Gwen Stefani vs. Sarah Jessica Parker
January 30th, 2012

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.

6 Responses to “Gwen Stefani vs. Sarah Jessica Parker”

  1. Ana Says:

    I really like this post. I don’t have much time to comment, but I’ll say that its usually a combination and they are BOTH lying when the deny the other. Gwen has good genes, and SJP works at it. Also, I am jealous of you. I bounced back pretty well after #1, but not so much this time.

  2. Gale Says:

    Ana – You are right in that it is a combination for both of them. I overlooked the point that Gwen Stefani was also blessed with a genetic leg up, as it were. As for bouncing back after pregnancy, it was harder the second time around for me too (the waistline in particular hasn’t sprung back into position as quickly after being stretched a second time!), but I didn’t really get into that because by and large I know that I have no room to complain. Hang in there! I’m sure you’ll be back in shape before too long. (And congrats, by the way!)

  3. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I think I’d rather hear that it’s both hard work AND good luck, which I think is the truth.

  4. Cathy Says:

    I saw an interview with SJP on Oprah one time and she said that she was lucky because she was fortunate enough to be able to afford a nanny and hit the gym regularly.

    I am lucky in that I’ve bounced back to (10 lbs less than) my pre-pregnancy weight within a short 2-4 months. However, I cannot say that I “fit” into my wardrobe. Weight be damned, some things just don’t fit like they used to! For me it was not so much exercise, but portion control.

    As for people’s comment, I don’t know – I honestly think it might be a bit of jealousy. They either have themselves or know women who have had difficulty taking the weight off and are in disbelief that it really can happen. Even if they don’t know someone in person, how often is it discussed online, on TV, in magazines at the grocery store, etc…

  5. BigLittleWolf Says:

    I fear that in our culture, this is a “lose-lose” proposition (no pun intended).

    Women and body image remains a conundrum and a dilemma in so many ways. You’ve just touched on one slice of the problematic pie – pregnancy weight gain and subsequent loss.

    I’ve been thinking (and writing) about this a good deal lately (particularly on this little rant: http://dailyplateofcrazy.com/2012/01/26/getting-naked/). And the bottom line is – we judge (women especially) based on appearance. We judge based on body shape. We feel superior (or inferior) over weight.

    I was one for whom it took years to shed the pregnancy pounds – in part due to genetic predisposition to overweight, in part due to having children older, and certainly, there were lifestyle issues as well – stress-eating in an empty marriage, stress-eating to parent and work around-the-clock, and not enough exercise.

    The Divorce Diet took care of that.

    No matter what you say, Gale – those for whom shedding pounds is difficult will be envious. (I certainly was, of all the women who in two months or even a year, had returned to their pre-pregnancy bodies.)

    The real issue is – when will we stop assessing a woman’s worth based on appearance – and in particular – her weight?

    Wonderful topic. And very important.

  6. Gale Says:

    Cathy – I’m glad to hear that about the Oprah interview. Makes me think that maybe SJP keeps things a bit more real than I gave her credit for. As for things not fitting as they used to, I hear you. My tummy will never be as taut as it once was, and that’s just the cost of doing business when it comes to pregnancy aftermath. Luckily my boys are more than worth it! And I’m sure yours are too!