The Puffy Fanny Thread

The Puffy Fanny Thread

We reached a new low on one of my expectant/new mums groups on Facebook the other night.

Scrolling through the usual posts of beautiful bub announcements, “could this be labour?” and questions about packing hospital bags, I did a double take when I read:

“Anyone feeling self conscious about how fat their fanny has got through their pregnancy?”

My first thought, I admit, was that we had a troll in the room. I mean, at my stage of pregnancy how many women can actually still see down there to inspect what state things are in. I, myself, am slightly lamenting the fact that I didn’t manage to give that area more of a tidy up before it disappeared over the horizon, on a purely practical level, you understand, relating to personal hygiene particularly in the postpartum period. 

However, I digress. I honestly had never given a second thought to how things looked “down there”. But apparently, a large number of women had. And they were struggling to navigate how it made them feel and think about their bodies.

There were mentions of ham sandwiches and of duck beaks. A few women, mostly ‘been there done that mums’,  were taking the same tack as me, that it wasn’t something they’d examined prior and they couldn’t now. But an astounding number of women seemed generally concerned about what was happening to their bodies and how it would affect their future self-confidence, the level of attraction their partners would feel, and whether they would ever be ‘themselves’ again because of this change. There was one comment about how a partner had said they could have starred in an adult movie prior to pregnancy, and whether that would ever be the same now.

My poor unsuspecting husband walked past at that point in my scrolling. I canvassed his opinion on the matter, and his eyebrow lift was impressive. When asked for a comment on behalf of all men he rolled his eyes at me, said “why does that f***ing matter to anybody??” and then about-turned back down the hall to escape to work. 

My heart ached for these women. I’ve got my own insecurities, sure, but they have never come down to the way my body has looked. For me it’s all been much internal monologue – will I ever feel like me again, be able to think and operate as I want to, achieve and enjoy all the things I’ve always done. In my transitions to motherhood I’ve never worried about the shape of my body, the scar on my belly (though that did take a while before I could look at it….more on that another time), or how I might appear to anyone else – but I have spent a long time worrying about “who I am” and how I identify myself.

And then it struck me; it all comes from the same place. Every part of both of these insecurities, the physical and the mental, comes all the way back to the pressure we put on ourselves as women to look or act a certain way. It’s part of our self-identity and how we give ourselves confidence to go around in today’s society. For all of us this starts close to home – with our families, our partners, and most importantly with our inner voice.

In my personal mental health journey I’ve had to focus a lot on the voice I use to talk to myself. I need regular reminders about being kind to myself, training my inner voice to speak to me about my fears and anxieties like I would speak to someone else. One of my besties will message me asking “are you being gentle with my friend?” as a prompt to give myself a break if I need it. Over time, I’ve become more able to draw on the strength of the voices and actions in the world around me to influence that voice inside. I’d say I’m lucky to have been able to find a group of really positive, supportive influences who keep me well in check and model how I should aim to be. It doesn’t always work, of course, but by and large the positive outweighs the negative and allows me to have a (mostly) positive view of myself.

Mental health is still something of a taboo subject; and in so many ways, so is women’s health and body issues. Yet the two are intimately connected, and equally difficult to speak about out loud and get positive reinforcement out in society. No one wants to be labelled as being a bit odd in any way, the fear of rejection or isolation is very real. For me it can manifest in anxiety about whether people like me or just put up with me and my thoughts or words. For many of the women speaking out on that social media thread its showing itself as a fear that they will be physically ‘wrong’ and outcast for that.

If one doesn’t feel good in mind, one can hardly feel well in body. Equally, feeling well in one’s body will boost the mind. These women, on the cusp of a major life change of becoming a mother, a whole new person, whether for the first time or the sixth time, deserve to feel good about themselves. They deserve to feel able to say “hey, they are my lady bits and I don’t give a rats what anyone else thinks” – or as I think the lapel pin should say “Puffy And Proud”. They deserve to be ok with the changes their bodies and minds are going through as they grow a feckin’ human being inside them. It’s not easy, you know?! The hormones ALONE create one big internal jumble and the adjustment to parenthood is challenging enough in itself. We don’t need more external mess to go along with it. 

So how can we achieve this?

We need to talk. We need to share stories, divide the worry and make sure every mum knows they aren’t alone in their thoughts. The counterpoint to the heartache of the “puffy fanny thread”, as it shall forever be known, was the outpouring of love and solidarity from each woman commenter to all of the other women on there. The reassurance that they weren’t totally crazy to notice and worry about such things, and they most definitely weren’t alone. Even those like me who were perhaps more flippant in our responses than we respectfully should have been, our hearts were there trying to pick up our sisters and sit alongside them.

It needs more than just solidarity though. Solidarity implies acceptance and normalisation. What we actually need is to stick up for each other, until each of us can stick up for ourselves. Call out the crap that society puts out there as ‘normal’ and instead ask “what actually is normal?” 

Normal is each and every one of us. It’s our scars, our stretch marks, our blemishes, our flabby bits. It’s our worries, our anxieties, our fears and our mental works-in-progress.

To the wonderful, hugely vulnerable women who are growing or have recently grown a whole perfect human being out of absolutely nothing….you are goddesses. The chorus we need to work towards being able to sing together isn’t about flabby lasagnes….it’s this:

“…all of me loves all of you; love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections…”

Your postpartum body is definitely something a bit different. It can be challenging. Just like the postpartum brain is a bit different and can be challenging. Let’s give ourselves a break on both counts.