'Bounce Back' Culture: Why Are We Still Expecting Women To 'Snap Back' After Giving Birth?

rihanna super bowl
What's Wrong With 'Bounce Back' CultureAdam Bow/Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

It’s no secret that society has an unhealthy obsession with women’s bodies – specifically their size. It is, sadly, a preoccupation that has dominated our collective psyche for centuries, fuelling an ever-growing $200 billion diet industry that explicitly targets women.

But this fascination is further intensified when it comes to postpartum bodies. We see it time and time again in the media as celebrities are scrutinised for how they look after giving birth, and it’s an incredibly fine line they have to tread in order to receive approval. Too thin? They’re promoting unrealistic beauty standards: former ELLE UK cover star Emily Ratajkowski was on the receiving end of criticism for sharing a photo of herself displaying a flat stomach two weeks after having a baby. If they continue to carry postpartum weight? They’ve let themselves go. A video showing Rihanna performing less than eight months after giving birth to her second child recently went viral and thousands of people jumped to the comment sections to body-shame the singer.


Ultimately, it feels like women just can’t win, so it has been hugely encouraging to see an influx of celebrities shedding the weight of other people’s expectations and opinions by opening up about their postpartum experiences in a refreshingly raw and vulnerable way. Kourtney Kardashian, who welcomed her fourth child last November, took to Instagram stories earlier this month to remind other people on their post-birth journeys to give themselves grace: 'Dear new mummies, your body is beautiful at all stages.

'During pregnancy as we are glowing and growing, postpartum as we are healing and shrinking, and then that period I find hardest as our bodies are still adjusting,' she wrote. 'If you’re breastfeeding that’s a whole other part of it. I try to be kind to myself as my body finds a new normal. The pressure put on us to bounce back when everything is new and different isn’t realistic. Life is beautiful, you are beautiful. Just a little reminder (for me too).'

Meanwhile, ELLE Style Award recipient Suki Waterhouse shared a picture of herself in a bra and mesh underwear after giving birth earlier this year. 'The postpartum period has been filled with exhilarating joy, so much laughter, tears and soo many hormones!' she wrote alongside the snap. 'I’m proud of everything my body has achieved and proud of the kindness and grace I’ve given myself during this recovery period.'

Rihanna also recently opened up about the physical changes she experienced during pregnancy: 'Third-trimester cellulite is no joke,' she told Interview magazine. 'You just see ripples coming from places you never knew, and it’s all in your thighs, because your thighs are carrying the weight of your baby and uterus.' The interview, which was carried out by her longtime stylist Mel Ottenberg, also touched on her postpartum body. 'You’ve always taken advantage of my silhouette and what my body is doing,' Rihanna said, referring to Mel’s styling. 'Like when I’m mad skinny, my boobs are, like, nothing and I have a little booty, and you work with that. And now it’s like, “Okay, I had two babies. You really have to push this up, snatch this in, or do an illusion of a little bit of skin here".'

Three months postpartum myself, I find all of these words to be incredibly helpful and uplifting. ‘Bounce back’ culture is so toxic and prevalent that I understand how easy it can be to lose yourself in thoughts of ‘getting your body back’. Thoughts that new mums really shouldn’t be having to contend with after bringing new life into the world and adapting to nurturing a small person 24/7.

It’s damn hard enough to recover from birth, deal with unfamiliar surges of hormones, grapple with sleep deprivation and navigate life with a newborn without the stress of trying to shrink your body purely to conform to an unrealistic and entirely unfair societal expectation. Especially given that many of the factors that influence the appearance of someone’s postpartum body are out of their control: genetics also play a huge part, but that’s rarely considered when we’re demanding that women ‘snap back’.

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Kevin Sabitus - Getty Images

And here’s the thing: I don’t have to ‘get my body back’ because my body never went anywhere. It changed, sure, and in myriad ways – it stretched and grew to make a wonderful little human and I will forever be grateful to it for that. Why should I have to erase all physical evidence of that experience? I won’t, but I also can’t – pregnancy and birth is integrated into my physical being forever, and my body will never look the same again.

I’m much softer than I was before pregnancy: my stomach is rounder and more prominent, my hips are wider and I have a scar from the C-section that brought my son into the world. The visible changes are a beautiful reminder of my body’s incredible feat and I am determined to feel at peace with them.

When it comes to postpartum bodies, the achievement that we should be celebrating is creating new life.

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