Loving Our Bodies Through Depression And Beyond
When Jillian Michaels said that she didn't plan on ever getting pregnant because she couldn't see "doing that to (her) body," my buttons were pushed. Lots and lots of my buttons were pushed. My body image buttons, my proud-mama buttons, my feminist-critique-of-the-culture (aka my why-do-we-never-see-real-womens-bodies-in-popular-culture, and my why-does-everyone-expect-me-to-look-like-I-did-at-25) buttons, my where-are-all-the-good-feminist-role-model buttons, and some buttons that I'd forgotten I had. And I lost my temper, a bit. I'm feeling a little badly about that. I stand by the substance of my general arguments, mind you, but still. I shouldn't have let my temper get the better of me.
Still: those buttons. Lots of them, as I said, were pushed. There was one button that got pushed -- probably the most significant button -- and I didn't even really realize until I came across another, entirely unrelated story. People Who Are More Depressed Eat More Chocolate.
As I scanned the article -- which considered the real puzzler, which is whether people eat chocolate because they are depressed, or are depressed because they eat chocolate -- it struck me: I had eaten a lot of chocolate in the darkest periods of my post-partum depression. I had eaten a lot of chocolate, and it had not made me feel better because there were too many moments, while eating chocolate, that I looked over the rumpled expanse of my belly and felt pummeled and shoved further into my pit of despair: I was sad and fat. I was stuck and fat. I was gripped by anxiety and darkness and I would never be the same again because look at me.
Postpartum depression -- depression in general -- is much more complicated than just being miserable about some aspect of motherhood, body image or otherwise. But the struggle to come to terms with one's transformed body can play, I think, a very significant role in PPD. New motherhood is discombobulating for many reasons, but the transformation of one's very self -- bigger feet! a belly that still looks pregnant! a whole new set of boobs! -- can make one feel alienated from one's self, and that can be extremely distressing. If one isn't struggling with depression, that alienation from self might just feel uncomfortable or frustrating (some, of course, might not experience it at all). But if one is struggling with depression, that alienation from self -- that disconnectedness from one's body, that sense of horror or disappointment or loathing or fear in response to one's transformed physical self -- can be a terrible, terrible thing.
One of the writers at Jezebel addressed this -- somewhat blithely -- some weeks ago, in covering an episode of former Playboy model Kendra Wilkinson's reality show, noting that Kendra's complaints about her postpartum figure were probably a standard matter for new moms. "While these feelings are probably common among many women post-birth, postpartum depression or no," she wrote in an article entitled How Playboy Models Can Trigger Postpartum Depression, "it's fair to say that Kendra's concerns are probably amplified by the environment she'd lived in at the Playboy Mansion —- where she lived as one of Hef's girlfriends from the ages of 18 to 23 —- in which the worth of young women is based primarily on youth and appearance." It might indeed be fair to say that -- although I would argue strenuously that exposure to Playboy models alone does not "trigger" postpartum depression -- all of us, not just the Kendras of the world -- live in a culture wherein the worth of all women, old and young, is based primarily on youth and appearance. Or at least, seems to.
So it is arguable that constant exposure to headlines like "Gisele Lost Her Baby Weight In Three Weeks!" or "Khloe Kardashian: How I Got My Body Back!" or "Celebrity Trainer Says Of Pregnancy: I Won't Do That To My Body" might aggravate the feelings of self-alienation and self-loathing that can go so far to worsening postpartum depression.
Hence my buttons. I still wear the scars of my postpartum depression -- I still wear the depression itself (when do we stop calling it postpartum, anyway? When do we just say, depressed?) -- and I bear the imprint of a whole host of body-image-related wounds, so that I recoil when I hear about Gisele being praised for being back in front of the camera in a matter of weeks. Such that I freaked out, a little -- okay, a lot -- when I read those seven little words uttered by Jillian Michaels, fitness guru, celebrity trainer, body image role model, whose DVDs I'd been working out to in an effort to address my issues: I couldn't do that to my body.
I don't know what the solution is. Our culture is saturated to the dripping point with this idea that women's bodies have to be perfect, or perfected, to be desirable, an idea that does not serve mothers -- and especially not new mothers -- well. We can continue to visit and support sites like The Shape Of A Mother and Tracey Clark's "self-kindness collaborative," I Am Enough, but is this enough? Will anything ever be enough? Or will we -- will I -- always need to guard our buttons, hoping against all reasonable hope that when they get pushed -- as we know that they will -- that it will not hurt too much? And, of course, that we will not eat too much chocolate.