Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Look Hot in a Minivan and Other Pressing Thoughts

Apparently that could be the title of this blog. Okay, not exactly, but Janice Min's "Real Woman's Guide"has the same driving idea behind it: Just because you have kids doesn't mean you can't be chic, and do so on a budget. And as a mom herself, Min espouses the idea that motherhood is both exquisitely beautiful and a life change that presents certain difficulties. Her message is to resist images of perfection and the other temptations to 'throw in the towel.'  By approaching your appearance with intentionality, you can be even an even "better" version of yourself after children.

How to Look Hot in a Minivan is basically a guide that covers what to expect postpartum, clothing, hair, makeup, and healthy living for the modern busy mama. The book is an easy read, perfect for skipping around to the areas that pique your interest. I would recommend borrowing it from the library rather than purchasing. It's fun, but I think that there are better resource books out there in most of the areas covered.

That being said, I did find the Introduction very interesting. Min spent six years at Us Weekly as editor-in-chief, and she comments on "the beginnings of a seismic cultural shift" that she and her colleagues were noticing (about 10 years ago). The cultural shift? The fact that many celebrities were not only pregnant, but flaunting it, and ushering in the age of the "momshell," the fashionable mom. Min points out that just ten years earlier even celebrities like Madonna avoided the limelight while pregnant. Now, high profile women were giving birth and then posing for bikini shots weeks later, apparently physically unaltered by the ordeal that is nine months of gestation and labor and delivery.

In this age of lower birthrates (and therefore a lower number of women who have experienced pregnancy, and even a lower number who have experienced multiple pregnancies), it seems to me that our culture tends to approach maternity in two contradictory ways. On one hand, it's portrayed as the end. The end of a desirable body. The end of being fit. The end of being anything other than saggy and lumpy and unattractive. And if one pregnancy doesn't do you in, several will ensure that your body is "ruined." In gestating, our bodies are destroyed in what is [at least implied to be] an unnatural state of things.

On the other hand, there is the cultural shift that Min mentions. A part of this shift is that pregnancy is portrayed as inconsequential in the physical sense. One should have a flat stomach weeks after giving birth. Not only will the weight come off immediately, pre-pregnancy jeans will come on immediately (wider hips who?). Anything less is unacceptable, and should be fixed.

I have experienced both of these contradictory attitudes to pregnancy, and strangely, sometimes even simultaneously.  As a person with body image issues in my past, my first pregnancy was plagued with apprehension. Would I immediately gain fifty pounds? Would I be covered in stretch marks? Would I be stuck with the pregnancy weight forever, even if I exercised and ate right? Basically, would my body be "ruined"?

After making it through the pregnancy with a healthy amount of weight gain, I was left with some stretch marks, and hips that were a bit wider, but all in all, intact. Better than intact. But I couldn't get my jeans on. And my stomach was soft, and rounded. I admit that I was discouraged and tempted to take some immediate food restriction measures even though I wasn't overweight and I was nursing. Thank goodness I have a really affirming husband, and an addiction to the Google, which informed me that it is normal for the uterus to take four weeks to return to its pre-pregnancy size.

What is the correct way to view pregnancy in this age of appearances and impossible expectations? That it is both radically natural and radically altering. The female body is equipped to get the job done, albeit with changes, some permanent, some temporary. A healthy view of the female body sees these changes as a normal part of life. I mean, what's the alternative? The end of the species?

The dichotomy between motherhood and being attractive is a false one. And it is just as false to portray motherhood as carrying no physical affects. But every body is going to age, and therefore change. At some point your bosoms will begin to sag a bit whether or not you have birthed a child. So, believe in your body, be good to yourself, and be not afraid!


  1. I was talking about just this at Weight Watchers this week. I teach high school history, and sent my kids to the theater to see The Monuments Men. One of the works of art they protected was the Ghent Altarpiece. There are two panels in the Altarpiece depicting Adam and Eve; in Eve's she has a protruding belly. Makes sense; she is the mother of us all. but it occurred to me that, at various times in history, the image of the rounder, softer woman, if you will, has been the preferred. Our obsession with skinny Minnies and thigh gaps is not only unhealthy, but historically unusual. Just another encouragement to love the shape you're in.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Melody! I was actually thinking about this - how what silhouette is considered desirable, varies with the times - when I was watching Downton Abbey this week (all those drop waisted dresses!). I, and I think many people, tend to fall into the trap that our age's preferences are humanity's preferences, rather than just humanity's preference in our age.

  2. Awesome post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

    1. Thanks, Diana! As far as the tummy tuck/c-section goes, I'm skeptical. It seems so sketchy from a medical standpoint, especially if its a real tummy tuck (and not just the removal of a little extra skin to make the area tighter).


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