped to hear it but not absorb it.
Of course, this may be misguided. But as this “P.S.” was swimming in a sea of articles and comments that I've written about body positivity – I hoped that it was ok to throw out an honest piece about sometimes feeling uncomfortable in my skin. Because that's the truth. And I'm sure almost every woman, sad though it is, will empathise with that. More than they would if I proclaimed to adore my body in its entirety at all times... Unfortunately, for me – like so many others – that just isn't the truth.