Little Girls and Dangling Earrings

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Nine-year-old Amelia wears dangling earrings for the first time, and relishes the feeling of sophistication it brings.

Originally written May 8, 2015 (Thank you, Facebook, for the tour through Memories!). Updated May 10, 2016. 

Here’s the thing about rushing our girls prematurely through girlhood – if they act like miniature teenagers during their childhood they miss out on that special feeling that comes from being just a smidge more grown up. When you can feel yourself getting just a little more sophisticated by the new thing you are doing and you can see what is ahead of you as you continue to grow. If you’re 5 going on 21, those special little moments don’t mean anything because you’ve already done it all.

Like tonight at my husband’s birthday dinner, my nine-year-old daughter was allowed to wear dangling earrings for the first time in honor of the special occasion. She chose to have her ears pierced a year ago, a decision we felt was important for her to make for her own body, and we’ve limited her earrings to small styles that just cover the bottom of her earlobes. Maybe for some families it isn’t even a consideration, but my husband and I told her dangling earrings are more for older girls and grown ups, and little earrings are for little girls who run and play hard and wrestle. Not that older girls can’t do those things, I just don’t usually wrestle with my friends when I get overly excited. Usually.

Because we had her wait to take the next step to being an older, more sophisticated girl these dangling earrings were a big deal to her. She felt special. She felt fancy and excited to be exploring something new. She felt the power that comes with becoming a woman.

Our mothers give birth to us, but it is through the process of girlhood that we give birth to ourselves.

I believe that is one of the reasons society rushes girls through their girlhood. Aside from the billions of dollars there is to be made in the beauty and apparel industry when girls act like appearance-conscious women, culturally we rush girlhood in order for our daughters to practice the script of being a woman. Think about the bulk of what is marketed to girls: princesses, glitter art, fashion, makeup, fancy pets, boyfriends. Culturally we sell our girls out to the lowest common denominators of expected femininity.

When we take away girlhood we rob our daughters of so many opportunities for self discovery, achievement and failure, curiosity, and confidence building. We rush girlhood because the patriarchy understands the power there and does everything possible to dismantle it.

My husband and I winked at each other during dinner when we would catch our girl tossing her head just to feel the dangling earrings swing and dance from her ears. For the evening she was trying on being a grown up. She was temporarily borrowing a part of being a lady with fancy grown up jewelry; visiting adulthood soon to return to being a happy nine-year-old girl.

There’s no need to rush. These children grow so, so quickly. In a breath, your daughter is taking a photo before dinner and she looks more like a preteen than your baby girl and you fight back tears as you think “Where did all this time go?”

She’ll be grown soon enough. Hopefully she’ll be her own strong version of being her own woman, who may or may not wear danging earrings. But tonight, I’m so glad for my little girl that fancy earrings were a big deal and she looks forward to growing and maturing and figuring out what all this grown up stuff is about.

All in due time, as tonight there are earrings to put back in the jewelry box and little brothers to wrestle with.

What is the cost to our girls when we allow or encourage them to rush through their girlhood? What do little girls gain when they are given the time to try on womanhood one bit at a time?

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

My First Grader Says She Is Fat And Hates Herself, Now What?

PPBB Mom: “Was rather disturbed this afternoon when our 6 year old (turns 7 next next Friday) daughter came home from school today and told me that “she hates herself as she is fat”. I immediately told her that she isn’t and that she is beautiful. In fact she is a very healthy little girl. The scary thought in all this is that she is only in grade 1.”

PPBB Answer:  Hi Michele – You are not alone, I have a lot of parents contact me with similar concerns with girls the same age as yours. Girls learn quickly at young ages that body hate is a secret language females speak to each other and that this is how girls measure themselves. Your voice has to outshine whatever was learned at school. That is such a tricky thing to deal with because it is human nature to find it easier to believe something negative about yourself rather than positive. It is also a rock and a hard place – you want to acknowledge her feelings and concerns, but do so by affirming she isn’t “fat” and that she is beautiful, which only serves to reinforce those are the more highly valued qualities. Well of course that is the first thing a parent would say! My first reaction would be similar.

Her body is her machine for life. Her relationship with her body can be as wonderful or painful as she lets it be. But she only gets one, and life is way too awesome and too short to not love the body you are in.

I like how you also included “healthy” as a status for her physical being when you were reassuring her, because our bodies can look beautiful in all different sizes and still be healthy. Health should be our goal in life, not socially-acceptable thinness. Maybe you have a print out from her last doctor visit that shows her in scientific, measurable terms that she is exactly the size she should be. If she is your biological child, you might have a photograph of you at the same age which you can use to show her she looks just like what her genes are programmed for. Tall and lanky? Short and stocky? All in the DNA, so shake what your mama gave ya. 

You may also want to remind her she is “growing”. As a kid, that is literally her job. To grow up. Kids’ bodies carry muscle and fat differently because they are constantly growing. Try to focus the conversation on all the things her body can do. Make a list (like a poster for her room) or play act some suggestions (dance, hug, skip, jump, stomp, spin, soccer kick, karate chop, ballet positions, roll, wiggle, worm, cartwheel, run, etc). When she frames her body image viewing her body as an instrument rather than an ornament she gives herself the power to define part of her self worth based on how her body serves her through life and how it feels as opposed to simply how it looks.

You might want to have her go into more depth with you on why she says she hates herself and thinks she is fat. Is she repeating something she heard? Did someone tease her? If someone is teasing her, remind her that “fat” is the new “stupid”. That word is commonly hurled around the playground, usually comes from a place of jealousy, and is completely subjective. Did school introduce a new weight-based health initiative that weighs children or focuses on the misguided BMI? That may give you more insight into how to tackle her distressing announcement. You may also need to get her teacher on your team to help sort this all out if it is a problem in the classroom or a school program (which you can opt out of, an action I highly recommend).

If this revelation is the result of teasing or even a school program that fat shames rather than teaches body acceptance, now is the perfect time to introduce her to the idea of building her own personal brand. Your daughter is Full of Awesome. Why would she believe any different. Because a kid at school told her so? No. When I do presentations at schools I use the image below when I tell the kids they are in charge of how they see themselves, what they put out into the world, what qualities they let shine through that impact others. They get to put the writing on the wall and what other people say about them is none of their business.

Your child gets to create their own personal brand (read: self image). No outside forces get to negatively influence that.

Your child gets to create their own personal brand (read: self image). No outside forces get to negatively influence that.

And finally, I would ask her why she says she “hates herself”. That is a strong statement, one she likely does not entirely understand. If she heard you say that about yourself, or a sibling say the same thing, how would she react? What would she say? How does it make her heart feel when she says she “hates” herself? What is she looking for you to say back? Can she think of some health habits your family could change for the better to help her feel better? What if you took a walk with her as you discussed these things, so she gets her body moving and heart pumping as she discusses how she feels?
Six years old is such a tender age – and completely common age – for these types of thoughts to arise. I know it hurts your heart to hear your baby say it. But she took the risk to say it out loud to you because you are the center of her world. She trusts you, she counts on the foundation of unconditional love you have built for her that she stands on every day. Now we just have to show her how to build that foundation inside of her, so that love comes not only from her family but also from within.

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

The Great Bikini Debate

I get asked questions similar to the one below about girls and bikinis regularly and my answer is always the same: A child needs to be able to move her body in the ways that childhood requires. And, wear sunscreen.

Bikini

Is your daughter an instrument of play or an ornament of cute in her suit?

Parent Question: My friends and I have been discussing the topic of bikinis lately. We’d love to hear your advice about how to talk to our daughters about why our families choose not to have young girls wear bikinis. We’re having a hard time finding the right words – we don’t want to convey that they should be ashamed of their bodies (or we think they should be ashamed of their bodies) or that it is their responsibility to “prevent” others from being attracted to them (e.g., rape culture, current discussions regarding school dress codes). Please point us in the right direction!

PPBB Answer: Hi Jill – First, let me say that I love that you and your friends are aware of the issues of body shaming and Rape Culture mind set. We’re starting off on the right foot here! People don’t like bikinis for a number of reasons for little girls, but for me there are two:

1. Little girls don’t need to worry about being sexy, it is not age appropriate.

Some bikinis sold for children are way too sexy for my comfort level as a sex-positive person who wants these girls to have the freedom to develop their own sense of sexuality in their own time.

2. Some bikinis would limit or prevent movement and play, which is a child’s job, and really the main reason I do not like them on children.

If range of play and motion is inhibited I really discourage parents from buying things that teach girls not to take up space in the world. (Tight, low-cut jeans is another example of this. I hear about it all the time from gym teachers in elementary schools.) 

Also – there is the issue of sun protection for the skin and less suit means more sun exposure on young skin.

I don’t think all bikinis are problematic and I’m not against girls wearing them. Some of them are really cute! I think the cut of the suit is critical. Tankinis are a good compromise, especially where you can mix and match tops and bottoms – super fun! Two pieces also make potty breaks easier. 

Not all bikinis are cut and built the same, so this post is focusing more in skimpy cuts. When you are constantly tugging a skimpy bikini back in place or worried some private parts may splash out you aren’t having as much fun as you should be.

If your daughter has a bikini that allows her to play and be a fish in the pool or ocean then GREAT! Wear sunscreen.

Recently I chaperoned a trip to a water park with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. I smiled to myself when I overheard the girls (ages 8-12) saying that when we head to the giant water park tomorrow it was a “one piece suit kind of day” because they wanted to play hard and fly fast down water slides and not worry about what they looked like or what might get exposed. 100% yes to this! Smart girls!!
Greater than the issue of sexualization of children, for me, is the restriction of moment and self-consciousness a bikini might create that takes away from a girl her natural right to feel good and carefree in her body to play, romp, jump, swim, dive, slide, cannonball and somersault in the water uninhibited.
There is no magical medicine for our girls when it comes to the ills society will soon teach them about body image, beauty standards, obligation of sexiness, and gender roles. But learning to take up space in the world, to be daring, try new things, and enjoying all the amazing things your body can do, and that those are WAY more important than what it looks like is a pretty damn good elixir.

 

I would explain to the girls that some bikinis don’t stay in place like tankinis or one pieces do. Who wants to be tugging on their suit all day, or lose their bottoms on a water slide or big wave in the ocean? I’ve been a lifeguard and swim instructor for years and I constantly see girls tugging their bikinis back in place. Every male teacher I’ve worked with has told me the skimpy bikinis on little girls creep them out and make them really uncomfortable. The tops to the suits don’t stay in place while swimming and they are concerned they’ll be accused of something that was not taking place while they are holding the beginning swimmer around the chest and the suit has changed position. I’ve actually had great conversations with these college-aged guys on the sexualization of girls, something that totally confound them. Do they love string bikini on a young woman their age? Yep! On a five year old? Please God no. They’ve had great insights on our cultural phenomenon of sexualizing our girls in the age of helicopter parenting.

 

Last summer I had no issues telling my nine year old that a bikini she inherited was cut in a way that grown up ladies bikinis are cut to enhance their breasts (skimpy triangle cut) and that it was not appropriate for a child. During our conversation she said to me, “Well, if Dad says it is okay can I wear it?” My reply to her was that her dad does not control her body nor give permissions for it, that is her job and she is responsible for making good decisions once she has the information to make them. So I let her wear the bikini around the house one day and for a few hours counted the number of times she had to tug it and put it back in place. 47 tugs later I asked if she understood my point that bikinis are great for laying still while tanning and looking sexy by the pool for grown ups. Kids are supposed to play and have no need to look sexy. She got it, mostly because I allowed her to teach the message to herself.

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com. Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Growing Up Girl

This afternoon I was driving my kids to their first day of gymnastics class and I had one of those moments when you want to throat punch the universe. Some days, it feels like you can’t win for trying when it comes to raising strong girls. Let me explain.

My daughter was so excited for today. She finally had a *real* gymnastics outfit and looked like a pro. She’d been talking about this for weeks. I looked at her in the review mirror, the late afternoon sun shining behind her as brightly as the smile she flashed back at me. I was excited for her to learn new ways her body could be strong, to see how powerful her muscles could be.

But oh, the irony….

When we stopped at the first red light, to our immediate right was a “gentlemen’s” club. The sign out front said, “Girls! Start those college savings. Dancers Wanted.” My daughter read it, speaking quietly as she tried to make sense of the message behind the words. And then she went silent. She has a nine-year-old’s understanding of what goes on in those places thanks to an over-informed classmate. I said nothing, giving her time to process and knowing her questions would begin any minute.

We made it a mile or two down the road and came to a second red light. This time, to our immediate left was a girl in the tiniest bikini and highest stilettos you can imagine teetering by a fence for what looked like a commercial photo shoot. For yard sheds, the kind you throw in your back yard to hold lawn mowers and patio furniture. Her nearly naked body was being used to market and sell yard sheds, and my daughter was figuring this out as she gazed out the window on her way to gymnastics class where she was so excited to wear her new uniform and learn to do a cartwheel.

And I started to feel the hot rage you get behind your eyeballs when you are just so sick and tired of the fuckery your daughters have to experience as girls growing up in this world.

This is everywhere. All. the. Time. Everywhere the objectification of women, the turning them into objects for sex and nothing more. Mind you, I live in the Heartland. We weren’t driving down The Strip in Vegas. We were on the 51 in Beloit, Wisconsin.

No matter how I try to raise my kids – my daughter to be a strong woman and my son to be a man who respects all women – it is stuff like this afternoon’s drive that make me feel like I needed Joan of Arc battle armor at my baby shower instead of a diaper genie. 

Because I’ll will never stop fighting for my daughter’s heart to be free and unburdened by messages she gets from so many places that her sex is her worth. To hell with that.

I will never stop fighting for my son to know that all girls and women have worth simply by being. Neither of my children will fall victim to a society that treats women like disposable objects.

I feel rage because the offer to strip for college cash isn’t offered to boys. It isn’t a choice they have to make. Why are there not billboards up and down the highway offering these same girls internships in the business world? As a mother to a daughter I feel like a mother to all daughters, and I am angry for them. These girls are barely 18 years old and they are immediately being pulled into the sex trade.

The messages about the value of a woman’s body that my daughter got on the way to class are the exact opposite to those I hoped she would get in class.

Her body is strong. Capable. Graceful. Powerful. Her body has value because it houses HER. She is nobody’s object. Full stop.

We arrive at the YMCA for class and we have to pass through the gym to get the the gymnastics room. In the gym are a dozen high school girls playing volleyball. They are all different sizes, they are sweating, and they are playing hard.

I thought about pausing with Amelia in the gym and giving her some kind of pep talk like: “You know that sign about college we passed at that club and that girl in the bikini….you don’t have to do those things to make money for college. You can get all kinds of jobs or start a business or do an internship. You can earn academic scholarships. And see these girls playing volleyball? They could go to college on an athletic scholarship. Just like your swim teacher.”

I didn’t say any of that. I didn’t have time.

Because as my daughter walked through the gym and saw the volleyball players her mouth briefly dropped open in awe of all the teenagerness around her and then she turned to me and said, “Oh, and by the way, THAT is how you get to college using your body. Yes, I read the sign on the road and saw Ms. Bikini and what a bunch of bullshit.”

Friends, we live to fight another day.

Joan of Arc

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

The Expectations and the Authenticity Ten Hours After Birth

Looking at the photo of a royal ten hours after she had given birth made me curious about what other women’s stories were ten hours after giving birth. Those stories are below.

I have been exceptionally busy this week and therefore behind in the news. When I first saw the photo of the royal family my thoughts were “Oh, so sweet. A little princess.” (An actual princess, not the default female-child-equals-princess princess.) Welcome to the world, Baby Charlotte! The image of Kate, William, and Baby Charlotte on the steps of the hospital, introducing her to the waiting world is lovely. Kate looks radiant and proud. She and William are visibly glowing and clearly in love with tiny Charlotte. I smiled to myself knowing what a special moment they’d have as parents introducing George to his new sister.

When I learned the photo had been taken a mere ten hours after the birth I was a bit shocked and my thoughts were, “And here comes the shit show.” Kate, intentionally or not, just upped the ante upon which we will compare, contrast, and fight with each other as mothers and women. Ten hours. Not even a full half day.

Let’s remember this discussion isn’t about Kate the woman, but the image of Kate the celebrity. As an individual, Kate the woman is free to make her own choices and I invite you to respect them. She may have felt completely amazing after Charlotte’s birth and was looking forward to introducing her daughter to the throngs of people waiting to glance at the world’s tiniest princess. As you’ll see in a bit, different women feel differently after birth. Each birth is different, from mom to mom but even for the same mom from birth to birth. I’ll share those stories with you in just a moment.

ChildbirthTen hours after birth looks different for different women, though we’d never know it by what the media presents to us. We don’t honor individual stories of mothering. We are not honest about our bodies. We don’t insist on there being a rich and textured weave to that cloth. No, we accept one smooth narrative applied to all. Using the most recent photo of Kate as an example, ten hours after birth women are still expected to look pulled together, coiffed and manicured, having put on a pretty face and perfect outfit for the cameras attempting any trace of evidence of what our bodies actually just did.

If you are like me and find it unavoidable to encounter images of famous, rich women and their just-had-a-baby-can-you-believe-it-bodies splashed all over magazines and websites then you know that really we could insert any celebrity mom into the position the Duchess was in this week and have the same results.

Kate Middleton I want to examine the presentation by the media of a mother a mere ten hours after birth. I want to look at what societal expectations we have and how realistic those expectations are for most mothers.

Let’s also remember that in this photo, Kate isn’t just a “new mom”. She is a “working mom”. Kate’s job to look perfect in public. (That’s the rub when you’re a princess.) She is doing her job as a member of the Royal Family and she is dressed for her work, which in this scenario is to be put on display for her public. She is doing her job well.

But as a celebrity, Kate’s image didn’t happen in a vacuum and her carefully managed image only serves to add pressure on women for whom the Beauty Myth extends to their bodies even during pregnancy, birth, and post-partum.

You have seen the headlines and advertisements all week, yes? “Get Kate’s effortless post-baby look now!” “Yummy Mummy Kate looks perfect in yellow and you can too!” “Kate may have just given birth, but she looked as elegant and stylish…”  “Duchess Kate has perfect new mommy color pallet for this spring. Find your colors now!”

I have even seen birthing centers and midwives use Kate’s photo to market their style of birthing classes and services, saying “Yes Kate looks this good after birth and YOU can too if you only try ________ during childbirth!”

And still the focus remains on what we look like, not what we do. I simply cannot stand it. I want to scream. 

If it is not known or obvious to people, Kate had a team of stylists and professionals surrounding her and helping her to look this pulled together. She may have enjoyed every minute of it and that is fine, but what is important here is for women to understand her look was achieved with professional help that is not accessible for most moms. Kate had a public appearance with her newborn from which the photos would be shared around the world and become part of history. Of course she wanted to look her best, aside from the fact she was obligated to.

Read how Kate and her team of well-paid stylists achieved her perfect look.

None of this is Kate’s fault nor responsibility, naturally. She didn’t create this system. Society is using her. (Again, that’s the rub for a real princess.) In all honesty, we need to turn our attention off Kate and reflect inward at what narratives we choose to believe. And judge each other by. Worst of all, what narratives do we judge ourselves by?

“Wouldn’t it have been cool if this time around, she had injected another dose of reality into the whole myth of instantaneous post-partum perfection? [S]he could have used her platform to make a difference. And by doing so, IMHO, she would have done a great service to her most devoted subjects: other women.” – Audrey Brashich

Read Audrey’s full post here: “Why I’m Mad At Kate Middleton”

Ten hours after either labor and birth of my two children I did not look like Kate. I looked as beautiful as a woman exhausted from childbirth can look. I know I wasn’t concerned about looking beautiful. I was focused on caring for my body and figuring out what to do with this tiny person who was mine. I was wearing a nursing tank top and the awesome meshy hospital underwear, bleeding into those giant hospital pads and all over my bed. That is what my body was supposed to do after pushing a human being and placenta out of it. I was catheterized and sewn back together in places I didn’t know could tear open like they did. And since we’re all friends here, I’ll have you know that after my son’s birth I pooed the bed due to three hours of pushing and a stomach virus that had set in 24 hours before his first breath. I tried to clean it up but couldn’t and sat sobbing in my room until the nurse answered my call button. TMI? Nobody talks about that side of birth, do they? Time to get real, girls! Shit happens.

I was feeling angry and traumatized because childbirth didn’t go as easily as I had been promised by other moms who had used the same birthing technique I had tried, and failed at. I felt lied to and I felt like a failure. I was unshowered, exhausted, overwhelmed, and in pain. A lot of pain. I was mad at my husband for not bringing me flowers. Or food. I was hungry and waiting for my milk to come in. I hurt, everywhere. I wanted my mom. I needed to brush my teeth. I wanted everyone to get away from me and I wanted a circle of people around me to help me and care for me and the baby. I was madly in love with and awestruck over my newborns and after my son’s wretched birth I promised myself I’d never go through this again.

That is my story. I wish it was happier. It just is what it is. I love motherhood, I hated birthing.

We don’t hear our collective truths often enough. We don’t speak our truth often enough. Maybe we aren’t invited to, maybe we’ve been taught to keep it quiet. Maybe we think it doesn’t measure up to what should be. Maybe we have learned to not own our bodies and therefore discredit one of the most intense experiences we’ll ever have with it.

Maybe it is because we are not taught how to honor other women and in turn honor ourselves.

I am abundantly cautious of selling child birth to women like a travel brochure, with one desirable ending point. Childbirth is a journey, not a destination. A destination means a single, desirable end place. A journey means we take different paths and hold different stories of our travels.

When we discredit or silence the negative birth experiences we take away from the power of the event. We rob a woman of her voice and her story. We end her journey for her because she did not reach her destination. We tell a lie by omitting the full panorama of what birth truly is.

The most disrespectful thing we can ever do to a woman is to take away her voice and disempower the story of her journey. The media does this regularly and attempts to take away the authenticity of our births and our bodies.

The other day on the Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Facebook page I asked for women to share their truths, to tell us what they looked like ten hours after birth. I linked a media literacy article for context and it was interesting that even when given the opportunity to tell their truth some women still took time to judge, berate, chastise, and snark at each other. To cut each other down. To tell each other what to do. Instead of telling their own story they told others what to do with theirs. It was an experiment within an experiment and one of the reasons it took me so long to write this post is because I did not want to have to wade through all that negativity again.

The majority of that thread was women using their voices to tell THEIR stories. To enrich this pattern we are weaving. To create a more authentic and truthful yarn that holds this cultural narrative of childbirth together. Some women shared photos, a beautiful and real portrait of what motherhood looked like when it began for them. 

Some of the stories were hilarious: 

“10 hours after giving birth I looked like I’d been rode hard and put away wet.” -Laurie M.

“Ten hours after birth, I looked like a soggy and bruised puff pastry.” -Holly W.

“The Stay-Puft Marshmallow man. But I had a big smile on my puffy face.” -Dawn B.

“Deflated bratwurst.” -Katie S.

Some stories were harrowing and made my breath catch: 

“Ten hours after my last birth I was still intubated and in an induced coma. I don’t know how I looked, there are no pictures of that time. I saw myself for the first time three days later.” -Cassandra A.

“A bedridden homeless person. I was still on IV magnesium to prevent post c-section seizures. Had not seen my twins, as I was on bedrest for 24 hours. I at least had a catheter so I was spared from using a bedpan.” -Jennie K.

“I looked like a scared mama, praying my micro preemie would survive the night.i have no idea what I looked like, I was only concerned for her life. So thankful most people don’t have to worry about that 10 hr after birth.” -Betsy T.

Some stories were empowering, ‘I am woman, hear me roar’ type truths:

“Ten hours after birth I looked pretty good. I could get up and take a shower right away and put on some clothes.” -Kathryn H.

“10 hours after giving birth I looked like the happiest mama in the world, I was glowing with joy and power at my accomplishment. I was sporting a heavily used hospital gown with front slits to facilitate ease of nursing, but I didn’t care I was over the moon with happiness.” -Deirdre O.

“Ten hours after giving birth, I looked proud, and happy.” -Jessica B.

Some were very real:

I could really use a shower” -Mia B. 

“Greasy and stringy.” -Elisabeth J.

“Like I needed to sleep long and soundly!” -Birgit N.

“A lump of panicky exhaustion!” -Rowenna A.

Some stories were more difficult, similar to what I shared of my truth above: 

“10 hours after giving birth, I looked like a deflated purple spotted ball of motherhood.” -Erin W.

“Train wreck – both times. Super long labors, one emergency C-Section.” -Kelly G.

I looked shell-shocked and terrified. I also looked nauseated because I hadn’t had a proper meal in about 3 days.
Also, I was wearing socks and my husband’s sandals because my feet had swollen too much to fit in my own shoes. And it was snowing.” -Wendy H.

Some stories showed the experience can vary from birth to birth for the same mom:

“I looked OK the first time around. I’d had a shower and blow-dried my hair and put some make up on. Why? Because I’d had a fairly straight forward delivery, a healthy baby and I knew there would be cameras out, taking pictures to send to far away family, and I wanted to look a certain way. The important thing is that *I* wanted to do that – I did it for me and no one expected it from me. It was my choice and I was lucky to have the mobility and energy to manage it. My second delivery was a different story! I looked like you’d expect someone who has just survived life threatening complications would look – hooked up to IVs, unable to move. I didn’t shower for days – I couldn’t walk for days – and that was OK, too. Every situation is different.” -Jill B

“10 hours after my first birth I looked like a train wreck, natural quick birth but my body tensed up & I was in rough shape for like a week. After second birth I looked great, I relaxed more the second time & had more time between contractions. But both births I looked completely in love & in awe of my handsome little boys I had carried around inside me!” -Jennifer P.

And all of the others that won’t be categorized but rather blended together because women and birth cannot be separated and categorized. They can only be truthful and we can only act as sisters to one another if we are to hold each other up and live authentically: 

“Ten hours after birth I looked like I would EAT THE FACE OFF anyone who suggested I should do anything other than nap, eat and tend to my kid.” -Alexandra G.

“10 hours after giving birth I was a wreck (both times).” -Ushan A.

“Okay but stoned, and I couldn’t move my legs because of my epidural. No walking anywhere for me!” -Leslie K

“I looked like me, but prone.” -Susie C.

10 hours is roughly the amount of time it took me to get really pissed off about the situation I was in, after each of my kids was born. About 10 hours after my first son was born the hospital staff took him, for a medical check up, right when I needed to feed him. I was promised he would be returned right away. He was grabbed from his check-up by the hospitals photographer and was missing from me for almost 2 hours. With my second son about 10 hours after he was born the hospital staff came to discuss with me that I was going to be discharged in the morning, but he was going to have to stay in the NICU. When my daughter was born I was told that because she was large they had to prick her foot, to test her blood sugar levels, before she ate, EVERY time she ate. At about the 10 hour mark my pain meds from the C-section I had were gone and I was exhausted. At that point I was not up for an entire night of waking up to a hungry baby, then waiting with a hungry baby for a nurse to come in and prick her foot, then trying to get her to latch on properly when she was screaming out in pain from being pricked.” -Nancy C.

“Ten hours after birth– the first time, I looked sick and scared as the birthing was traumatic and my son was very ill; …the second time I felt wonderful and looked like my typical self, pregnant or not pregnant, bathed and hair fixed and holding a safe and healthy baby.” -Mary P.

“A mommy in love with her new baby. ” -Barbara B.

“A fattie who hadn’t showered for a month…and exhausted.” -Becky J.

“Ten hours after birth, I looked amazed, content, tired and happy.” -Stephanie H.

“Like a boss.” -Nicole T.

“Glowing and proud! I felt invincible. Oh and most likely with a boob hanging out. Both girls nursed like champs!” -Angelica A.

“A very worn-out but elated mama trying to balance snuggling a new baby with wanting to strangle the nurse who kept coming in every five minutes asking if I wanted her to take him to the nursery. No, I don’t. We’re snuggling/nursing/bonding/sleeping. Go away.” -Becky C.

To me my wife looked like a bad ass. What she felt like she looked like I have no idea. I really liked the comment above about marathon. It was like she ran an ironman race. I was providing support but she ran it and yes, she looked like a bad ass both during and after.” -Jonas S.

“My stomach was lying on the bed next to me and my maternity ward roommate was on the phone complaining about how she had hoped she could keep on some of the baby weight but it was just all gone immediately. I didn’t throw anything at her, so I was proud of myself.” -Meg D.

“10 hours after a delivery that was a page out of my worst nightmares….I looked washed out and probably could have used someone to make me look pretty…..hehe.” -Shehla A.

“After my first two, I look tired and sad, but that was probably because the hospital didn’t treat me so well. After my third, who was born naturally at a birth center, no one believed I had just given birth. I was peppy and looked relaxed.” -Katie N.

The first two times (epidural births) I felt pretty icky. Third time, after a med-free birth, I felt awesome. I don’t know what I looked like because I was pretty assiduously avoiding cameras. But I do know that what I looked like should have been the last thing on my mind. There is a crazy amount of pressure on women to look a certain way all.the.time and feel bad about themselves when they don’t. So I have beautiful, beautiful pictures of my brand-new babies. Most of them have a slice of my arm or hand or shoulder in them. Few of them have my face. And I regret that so much now. The few pictures I do have, I’m glowing with joy. Why not more of those shots? Why did I feel like I didn’t want my picture taken?” -Gina P. 

“10 hours after giving birth I looked like 160 pounds of well-kneaded bread dough. My body felt like it had been hit by a truck. But my heart and pride were at their infinite limit.” -Christina H.

“10 hours after giving birth I looked like…I don’t know, and don’t care, because having a mirror around was the last thing on my mind.” -Jeanine T-B.

“I looked like I needed sleep while trying to help a newborn learn to “latch on” and trying not to throw up from all the pain meds they gave me for a c-section birth. My tummy also looked like there still could have been another baby in there.” -Susan L.

“I looked like a happy, tired mama beautifully glowing with love for her new baby.” -Robin W.

Baby #1, sleeping but with baby on my chest, so content, proud and in love. The pain of the c-section slowly kicking in. Baby #2, my 1st vbac 10 hours later was a very different pain, I had finally showered, had spent the day snuggling 2 kids and overwhelmed by it all. Baby #3, vbac #2, I was telling the nurse what to do, taking charge probably with exhaustion, but thrilled to have #3 daughter. Best Mother’s Day gift. How I looked I don’t know and I don’t care & neither did my kids or husband, but if I had to guess, it would be like a mom.” -Jennifer D. 

Ten hours after labor I still completely understood (and was affirmed in my belief) that images of [Kate Middleton and other] female celebrities represent false symbols of womanhood sold by the media and a patriarchal culture, and I was not at all concerned about conforming to those unachievable and unrealistic “standards.” 99.99% sure she had a team of hair & makeup people with her, a stylist told her what to wear, and she soldiered through the walk from the door to the car with a big smile plastered on her face so they could whisk her away to go back to bed. It’s too bad that women believe these images, where (male-dominated) media only values “pretty” images of motherhood over the realities of birth and motherhood, as the reality is too upsetting? uncomfortable? overwhelming? for most people to process. Mother’s Day is coming up, and if we really valued motherhood, we would fight for fully paid maternity (parental) leave, affordable daycare, living wages for day care providers in particular and all workers generally, flextime and paid sick leave for employees, guaranteed social security for stay at home parents and unpaid family caregivers, job security/training for parents who temporarily leave the workforce, (etc etc) and an end to the misogynistic culture that tries to teach girls they are only valuable as ornaments to boys, and teaches boys that they have to be “strong” and “tough” to conform to cultural expectations.” -Renee L. 

10 hours after giving birth I looked like an exhausted, nervous wreck with the faint remnants of paint on my tummy from being painted like a beach ball at my birthday party the night before. I wasn’t producing milk, and I couldn’t feed my daughter. I was teetering on my feet due to lack of sleep with a hungry,yowling beauty in my arms. I felt like I was a horrible Mom right off the bat, where was my milk? Eventually, I had to send her to the nursery where they fed her, and I had to learn to be kind to myself.” -Bunny D. 

“10 hours after my 2nd birth I was at home having a cup of tea and getting a cuddle from my new baby and her big brother! Both my gorgeous babies were born in the water on gas and air in Midwife led units which I think goes a long way to help how you feel after. May also be helped by having short labours and no tearing. I birthed both my babies safely! I felt I could do anything!” -Fiona B.

“The Michelin Tire Man wearing a diaper.” -Nicole S.

“Ten hours after birth I looked: bloated, tired, and sore. I actually refused to allow my husband to take any pictures of me because I just didn’t feel like myself.” -Kimberly G.

“A very happy deflated balloon.” -Aviva G.

“I looked like I was sleeping. Because I was. But I also was up, around and dressed within a couple hours of birth. Ready for the media? No. But ready for family and friends.” -Chris C.

I looked like I’d had a major abdominal surgery and was experiencing a several day chemical vacation post-surgery.” -Linda W. 

10 hours after the birth of baby #1, I was looking like my normal self and wanting nothing to do with the awful hospital gown. After baby #2, I looked like a zombie. I was up almost 24 hours before his birth, but not due to labor. He was taken from my room at the 6 hour mark due to lung issues so I launched into milk pumping with a goal of 8-10 sessions every 24 hours to make sure there would be milk when he was ready to come off of the iv. My life became a routine of pump, wash the pump parts, run the bottles to the nursery, visit my son, and repeat.” -Connie K. 

“Less than 20 minutes after my water birth, I felt on cloud nine! My vagina however would beg to differ! Despite not tearing, it felt as if I had passed a bowling ball, and my pee felt like acid! For the next 24hrs post birth, I walked like I’d been riding a horse for a week.  10 hrs after, I was snuggled up on the sofa with our new little lady.” -Donna W. 

“I ate Taco Bell 30 minutes after delivering my twins (vaginally) and showered right after that. I would have blown dry my hair but I had forgotten my hair dryer. I drive the nurses and my doctor nuts cause I was constantly on the go. I looked and felt great.” -Jennifer M.

The first time, I looked sleepy but elated, snuggling in bed with my still puffy belly and tired eyes, holding my tiny baby and uncaring of the pain in my incision site. No makeup, and the same messy braid I’d labored in for 36 hours. The second time–dazed, shattered, exhausted, and frustrated by the tiny squalling thing struggling to latch, born after a surprise c-section that gave me none of the birth euphoria I had expected.” -Stephanie H. 

“10 hours after my last birth which was an Emergency C-Section I was desperately try to fart and burp so that all the painful gas that had built up in my shoulder would leave!” -Danica C.

“10 hours after giving birth I was fine. In fact, we left the hospital early and travelled to see family for Thanksgiving dinner.” -Angie R.

“Hell, almost 3 YEARS after my son’s birth and I’m still a frumpy mess, lol. Happy as can be, though.” -Mandi S.

“Less than 12 hours after both of my babies (#1 an exhausting and horrible induction at a hospital and #2 a beautiful, calm home birth) I was eating and enjoying 10-12 family visitors passing around the baby and relishing in the love and community my kids were born into. I’m sure I looked like death warmed over both times, in my nursing tank and yoga pants, but it was quite honestly the two times in my life that what I looked like or what others thought of me was the furthest thing from my mind.” -Jen S.

“The happiest person who desperately needed a shower and a nap.” -Anne G.

“Ten hours after birth I looked like a sleeping person.” -Tonia J.

With all of my girls I was showered, dressed and coifed within the hour of having them because my body was so relieved to be rid of the baby elephants I house for eternity. But that’s just my “peasant stock” body. 100 years ago I would have been the lady dropping a baby in the field and going back to shucking wheat. Since shucking wheat isn’t on my to-do list present day, I enjoy feeling human again as soon as possible after giving birth.” -Erica M. 

I was up walking and talking showering and eating chick filA within a few hours of delivery. I was excited and ready to go home! With my first that is. By my 3rd. I was tired n exhausted and wanted to stay in the hospital for a week had they let me. I had a bit of PPD and wasn’t ready for the world, but that’s how life goes, I was delighted to be holding our 3rd baby with the man of my dreams next to me, it’s like a fairy tale sometimes, and Kate deserves the same feeling, she looks like she feels the same way.” -Nicki H.

“10 hours after birth I looked like I always do…a beautiful woman!! The only difference was now I was a beautiful momma!!” -Victoria W.

10 hours after birth I was sporting mesh underwear with an elephant sized maxi pad, staples across my belly after my emergency c-section and still in the hospital gown. I was exhausted after almost 24 hours of labor, including the last 2 hours of that being excruciating back labor. I needed help getting to and from the bathroom while I shuffled like the hunch back of Notre Dame. Then shock of shock, seeing my reflection and realizing I still looked 6 months pregnant, even after giving birth!! No one warned me about any of this, even all the books I had read. With my second, it was a scheduled c-section, I recovered much quicker. Within a few hours after the c-section, I was in my own nightgown, hair brushed, a bit of make-up and up to seeing visitors and having my picture taken. I was even able to walk on my own and get to and from the bathroom on my own. Night and day from the first to the second experience.” -Jessie W.

Neither of my births were all that easy – first was 24 hours of mostly natural labor and eventually a c-section (revealing a 8lb 14oz baby boy with a very bruised upper arm – clearly he was stuck on my pelvic bone!). So 10 hours after that I think I still had a catheter in, and was delirious from 3 days of no sleep, struggling to figure out how to nurse my child (boobs like bullets anyone?), and all the drugs and pain and “disappointment” of the c-section. 2nd was better as I had a planned c-sect. (revealing a 9 lb 7 oz baby girl!!!), but due to the surgery I was still pretty much bed ridden and very puffy from the IV fluids. At least this time I was much better rested and knew how to nurse!” -Jaime W. 

“I was up and about right away with all but the last one. With my last I separated my pelvis and couldn’t even stand up. But the other five, I was great! With two of them I was home before the 24 hour mark. The only reason I spent extra time at the hospitals was we were waiting for the doctors to let us leave! Keep in mind me longest labor was 6 hours…and the others averaged 3 hours with maybe 20 minutes of pushing and 15 minutes of pain.” -Micki S

“10 hrs after childbirth I looked blissed out. That’s a look that has nothing to do with hair, skin, or makeup. It’s gorgeous no matter who you are.” -Lisa C.

“Who looks in a mirror ten hours after birth? I mean seriously! 63 hours of labor people!” -Jennifer K.

I honestly can’t remember what I looked like after giving birth- looking in the mirror wasn’t even on my radar, ha ha. But I probably looked tired (I was up for at least 48 hours straight before giving birth with my first and 24 with my second, and then of course it’s not like I could just fall asleep right afterwards). I’m only in a couple of pictures from around the time I gave birth, and I haven’t looked at them in a while, but I think I just looked like me- not a fancied up version and not a decaying zombie version, just normal me.
Mostly what I remember feeling after birth was immense physical relief both from the end of labor and not having very active babies using my ribs as a jungle gym anymore. That and being so excited to eat since it was pretty much the first time in 9 months I could eat without getting sick or heartburn.” -Kristen W.

“After my third baby I looked like a glowing mommy! After my first I was a wreck with baby in the NICU.” -Karen C. 

“10 hrs after childbirth I looked like I had just competed in the most physical event of my life and relished every minute of my triumphant finish!” -Elizabeth M.

After almost 3 hours of pushing I ruptured most the blood vessels in my face and eyes. 10 hours after delivery I looked like I belonged on the walking dead without any of the fancy makeup tricks. I got so many stares from other parents in the mother/baby unit and I’m pretty sure I scared some nursing students! I do have a picture somewhere for proof and I’m planning to play that card repeatedly when my daughter becomes a snarky teenager!” -Lindsey R.

“I looked like I couldn’t care less what anyone else thought, because I live for myself and the sweet little love of my life in my arms.” -Lollisplotch M.

“A proud mother.” -Manuela R-F.

“Ten hours after birth I looked radiant and sweaty and happier than I’ve ever been… Also very naked and as voluptuous as ill ever be.” -Fernanda R

“My tummy looked and felt like a well used bean bag and I looked extremely thankful for my new sidekick latched onto me ….and for the catheter that meant I had an excuse not to get up and walk.” -Meghan L.

Ten hours after my son’s birth I was still shaking from the delivery. I was in labor for 27 hours and had an emergency c section. I had to have an extra incision, and that still wasn’t enough so they tore open my uterus with their hands. My son wasn’t getting oxygen and it had to be quick, so they couldn’t even wait for pain meds(I was doing it naturally). So I was strapped to the table while they cut me open(I could feel every cut)I looked horrible after having him. I lost twice as much blood as they thought I would, so I was pale and clammy and weak. And it was glorious because my son was alive.” -Jessicah W. 

“Ten hours after birth I was wishing that maybe I had slept a little, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the amazing little piglet I held on my chest. My body was exhausted, my mind alive. I felt and smelled like I had run a marathon.” -Ebby M.

“I looked amazing 10 hours after giving birth with my 4th. He was born before I normally woke up, I took a shower, had a nap, then got up and went about my day. My others were born later in the day so I was sleeping 10 hours after.” -Sarah L.

“Ten hours after giving birth I looked ecstatic, because those new mama hormones were goooood! 24 hours after giving birth I left the hospital and found I could not sit down, use the bathroom properly, fit into the clothes I wanted, or stop wearing Depends.” -Emily S.

“A happy and elated mum cuddling my newborn, both of us still naked on the sofa letting him find the breast.” -Diana S.

Ten hours after my first, intervention-filled birth I was pale, shakey and incredibly sore. Ten hours after my largely natural second birth, I was still very sore but recovered much more easily that my first, and definitely wasn’t the colour of the hospital walls, like my mum said I was with my first!! This isn’t a judgement on birth choices, just my truth!” -Christina C. 

“Like a Halloween version of the Goodyear blimp.” -Connie R.

“Ten hours after giving birth, I was still unconscious, planning a funeral and then unconscious again.” -Nicole T.

“Ten hours after giving birth I looked like a woman who had just spent the better part of 8 hours laboring then pushing an 8 pound baby out of myself. But also glowing and radiant!” -Christina R.

I have no clue what I looked like 10 hours after my first birth. Probably asleep. 10 hours after my second, my heart was melting as I watched my 6 year old hold his tiny baby sister for the first time.” -Emily S.

“10 afters after birth I looked VICTORIOUS! I had my daughter. She was alive, she was healthy, she was perfect, and I had my partner by my side. I was home. I was walking. I was also only ever peeing in water and wearing black leggings.” -Cee O’C

“10 hours after birth I looked like… Someone who didn’t care how she looked cuz I was on cloud 9 after having a baby!!! I was too focused on getting this new mom thing figured out to honestly care how I looked. Didn’t shower, no make up, tied my hair up to keep it out of the way, and happier than ever… Tired too but that goes without saying. Lol!” -Emily F.

“First kid-exhausted and worried, and frustrated at dealing with a bully pediatrician in the hospital. Second kid, happy and ready to go-I wanted to go out to dinner. What a difference a safe, healthy homebirth made.” -Erika G.

“Sleepy and hungry!” -Jennifer M

“It didn’t occur to me to check what I looked like. I was 38 years old, 2 weeks over due, had been induced 2 times and had an unscheduled C-section at 10 p.m. I so didn’t care. I hadn’t combed my hair in over a day, I hadn’t showered in over a day, I don’t think I’d brushed my teeth either.” -Elizabeth T

After an induction for preeclampsia, being bullied repeatedly by a doctor I never met, painful manual dilation without my permission, sunnyside up delivery, episiotomy without consent, a failed epidural and more crap that I’ve not even listed…the birth of my daughter was not the bliss I hoped for. Hours later I was still hooked up to medications that made me anxious and caused double vision. My hair was a hot mess, I couldn’t get out of bed and a parade of people kept pouring in to the room. I fake smiled, but I wasn’t happy…nor did I look like it. I don’t wish that type of experience on anyone.” -Becca S 

“Ten hours after birth I looked like: me…. a bit swollen in the belly area (of course) but glowing, radiant and in excellent health. The photo is me after the birth of my second child in hospital…about one hour after birth and we went home (I walked briskly out of there) within another 4 hours. sans makeup and hair done of course – it was 2 in the morning!” -Bree H

I looked completely deranged. They took my baby to SCU and I had no support, no phone and was hooked up to a drip in my spine. To an attachment parent it was tantamount to torture and it took about two years to recover.” -Carlie H.

Ten hours after the birth of my daughter was about 10:30pm. I looked tired, not exhausted, but I was energized. I *think* I was wearing a hospital gown. My baby bump was similar to my five month size. Ten hours after I gave birth to my twin sons was around 2:30am. This time I was wearing my own nightgown, with slits in the pleats for nursing! Otherwise, the same. With my daughter, I was in labor for six hours, ending with less than fifteen minutes of pushing. I got an epidural just before I started pushing. With my twins, active labor started when the fetal monitor was attached to Baby B. Two and a half hours later, I was done. I didn’t even have time for an epidural – I found out that it HAD worked somewhat with my daughter. Ouch. Once I took a shower each time, I felt and looked like my pre-pregnancy self, with a belly bump.” -Jean C.