Dad bods and other things that make this mommy-not-go-lightly

I am wary of hanging out in high estrogen networks, especially those predominated by women chiefly talking about motherhood. Because when I do, I am usually close to busting a capillary somewhere (usually my head). One thing that always gets my goat is gratitude. To their husbands. The fathers of their children. For just showing up occasionally.

I met a friend after a decade (during which she had got married and produced a child) and five minutes into the conversation, she explained how she could be out on a Sunday, because her husband “does everything for the kid” once a week.

Another friend, recently separated, shared that her (ex) husband “looks after” their child thrice a week and “manages everything”. In her voice I sensed an irony in the fact that the separation actually taught him a few things about fatherhood.

I have friends who hand their husbands the hands-on tag with such generosity, even for something as miniscule as changing one diaper a day or giving the baby a burp a day for a fleeting three weeks. Or being able to order takeaway dinner.

May be times have regressed. Or perhaps my parents were really ahead of their time without even knowing it. Because I never saw gratitude in my mother for my father when it came to childcare. I don’t think it struck my father to even expect it. Things got done, and it didn’t matter which gender did it.

So I don’t see why men get points just for showing up. And why women glorify their existence for the rest of their life by reminding themselves that they have the “biggest job in the whole world”.

First, it’s not a job, because in a job, you get paid, there are perks, and if you do well, you get promoted. It is at best, the biggest voluntary service program. And which is why men don’t apply for the job, because they know it doesn’t do anything for their résumé. And women spend the rest of their lives in angst, clutching their babies like they were their consolation prize.

It was bad timing that in the same week, I was asked by a newspaper to give my two bits on Kate’s post baby body. The sad thing is, women measure their birth victories by how soon they are able to get back into their old clothes or do what they used to do before they were pregnant (which could include smoking, drinking, clubbing till 4 a.m., or just going for a run on the beach, getting into their favorite bikini, whatever). They also measure it by how soon they can be ‘seen’ out there post birth. Technically, these benchmarks have been set by women for other women, which is a bit messed up, because we are trained to embrace the sisterhood and all that.

But the longer a woman takes to come out ‘in the open’, the faster she gets labeled a loser. Any woman will feel more jubilant if she shows no outward signs of having produced a child – protruding belly, dark circles, fat arms, sagging breasts. Or someone tells her, ‘Gosh, you look just the same as before!’ If she looks better than fellow singletons, great! If she can still score, even better! Every woman is measured by her ability to get ‘up and about’ in record time. I had so much to say about this that it took up a few chapters in my book.

I still can’t get over the brutal dissection of Aishwarya Rai’s post baby body, and now, Kate Middleton for the second time. And it seems most of the world doesn’t know that the tummy doesn’t shrink back like a spring post childbirth and was amused to spot a bump on Kate, as she came out, otherwise flawless, immaculate hair and makeup, waving breezily at the world, 12 hours post birth.

It was even worse that in the same week, there was much media (read twitter) attention to dad bods. Ridiculous as it might sound, it’s a trend worldwide which celebrates ‘flabby dad bods’ while women with ‘mom bods’ are pressured to maintain flawless physiques.So yes, the poor fathers’ lives have already been affected so much since childbirth, all they needed to assuage their grief was for us to be kinder to their bods (read junk food and beer bellies) post baby. So now, I’m supposed to look at Prince William and Abhishek Bachchan’s bodies with new eyes? And applaud Aishwarya for finally getting Vogue-cover-worthy? This is beyond pathetic.

What’s most ironic about this so-called “dad bod” is that his flabby trunk is further embellishment to his fatherhood resume. A man who can boast a “dad bod” is a man who doesn’t waste time on such frivolous matters such as working out every night. Of course not, he’s too busy being a provider and taking care of his family, and managing everything worldly and wise, thanks very much.

In the meantime, women all over the world are protesting the “Dad bod” phenomenon, hoping that it will open the doors for “Mom bods” in the same way. It won’t. Because mothers never get points just for showing up. And “Mom bods” will always be viewed as something in transition, a work in progress, a person waiting to redeem herself.

 

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 18th May, 2015)

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The Politics of Thin

I used to be thin. Like, stick-insect thin. This was before stick insects became fashionable.

My mother asked me when I was 14 if I had grown breasts. Fact is, they were more like insect bites, but I was too proud to tell the truth. I said yes. She promptly went and got me a bra. It was a dream come true. Me? Bra? Finally!

Yes, it bothered me that I was 14 and still no boobs! But then, I knew all the answers in class. I always put my hand up when the teacher asked a question. I had good handwriting. I aced composition writing.

I thought that would get me the boys.

Wrong.

The bra didn’t feel as great as they said it would. For the most part, I was just fidgety and adjusting. I felt like I had to stop the bra from overriding my non-existent boobs and so it was all clumsy. It still is, actually, but I seem to have developed a nonchalance about it.

I reckon Amma was a bit worried that I still hadn’t got my periods. I wondered too, because every other day some girl in my class would stain and they would all whisk her away as if it was some kind of conspiracy they didn’t want me in on. I longed for the day when I would stain and be whisked away. It never came. Instead, I got my first period when I was at home, studying for my class 10 board exams. There was no audience, no one to high-five. I hated it. I had just turned into a woman and there was nobody I could scream it to? So I jumped in front of the mirror… and that didn’t go very well.

I told Amma when she returned from work and she just heaved a sigh of relief, like I had checked a huge box.

The boobs took their time, but one day I was a proud 32B. Along the way, I dated wrong guys, underwire bras and several wrong shampoos, met my hair, grew an ass, and realized it looked great in shorts.

I moved from a 24 waist to a 26, which was a more womanly size, I thought. I had moved from thin to voluptuous. It was a shift, but I didn’t mind it.

32B cups and size-26 jeans were my best friends for years. Size zero still wasn’t in yet, so I basked in my glory. I had good limbs, a décolletage when I needed one, my ass was as perky as ever and there was no dearth of sales I went to and the clothes I bought. “Extra Small”, I’d proudly announce even as the sales girl tried to hand me a Small. I was the size to envy. I bought tiny little skirts, boots, ultra short shorts in which I could flaunt my bronze legs, singlets and tank tops that revealed my bone structure, LBDs and the gang. I was the girl who would float in someone else’s clothes every time I had a sleepover, and I could never got enough of, “Oh god, how tiny are you?”

I always thought the only way to be was tiny or big, but never in between. I liked big girls. They had so much gravitas. They filled chairs, they made you make room for them, they never sucked their stomach in, they looked so cool when they smoked and they could really carry off jewelry. When I grew up, I wanted to be big, I thought. Never medium. Medium was nothing. Medium was neither here nor there. Medium had no personality, no gravitas, no backstory.

Cut to pregnancy, motherhood, nursing and more boobs. I added on 15 kilos and dropped them in the next six months post-delivery. I was back in my size 28 jeans. What post-baby body were they talking about?

Losers, I thought.

They hated me for it. Like they hated me for getting pregnant when I was 40.

May be it was voodoo, but three years post-baby, I was somehow something of a blob. When I last checked, my rib cage, waist and hips were the same dimension as each other. I am square. I’m Rani Mukherji, I thought. I always wonder why women are so delighted when someone else puts on weight and not them. Is it because you have just lowered the bar for them? Is it because it gives them someone else to point a finger at to deem: Work in Progress? I also find the same delight on women’s faces when hot girl ends up with not-so-hot guy.

It was official. I had moved from XS to S to M.

This is it, I thought. This is the beginning of the end. I am Medium. I am nothing.

I stopped buying anything that had a waist (including jeans) because I didn’t have one anymore. Empire line dresses and leggings never said no, no matter how much I grew. I passionately embraced them. Maxis were the new me.

And then I found saris. I always loved their drape and how they could do as much or as little as you wanted. I had quite a few that I had stacked up in a trunk (in my youthful body phase that was all about flaunting limbs, the poor sari had taken a backseat). There they were, inviting me to start all over again.

photo(9)I found new joy in blouses. Funky, psychedelic, elegant, elaborate—I bought any fabric I liked and imagined it as a blouse. Sometimes I mixed them up and gave them totally new identities. I serial-dated tailors till I found the right guy. It never bothered me when a blouse didn’t have a sari to flirt with. If the blouse rocks, the sari will find its way, I thought. And it did. Friends were suddenly gifting me saris, I became a hand-me-down mascot. Each time I visited my mother, an old sari beckoned me. My measurements are locked up in a nice little book with my tailor. He doesn’t judge me. He never will.

2014iphone 010In an age where relationships are as old as Facebook accounts, perhaps no one will now remember that I had a thin past. But thin is not a mother’s best friend. Thin is not inclusive. Thin is not “Moms Like Us”. Thin is what people who ‘got stuff done’ were.

My mother recently told me I’ve never looked healthier in my life. I read this as: This is the fattest I’ve ever looked. It’s a bit depressing to know that your mother thinks you were all wrong for most of your life. But I still smiled.

When men ask me if I’ve put on weight, I say, “I gave birth. What’s your excuse?”

When I go clubbing or am invited for cocktails, I don’t think sexy anymore. I think comfy, snug, no-bra, something in which I don’t have to fidget too much, fabric that flaunts the nice bits and camouflages the not-so flattering bits. I still have legs. Although I’m yet to fathom what has happened to the rest of my body. The last time I wore an LBD, my Facebook profile picture got 120 likes. “Hot mamma!” one said. No one noticed that it was very clever dressing. (Should have bought it in other colors too, I thought). People still want to believe in the idea of thin-me.

photo(13)I don’t have aspirational jeans in my closet waiting to motivate me. If I don’t fit into them, someone else will. I have regular hand-me-down dates with women who still have the body for clothes I once had a body for. Surprisingly, it makes me happy to see them in clothes that once fit me so well. I’m also happy to take clothes from big girls who are happy to see their small clothes on me.

Medium is a whole new ecosystem for me. I have gathered enough equanimity to glide over the politics of thin and pretend I have left the room. I have made my peace with my contours or the lack thereof. I have stopped treating my body like a Work in Progress. I might have occasional flings with Spanx, but Spanx will never be someone who can move into my life. Thin is past tense and I’m happy to let it stay that way. The boobs and ass are here to stay, and so are the pelvic wattle and the thick waist.

But the last time I went to a store and wanted to try something, and the lady assistant said, “Wait, this is Large. I will get you Medium,” I was grateful. Ever. So. Grateful.

(I originally wrote this post for theladiesfinger.com)

Back in the game: Of course mommies can score!

(I wrote this in Aug 2009, as a response to my first outing post-baby. The piece appeared in my column Chickwit in Hindustan Times)

“I expected you to be fatter,” he said, accosting me at a house party. The chronic smug singleton was visibly shocked at my reappearance in the circuit in what was almost my old form, pre-pregnancy. Funny thing is, he looked disappointed, as though I had proven him wrong, or beaten him at the ‘I bet she will never get back in shape’ game.

I told him I had good genes, but it was clear that I had the will to get my life (and body) back post pregnancy. However, it got me wondering. Shouldn’t he be happy for me if he is a real friend? Shouldn’t there have been delight and not disappointment in his eyes upon sighting me?

What he is actually thinking is, “Hmmm… it’s not all that bad then to get married and have babies. She can still score..”

What he is not saying is, “I love how you can have a baby and not lose yourself.”

What I am thinking is, “Did you actually expect me to be a fat cow, you loser!”

What I am not saying is, “Why is motherhood=loss of sex appeal=out of the game?”

The fact is, I just wanted to ‘get on with it’ and fill my life with other things that also deserved my attention besides the infant. That simple. No glorious motherhood theories there.

People live their lives by extrapolation. What they see around them, they apply to themselves and visualise. If it doesn’t work, they reject it. It’s a great way of not changing the course of one’s life. The thing about the chronic smug singleton is that he/she always finds excuses to feel happy about not being in your shoes.

If you don’t show up at social dos post a change of status to mother, you are a sad sack who has no life, who cannot multi-task, who probably has a low body image, who is probably so emotionally overwrought that she could actually be bad company.

If you do, you are a careless mother.

If you get back into shape, you obviously care more about yourself than a new mother usually does.

If you don’t, you are just another new mom who has lost herself in her baby.

Which brought me to…Am I also guilty of ‘Been there, done that’? Perhaps I am. Like once-upon-a-time, I would look at married couples who barely spoke to each other, let alone laugh, and think, “That’s how relationships decay,” and then feel happy about being single.

Clichés are a double-edged sword. Damned if you fit, and damned if you don’t. This is how it happens.

Scenario one: Girl gets married. Girl has no time for friends. Girl disappears.

They say: “We knew it…”

Scenario two: Girl gets married. Girl still hangs out with old friends, with or without husband.

They say: “Something must be wrong. Why is she hanging out with us? Doesn’t she have a life?”

Either way, you lose. At least they think you do.