Poppy Harlow to Serena Williams: Thank you

A week after suffering the heaviest defeat of her career, tennis star Serena Williams admitted in an Instagram post that she is struggling with "postpartum emotions" and has felt in a "funk."

Posted: Aug 8, 2018 4:06 PM
Updated: Aug 8, 2018 4:06 PM

Beyoncé and Serena Williams have once again proven that they are icons -- but this time, it's not for the reasons you might think. I'm not referring to their legendary professional accomplishments, but rather to their willingness to speak out publicly to counteract the pervasive fat-shaming that surrounds women's postpartum bodies.

Earlier this week, in a rare and candid as-told-to Vogue feature, Beyoncé spoke about her difficult pregnancy with twins Rumi and Sir, revealing that she weighed 218 pounds the day she gave birth by emergency C-section because she had been suffering from toxemia -- more commonly known as pre-eclampsia and whose typical symptoms are high blood pressure and swelling of the limbs -- and had been on bed rest for over a month.

She contrasted this birth with that of her daughter Blue, when she felt pressure to lose all the baby weight in three months. This time, she said, "During my recovery, I gave myself self-love and self-care, and I embraced being curvier. I accepted what my body wanted to be. ... To this day my arms, shoulders, breasts, and thighs are fuller. I have a little mommy pouch, and I'm in no rush to get rid of it."

Twitter went particularly crazy over the kicker of this part of the feature: "But right now, my little FUPA and I feel like we are meant to be." And rightly so: the Queen of popular music and one of the sexiest women in the world has embraced her "Fat Upper Pubic Area" (the "p" sometimes stands for a different word), the fatty pouch that hangs over the genital area that is the bane of many a mother's existence.

Beyoncé's public revelation of her weight was a real bombshell, as it represents for many women (myself included) one of the most private details of a woman's pregnancy. Right after giving birth to my second child a little over six months ago, a nurse asked me what my last recorded weight was and I was ashamed to say it out loud with my husband in the room.

This despite the fact that I have become a rather vocal critic of fat-shaming and am constantly striving to let go of what I now see as the fat phobia that surrounded me during my childhood and adolescence. And yet, I was still embarrassed by that number on the scale because it began with the number "2." I never imagined Beyoncé's number did, too.

I felt a similar sense of relief a month ago when, before becoming a finalist at Wimbledon just 10 months after giving birth, Serena Williams revealed that she struggled to lose weight while breastfeeding, despite observing a strict diet and exercise regimen. She said, "You hear when you breastfeed you lose weight and you're so thin, and it wasn't happening to me. ... For my body, it didn't work, no matter how much I worked out, no matter how much I did."

In fact, Serena said she quickly lost 10 pounds once she stopped breastfeeding. This statement exploded the common assumption that breastfeeding and weight loss go hand in hand, and resonated strongly with me and, I'm quite sure, thousands of other mothers for whom breastfeeding did not result in weight loss.

While I would never argue this is a myth, the notion that breastfeeding will automatically lead to weight loss -- which is reinforced by virtually all medical professionals, lactation consultants, and parenting websites a woman encounters during and after pregnancy -- is a generalization that doesn't account for the diversity of body types among women. It directly contributes to further unrealistic expectations for women during the postpartum period, namely that women should "bounce back" (return to their pre-pregnancy weight) as quickly as possible.

It's also not lost on me that Beyoncé and Serena are two black women putting forth a different narrative about the ways women's bodies change during and after pregnancy. This is particularly significant because black women suffer from disproportionately high maternal mortality rates, partly because they are too often not believed or taken seriously by medical professionals.

According to her interview in Vogue earlier this year, had Serena not advocated for herself and been so familiar with her medical history, her post-birth complications could have been even more serious. It's possible that Beyoncé's pregnancy complications were also affected by her race, as black women are 50% more likely than women of other races to have pre-eclampsia or eclampsia (seizures that can develop in women with pre-eclampsia).

Not only do black women have to fight harder to advocate for themselves during and after pregnancy — which sometimes means refusing a doctor's suggestions — but they also have a long history of challenging mainstream beauty standards that privilege thinness and whiteness. Serena and Beyoncé are the most public examples of the myriad ways black women are modeling self-care and self-love in a society that regularly denigrates them as too loud, too arrogant (see the petty reactions by some white women to Beyoncé's pregnancy announcement), or too aggressive/"mannish" (see the trolling Serena has received throughout her entire career).

Taken together, these statements by the greatest performer and the greatest female athlete of our time, respectively, are challenges to the toxic body-shaming of women during and after pregnancy that our society urgently needs to hear. Anyone remember Kim Kardashian's first pregnancy, during which she was compared to a whale?

I am grateful for these public statements by celebrity mothers of color -- which also include the blunt and hugely relatable Instagram and Twitter feeds of model Chrissy Teigen -- that destigmatize pregnancy-related weight gain and encourage women to accept that their postpartum bodies will never mirror their previous ones, even if they breastfeed their babies.

As women who have not historically seen themselves on the cover of magazines, mothers of color — particularly black women — have a lot to teach us, not because they can save us from ourselves (painting them as saviors only strips their humanity and freedom to mess up like the rest of us, and it's not their job to carry us on their backs!) but because they have had to advocate for and love themselves against all odds for centuries.

This is the kind of strength and self-acceptance I want my own daughter to see as she grows up.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 291891

Reported Deaths: 6605
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19470226
Hinds18555383
Harrison16385273
Rankin12498260
Jackson12401216
Lee9635160
Madison9353193
Jones7836144
Forrest7055135
Lauderdale6735225
Lowndes5989137
Lamar579379
Lafayette5688113
Washington5124128
Bolivar4567120
Oktibbeha438091
Panola424092
Warren4091113
Pearl River4070127
Pontotoc406066
Marshall397992
Monroe3971125
Union391372
Neshoba3746166
Lincoln343799
Hancock337773
Leflore3346118
Sunflower315785
Tate299172
Pike297792
Scott291367
Alcorn289760
Itawamba288471
Yazoo282662
Tippah275265
Copiah273357
Coahoma272265
Simpson269278
Prentiss267158
Leake250870
Wayne250140
Marion249478
Covington246277
Grenada244576
Adams232374
George229545
Newton222551
Winston220174
Tishomingo210965
Jasper210343
Attala205669
Chickasaw200250
Holmes181470
Clay177348
Stone170729
Tallahatchie169039
Clarke167671
Calhoun155327
Smith151131
Yalobusha141936
Greene126333
Walthall123040
Noxubee122429
Montgomery120537
Perry120133
Lawrence118420
Carroll117123
Amite110632
Webster108629
Jefferson Davis99831
Tunica97923
Claiborne97329
Benton92524
Humphreys91226
Kemper89222
Quitman76614
Franklin75319
Choctaw69316
Wilkinson62226
Jefferson60827
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 488973

Reported Deaths: 9660
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson703321342
Mobile35725716
Madison32088437
Tuscaloosa23913404
Montgomery22369481
Shelby21714209
Baldwin19554263
Lee14827147
Morgan13529243
Etowah13091309
Calhoun13063281
Marshall11197202
Houston10019255
Limestone9303130
Elmore9283179
Cullman8856176
St. Clair8747214
Lauderdale8541209
DeKalb8419173
Talladega7424161
Walker6466240
Jackson6450101
Autauga614384
Blount6058125
Colbert5973118
Coffee522299
Dale4606106
Russell400530
Franklin396575
Covington3918105
Chilton380096
Escambia375970
Tallapoosa3533138
Clarke342348
Dallas3385139
Chambers3382102
Pike292471
Lawrence280685
Marion277492
Winston244563
Marengo243454
Bibb243259
Geneva238168
Pickens223453
Barbour208450
Hale208064
Fayette198755
Butler194865
Henry181741
Cherokee175737
Monroe165538
Randolph161240
Washington155832
Crenshaw143052
Clay142554
Macon140344
Cleburne136139
Lamar130632
Lowndes130148
Wilcox120525
Bullock116033
Conecuh106423
Perry104927
Sumter98231
Greene86732
Coosa86323
Choctaw54723
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