I am no stranger to the way the media participates in objectifying and exploiting women’s bodies. Is anyone these days? I have been working as a psychotherapist for almost a decade with women who struggle with food and body image issues, and full blown eating disorders as well.
The role the media plays in our society in contributing to women’s struggles with their body image is significant. The consistent focus and judgment over women’s bodies, shape, size, eating and exercise habits, is a seemingly inexhaustible preoccupation in the media, which has a huge impact on how girls and women relate to their bodies.
What I feel inspired to comment on right now is the more recent development of objectification of the pregnant and postpartum bodies of celebrities in the media. Somehow, the media has reduced pregnancy, the astonishing conception of, and birth, of a human being, to a mere process of gaining and losing weight, getting “back in shape,” getting back to work, resuming life as usual, being “better” than before.
This is a serious loss for women and our society. Instead of deepening our appreciation and understanding of pregnancy, birth, and mothering–an incredibly powerful experience many women travel on in their lifetime–we have instead moved toward increased disconnection and disembodiment around the entire experience, and the women having it.
What is lost in the media, and for women who are being indoctrinated into this superficial focus, is tremendous. The process of becoming pregnant, bearing and birthing a child, and embarking on motherhood is one of the most significant rites of passage a woman can go through. It is a reckoning like no other, one of the most natural and yet incomprehensible experiences I know. Yet in this culture, the focus is on an outward battle to not let go, to hold on to everything one can in the physical and material world, and resume life and living as one knew it as soon as possible afterwards.
Not only is this deeply invalidating to the experience of pregnancy, it is actually impossible to do, and I would bet any woman who has ever had a child would be able to agree with this on some level. The desire to hang on to life and the way we were living, and the physical body we knew before is fundamentally in opposition to the experience that is actually happening. We are meant to be changed, if not transformed completely. Pregnancy and birth is a forced process of individual evolution, which asks us to grow in ways we could never orchestrate on our own. Where becoming a mother will take us, physically, emotionally, relationally, mentally, and spiritually, is completely unknown. Pregnancy, birth, and motherhood is an enormous opportunity to become more embodied, more intuitive, more trusting, more courageous, more vulnerable, more heartfelt, more real, more genuinely ourselves.
In pregnancy, birth, and mothering, it is all there: our fears, limitations, beliefs, needs, hopes, desires, power, strength, and deep knowing. Pregnancy and mothering are constructed perfectly to bring all of this into our awareness. The invitation is to grow, to risk, to let go of everything, and ultimately be renewed along with our bodies and our babies.
And all it takes to shut down this huge growth process is an agenda: from ourselves or the world around us. Usually that agenda involves something like staying the same, in some way, as before; to not notice and feel the true feelings, needs, and realizations that are arising all on their own. The message from the media is to actively discourage women from being this true to themselves. In fact, we are directly instructed to focus on the surface, which completely negates our inner experience. We are told to get back to what we were doing, and how we were looking before, as quickly as we can.
What are we so afraid of? What is our culture and society fearing on such a deep level that we ask women about how much weight they have gained or lost during their pregnancy and postpartum experience, instead of asking them what they are coming to know, in new, deep, and visceral ways in their own being? What is going on when we are preoccupied with a woman’s postpartum exercise routine and diet, instead of inviting her to share the painful and liberating truths she is coming to know that could only have been realized through this magnificent process?
My opinion is that our society is afraid of women’s power. Why else would society work so relentlessly take women out of it?
Power is a complex and nuanced quality that I am still coming to understand within myself, and that I will not fully explore here. It seems to me a deeper power is starting to be recognized and needed in our world, as our economy and global status begin to shift, as corporations flounder, as more and more scandals are revealed. I believe women have immediate and direct access to this power, and that birthing and raising children are one of the ways we can connect with it. It has something to do with our willingness to be deeply transformed, to be incredibly vulnerable, to dive fully into our felt experience. When we do this, we are capable of healing our minds and bodies and relationships in many ways, all with our capacity to allow for more space, intuition, trust, and clarity.
What would happen if even just the pregnant and postpartum women pushed back on this obsession with our bodies, and instead started to speak about our inner transformation and growing wisdom emerging daily from our lived experience? What if we began to defy our society’s addiction to work and perfection, and instead started to create and define what bringing meaningful work into the world looked like for each of us: in a sustainable, empowering way that honors self and family? What if we really honored the depth of love and commitment we have to our own growth, to our children’s growth, and to our families’ growth, and brought that into our everyday lives by sharing it directly with those around us?
I myself am curious to find out.