During my first pregnancy, I was fresh off my third Ironman race and used to training 17-20 hours a week. Naturally, I was interested in maintaining my fitness (at an appropriate level) and keeping my body in the best shape possible as an expectant mom. I gravitated to the “Fit Pregnancy” magazine as soon as I saw it in the doctor’s office, thrilled to discover a resource that promised to help me maintain some sense of my old self as my new self began to take shape.
And take shape it did.
Like every new mom, I grappled with my changing body during pregnancy. It wasn’t just my belly that got rounder, but just about any part of me that had a curve before, got curvier. And softer.
As a “fit” person, I wasn’t expecting to gain weight everywhere. I wasn’t expecting to go from my “peak season” race weight of 133 lbs, to a first trimester weight of 160 lbs. Luckily, most of my pregnancy took place over the winter and I was happy to hide my body under sweaters and layers of scarves. I felt detached from Fit Pregnancy and its “polished prego” motif. It seemed that the pictures of the women in the articles and the magazine’s Facebook stream were always thin, tan, glamorous, trendy… It was as if a fashion magazine got all of its models knocked up and reassigned them to baby-bump photo shoots for a year before they (probably) shrank back down to runway-shape (in like, a month post-partum).
Now I’m pregnant with my second baby. I’m not fresh off an Ironman, but fresh off a Little Man as my son just turned one year old. My body immediately went into bump mode around the “10 week” mark, and I’m rolling (literally) into my second trimester through “uncharted pregnancy wardrobe” territory. I’ve always been a “less is more” kind of girl when it came to summer clothing. Long runs in shorts and a sports bra, nights out in a mini skirt and strappy tank-top. That was before the surface area of my body tripled. The maternity sweater collection doesn’t pair well with the 80-degree, humid days of June, July and August. Where would I hide my evolving body? And more importantly, why do I feel like I SHOULD be hiding it?
Last summer I was melting off the pounds with breastfeeding and power-walking. This summer I’m melting under the pounds as my body balloons out with each passing week. I’m not “Ironman fit,” but I think most who know me would say I’m still “fit.” I’m currently teaching three spin classes per week, and only recently gave up teaching a weekly Group CORE fitness class because being on your back after the first trimester is a no-no. I walk three miles every day with my son. I break a sweat when I clean my house. It’s not 140.6 miles of swimming, biking and running, but I know that my “pregnant” activity level rivals what the average non-pregnant American does for exercise each week.
So this brings me to my point. I’ve been feeling really annoyed with Fit Pregnancy lately, as it populates my Facebook stream with unrealistic images of a pregnant woman’s body. The women don’t physically represent what most of us actually look like when we’re carrying a child. It’s as if they’ve hand-picked the most attractive representations of the “mother to be” and put them out there for the rest of us (who debate whether the “pregnancy glow” is actually some bullshit urban legend) to “aspire” to.
In my day job, I work at an advertising agency as an account planner where I’m responsible for representing the “voice of customer.” In other words, I make sure that our clients know what their target audiences are truly thinking and feeling so that when we reach out to them through marketing, we know what kind of message will resonate best with them. We know their goals, pain points, what motivates them and their attitudes and perceptions about certain things. I can’t help but to think about Fit Pregnancy through the “voice of customer” lens and come to the conclusion that they DON’T GET IT. I’m the target audience, but I’m not feeling like they know me or understand what I’d like to be exposed to as an expectant mom.
In my “not day job” I’ve worked for nearly a decade as a fitness instructor and triathlon coach. Part of my responsibility in that role is helping people of all shapes, sizes and abilities feel good about themselves and their bodies as they push through physical challenges to meet their goals. When I look at Fit Pregnancy through the “coach” lens, I feel the image they’re portraying is setting an unrealistic example for women who are pregnant. For those of us who don’t naturally look like Gisele Bundchen when we have a bun in the oven, we might see images of airbrushed women and model baby bumps as the “bar” we must meet—the “look” we should go for. It could be dangerous for women who fall prey to that kind of pressure, who may stop eating an appropriate diet for pregnancy, or may start working out at intensities that could be dangerous for their babies. As a coach, I know that “fit” means “being healthy in your context, within your unique circumstances.” A big part of being successful at fitness is setting realistic goals.
As a hormonal, pregnant woman? I might see Fit Pregnancy and think, “I’m missing the mark. I’m fat and unattractive.” Provoking a woman’s self esteem during such a sensitive period of her life is not a great idea. This kind of emotional stress can harm mother and child, and works against Fit Pregnancy’s mission.
According to the Facebook page:
Fit Pregnancy guides women through the most exciting ride of their life—becoming a mom. We provide the news, workouts, style and shopping coverage, and supportive service readers need to take stellar care of themselves, nourish their baby, relish their pregnancy and feel calm and confident as a new mom.
Fit Pregnancy, I beg you. Start showing us images of real pregnant women—I know your models ARE real women, but can’t you feature a variety of body types? Can’t you show us that a beautiful and fit woman can carry a child AND some extra weight?
The last line of your mission talks about making women feel calm and confident as they become moms. I don’t know about other women, but comparing my body to the images of your moms does not make me feel confident. It makes me feel crappy. And I’m a pretty freaking confident woman overall. I’m comfortable in my own skin, even when there’s more of it. But give me a break—can you please stop shoving the image of an airbrushed, smiling woman caressing her perfectly round baby bump down my throat? I’ve already had my share of morning sickness and I’m tired of gagging.
Real women in their real bodies want to read your magazine—we want your news, workouts and style tips. We want to nourish our babies, and relish our pregnancies.
And we want you to show us that it’s possible even if you’re sizing up in clothing and rocking a 5’3″ frame.
Let’s get real. I’ll go first…
This is what a three-time Ironman finisher on her second baby in less than two years looks like. I’m no Alessandra Ambrosio, but I don’t think fitness and beauty only reside within supermodel bodies, and I think you’re doing women a disservice by choosing to show so many examples of this kind of “fitness.” This isn’t a photo shoot. It’s an impromptu selfie of a real woman straight out of the shower with no make-up, wet hair, wearing a sports bra and bathing suit bottom.
And there’s back fat and cellulite. And most importantly…
Help us be happy and embrace pregnancy by showing that fitness is about more than just conventional good looks.