I will go ahead and say it: I tend to bounce back from pregnancy pretty quickly. Many women spend months – or even years – trying to reclaim their pre-pregnancy bodies. And now for the second time, I have thankfully gotten back into my old wardrobe by the time I returned to work. I am lucky. I realize this. And I do not take it for granted. But it brings with it a question for me. And that question leads me to a larger question. The first question is, what should I say when people comment on my weight? The second question is, are there social rules around these things? And if not, are there sweeping social preferences?
Last week was my first full week back in the office, and with it came a number of comments about my weight that left me feeling a bit awkward. Naturally I said thank you. But each comment seemed to come with the expectation of an explanation; like I was supposed to substantiate myself somehow. Usually I just chalked it up to nursing (which burns beaucoup calories) but, like most things, there is more to the story than that. That “more” is threefold. 1) I went to painstaking lengths to manage my weight gain during pregnancy. And 2) as soon as I got the all-clear from my doctor, I resumed my normal workout routine. And… 3) I am lucky. But which answer do I give?
This conundrum reminds me of interviews I’ve read with Gwen Stefani and Sarah Jessica Parker. When asked about her (literally) rock star body, Gwen Stefani always states quite plainly that she works for it, and hard. Those abs are the result of intense effort in the diet and exercise arenas and she doesn’t try to hide it. SJP, on the other hand, is much more evasive about her svelte (sinewy?) figure. She usually claims that she’s just been blessed with a thin frame. I recall one interview I read wherein she claimed to have eaten steak, mashed potatoes, creme brûlée, and myriad other indulgences in a single meal for dinner the night before. (“Yeah, right!” I thought.) Of course there are women who have won the genetic lottery and came out with lithe figures and fast metabolisms. But I would wager that most women who have bodies that qualify as enviable do so because they work for them. Even the Heidi Klums of the world maintain a regular exercise regimen.
But which version would we rather hear such people lay claim to? What is the most socially acceptable answer? When one person compliments another’s body it almost always comes with either the explicit or implicit desire for more information. What is her diet like? What is her exercise routine? And how unrealistic would it be to incorporate such (presumably intense) measures into our own lives? Or, did she just luck out? Which answer would we rather hear? Each one comes with implications that we may or may not like.
If the answer is Gwen’s – “I have this body because I work my tail off for it” – then are we relieved to know that we too could have abs and shoulders like hers if only we were willing to put in the gym hours? Are we relieved to know that this beautiful and successful woman at least has to sweat it out like a normal person to look like she does? Or do we take it as a referendum on ourselves in the vein of, “You could look awesome too if you were willing to work for it, but you’re not.”
Conversely, if the answer is Sarah Jessica’s – “I was born with this body and it’s just my natural build” – do we hate her for it? Or are we relieved to learn that we can sit on the couch guilt free knowing that she drew the long straw, we did not, and we will never look like that so we’d might as well just enjoy our bon bons? (Side bar – what exactly is a bon bon?)
I think for me I’d rather have this conversation with Gwen Stefani than Sarah Jessica Parker. I’d rather know that she’s a human being who works and struggles along with the rest of us. I’d rather know that I’m not utterly devoid of the chance to achieve a rock star physique, even if I never avail myself of the opportunity. But I don’t know if I’m in the majority here.
So what about you? Would you rather hear about hard work or good luck? Or do you just avoid such topics altogether? I’m not sure there’s a right answer here. But I’m curious about the nature of our gut reactions.