by Michele Berg, MFT
I opened up Yahoo news today and what was the first thing that popped up?
“Chrissy Teigen Back in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue After Baby: Watch Her Photo Shoot.”
Can I first just say…Ugh! And no thank you! Can’t she just model the damn bathing suit? Why must there be the added underlying message of, “Hey, she was pregnant and now her body is back to perfect. And guess what? If you just gave birth and your body doesn’t look like hers, you have failed. You are not good enough. Oh, and P.S. you never will be. Now go back to work or whatever and feel like crap.”
This is the message relayed to women over and over again. Your worth is in your body and beauty. You must police your body at all times.
As a psychotherapist, I have worked with women with eating disorders and body image issues for 12 years. Women are subjected to body scrutiny throughout every phase of life, including the reproductive cycle. I have always thought of eating problems as cultural problems that have become internalized within a person. I don’t know any woman who is not caught by these harmful ideas in one way or another. Of course, not every woman has an eating disorder, but these insidious ideas affect us and the way we think about ourselves all too often.
I also work with women who are having fertility issues. These two “specialties” of mine often intertwine: Eating issues and body issues often complicate the fertility journey. Eating issues or fear of body changes might quietly get in the way of getting pregnant. Perhaps a woman doesn’t want to gain weight even if it might help her get pregnant. Or perhaps she fears eating certain foods that are recommended. Maybe her medical team has suggested less exercise or a different form of exercise and that feels scary. Or as her body changes due to medications, hormones or pregnancy she might be torn between two conflicting cultural ideas: That she should love every moment of pregnancy (and mommy-ing for that matter) and still have some idealized version of a body. Women worry that if they speak of these things, they appear “shallow” or that they don’t really want to get pregnant. This often leaves them to face guilt, shame and sadness alone.
If you feel any of the above, let me tell you loud and clear….you are not alone! This is so common yet rarely spoken of.
It makes sense to have these conflicting feelings considering the culture we live in. A woman can both desperately want to get pregnant and desperately not want her body or eating habits to change.
If you are struggling with any of these issues, I suggest getting support. Find other women who can be honest about these things. Find a team who gets it.
When you do, there will be no need to hide. Honesty with your practitioners will help you get to where you want to go. In my experience, when the invisible ideas that weigh on us become visible…we feel a whole lot better and get moving toward our goal.