It’s great that this “Dad Bod” thing has gone viral. My husband has a dad bod; he spends his free time with our daughter, not at the gym, and has the inner and outer core softness to prove it.
How amusing, though, that the most famous examples of this newly heralded physique, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jason Segel, are not actually dads? Their dad bods say, “the gym on this yacht doesn’t meet with my standards, so, more fancy burritos please.” They also both date notoriously tiny women.
In contrast to dad bod, the mom bod is not a celebrated viral phenomenon. Many celebrity mothers shy away from the spotlight postpartum (for many reasons, I’m sure- a spit-up drenched top probably doesn’t photograph well). They emerge back into the public sphere months after giving birth, perfectly svelte, all of their parts arranged back where they used to be, through a mix of gentle starvation and aggressive cardio.
Enough with this shit.
Where the dad bod says, “I’m 35 and still play a lot of video games,” the mom bod cries, “I gave birth to a human and haven’t slept in 6 months.” The mom bod is about praising what the female body can do.
A Brief History of My Body
I never quite fit into my body. I have a clunky, awkward spirit, one that never settled quite right into its soft but lanky musculature. I was bullied for years as a kid, mostly because of a wonky eye, high-water hand-me-down jeans, and two front teeth that stuck out at attention. The simplest survival tactic I found was to detach from my packaging.
Since feelings mostly hurt, I tried not to feel at all. I ignored my body, and entertained my brain instead, usually by watching hours of TV. I wanted to exist in a world where Clarissa could explain it all directly to me, or I could morph into a silver puddle just like Alex Mack. It’d be a lot harder to pick on a puddle.
Some of my earliest experiences with men were psychically devastating. My first couple of boyfriends were loving and respectful, so I assumed other men would be, too. I learned the hard way, repeatedly, for more than a decade, that other people don’t always have your best interests in mind. The first time a man assaulted me I was drunk and sixteen. I learned that in addition to not liking my body, others were capable of abusing it, treating it like a trash can.
Unfortunately, my body came with my brain into my twenties, still feeling all wrong. I learned how to eat less, drink more, and smoke like a forest fire. I’d diet, get rail thin, and still not like myself. I’d wear strategic outfits, make my hair bigger to smooth out the proportions, have beer for dinner. I hated beauty standards, knew better than them, but couldn’t escape the easy path they offered as another way to despise my own skin. The way I saw it, my body was the source of my problems, and my brain was just along for the ride.
Pregnancy changed me.
First it changed me in the way that I’d walk the dog around the neighborhood listening to Cat Power on repeat, sobbing hysterically at the thought of my poppyseed-sized baby, while pinching dog shit into a baggie. I knew I was pregnant before the tests even registered it, because I immediately went insane.
My first trimester I was nauseous and wobbly, commuting four hours a day, working ten, wanting nothing more than to lie down and be fed french fries. I felt relentlessly horrible.
The second trimester, however, was a revelation. A belly started to emerge, round and hard, and with purpose. I could imagine my girl in there, swimming like a tadpole, feeling for the warm landscape. By twenty weeks I could feel her fetal karate practice. I’d assign autonomy to her movements: a kick to the ribs meant “eat less curry,” and a quiet day meant she liked the book I was reading. I felt inexorably connected to her, a fat jellybean on a placental string, and by default was linked back to my own body. I was forced to cherish myself because I’m where she lived.
Her birth was transformative because I survived it. I had no idea how strong my body or mind was until I endured fifty hours of labor followed by awake surgery. At the end of it, I had her on the outside. Seeing her for the first time rearranged every particle in the fabric of my being.
My body became about her. I used it to feed her, hold her, sing her to sleep. My body birthed her, and then kept her alive.
My body cooked this up: a mundane miracle (happening everywhere, endless species propagation, and rarely special until it’s your DNA). I have to be grateful for this.
Now, too, I have to think about which of these lessons to pass down. It haunts me to think of her enduring the nastiness of other 5th graders, the agendas of seedy men, or the difficulty of having her voice respected as another woman.
She deserves to be treated carefully: nurtured, listened to, respected, and loved deeply. It’s only possible if she learns to treat herself this way, first. I have to show her how to do that, by doing that, by loving myself, body and brain.
What Mom Bod Means to Me
It means I love my daughter with an unflinching fierceness, and my body is the soil she sprouted from. Every part of my body is useful now: for holding, soothing, feeding, teaching. Instead of a jutting, angular hipbone or clavicle, the result of calculated hours of abstaining from real food, she feels the softness of my stomach, a perfect pillow.
My softness is everything, indicative of my entire transformation. The battle scars of my younger years are fading into a gentle roundness, a more delicate way of moving in the world.
I am part magician, now, a miracle worker. You should see her face when I pull a pack of crackers out of my bag.
I created a sweatshirt for glam | camp in celebration of the most all-time powerful bod. My Mom Bod is nothing short of a fucking triumph, and I intend to let everybody know it.
I encourage you to share your story, too. Let’s nudge the next viral phenomenon in the direction of honoring the sorcery and squishiness of mom power.