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More Than a Mother: Why do we continue to shame ourselves for looking like mums?

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 6 mins read
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In honour of Mother’s Day 2023, we asked our amazing global team of writers to tell us, in their own words, what it means to them to be More Than a Mother. Here’s what it means to Zofi.


In my culture, there is a phrase often thrown around about women who look older than their age.

They say, “Woh to do bachoun ki maan lagti he’ loosely translated as “she looks as if she’s a mum of two kids.”

It is not meant to be an insult but is, in fact, an observation that is made and stated as a matter of fact. The recipient, usually a girl in her 20s, may have simply put on a few extra pounds or may have facial features that are relatively more mature.

The South Asian body type is one that is genetically predisposed to gain weight, and with exercise being the last thing on a new mum’s to-do list, the majority of South Asian women tend to go pear-shaped post-baby. A vast majority don’t have the support, time, or even resources like access to gyms to get the exercise they need to get back to their pre-pregnancy bodies.

Hence, the statement, “She looks like a mother of two kids.’

But ageism and fat-shaming aren’t just cultural problems specific to this region of the world. Mums around the world are expected to bounce back to their previous body shape, and if not, they are described as, and catered to as the ‘mom/mum bod.’

Macmillian Dictionary defines the term as, “a body typical of a woman who has had a child or children and isn’t super-fit.”

Isn’t super-fit?
Like, thanks!

But this “unfit” body just carried around a baby for 9 months, survived 18–24 hours of excruciating labor pain, and got cut, torn, and stitched up in the most uncomfortable of places.

And if that wasn’t enough, it jumped back on its feet, gave up sleep, and turned into a source of nutrients, survival, and 24-hour care for a tiny human, without missing a heartbeat!

And you have the audacity to call this body “unfit.”
“Unfit” just because it doesn’t fit a certain size?

***

As someone who had always been thin, I was ignorant and unaware of these biases for a long time. I was also someone who was lured into believing that bouncing back into your pre-pregnancy body was easy and almost natural.

But after a tough pregnancy and an even tougher and extremely traumatic recovery period, my weight was the last thing on my mind.

A few months into parenting, a woman would casually tell me, how I looked like a mother of two kids. At that moment, my foggy mind responded by politely reminding her that I just had one. She had smiled back without any explanation of the mix-up.

It was only later that the comment and its meaning sunk in. And it hurt.
Looking like a mum, which I was now, was meant to be an insult.
So, I began to control what I ate, often starving myself in the process to get back to the size I was.

I ran miles, and I lifted weights.
I was determined not to look like the woman I played.

I secretly envied women and celebrities who didn’t have c-section scars or stretch marks, whose chests didn’t sag, and whose bellies didn’t flap. Who looked so skinny and young with their tiny bodies that didn’t have widened hips left behind as a reminder of the baby that had grown.

Then one day, it finally happened.

Some random lady in the park said the words I had been dying to hear, “Oh, but you don’t look like a mum.”

THAT. That, right there, was the approval I needed.
“Thank you!” I squealed!
I wanted to hear those words to know that I had finally achieved success.

It didn’t matter that I had started losing hair because I wasn’t eating enough, or that I now got tired more easily and lacked the energy I needed to keep up with my toddler.

All that mattered was that I looked too young and too skinny to be a woman who had given birth a year ago.

I was now a mum who didn’t look like a mum- whatever that meant.

But the high didn’t feel as great as I thought it would. And it made me wonder:

Was size really all that mattered? And why didn’t I want to look like a mother? Wasn’t this a privilege? And why were there two extremes to the body shape that came with motherhood?

You could either have a “mom/mum bod” or work your way, towards terms like “hot mum” and “MILF,” which, by the way, are disturbing and reek of some strange, Freudian slip.

Motherhood is respectable. It elevates your ranks. You are not the same woman you were before. You are wiser, definitely stronger, and so much more capable of handling what life throws your way.

Even the corporate world has started to actively seek out mothers because they prove to be hardworking, organised, and more dedicated than their peers.

And yet, we continue to shame ourselves for looking like mums.

Perhaps it is time we stop glorifying the shape, and embrace the curves. Instead, we should focus on the love and not the inches. We should encourage diet and exercise so we can be healthy and active parents instead of a size 0.

And most importantly, we should start to appreciate, embrace, and elevate motherhood completely.

Yes, I look like a mum now, because I am a mum, and I love it.
I smell of perfume that my child sniffs for comfort, and I lift weights and work on my abs so I can carry him up the stairs.

My hugs and kisses have the power to heal wounds, internal and external. And yes, my hair is tied back in a bun most days, and no, it doesn’t mean I’m a mess. I’m done hiding the scars, folds, and flabs that prove how strong I really am.

And I am ready to change the language and turn the term “looks like a mum” into what it really is: an achievement.

To read more from our More Than a Mother content series, click here.


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