STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Beyoncé and Serena are changing the narrative for postpartum women

Beyoncé and Serena Williams have once again proven that they are icons -- but this time, it's not for the r...

Posted: Aug 8, 2018 12:38 PM
Updated: Aug 8, 2018 12:38 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.

African Americans

Beyonce

Breastfeeding

Celebrities

Demographic groups

Diet and nutrition

Diet, nutrition and fitness

Families and children

Females (demographic group)

Health and health care (by demographic group)

Health and medical

Maternal and child health

Medical fields and specialties

Minority and ethnic groups

Obesity

Obstetrics and gynecology

Parents and parenting

Population and demographics

Pregnancy and childbirth

Society

Weight loss diets

Women's health

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.

Confirmed Cases: 32888

Reported Deaths: 1188
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds259141
DeSoto172418
Madison132635
Jones114049
Neshoba100473
Rankin98213
Harrison96911
Lauderdale92280
Forrest91643
Scott77915
Jackson68917
Copiah62015
Washington61710
Leake58919
Lee56220
Holmes56041
Oktibbeha55227
Wayne54515
Warren53218
Yazoo5236
Lowndes50913
Grenada5067
Leflore50053
Lamar4917
Lincoln48434
Pike45416
Monroe42534
Sunflower4208
Lafayette4094
Covington3755
Attala36523
Panola3646
Bolivar35618
Newton3479
Simpson3453
Adams31518
Tate31011
Pontotoc3046
Marion30012
Chickasaw28719
Claiborne28410
Winston2808
Noxubee2728
Jasper2676
Pearl River26532
Marshall2583
Clay24911
Smith22911
Union21810
Clarke21025
Coahoma2056
Walthall2056
Lawrence1872
Yalobusha1807
Kemper17914
Carroll16811
Humphreys1569
Tallahatchie1454
Calhoun1414
Montgomery1392
Tippah13811
Itawamba1378
Hancock13413
Webster12711
Jefferson Davis1134
Tunica1133
Jefferson1103
Prentiss1103
Greene1059
Amite1043
Wilkinson939
George913
Tishomingo891
Quitman811
Choctaw754
Alcorn742
Perry724
Stone692
Franklin452
Benton420
Sharkey370
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 46424

Reported Deaths: 1032
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5486155
Montgomery4246105
Mobile4219136
Tuscaloosa234644
Marshall177011
Madison15548
Lee143337
Shelby135724
Morgan11285
Walker98525
Baldwin9809
Elmore96215
Dallas9109
Franklin90216
Etowah79013
DeKalb7615
Chambers64327
Autauga63612
Butler63228
Tallapoosa60469
Russell5680
Unassigned52226
Limestone5181
Houston5106
Lauderdale5016
Lowndes47821
Cullman4705
Pike4525
Colbert4266
St. Clair4162
Escambia4118
Calhoun3875
Coffee3863
Covington3727
Bullock36810
Barbour3572
Talladega3237
Marengo31711
Hale31521
Dale3020
Jackson3022
Wilcox2948
Sumter28512
Clarke2836
Winston2663
Chilton2622
Blount2511
Monroe2412
Pickens2386
Marion23613
Conecuh2177
Randolph2169
Macon1999
Choctaw19712
Bibb1961
Greene1868
Perry1791
Henry1363
Crenshaw1253
Washington1187
Lawrence1090
Cherokee1037
Geneva840
Lamar801
Fayette721
Clay692
Coosa591
Cleburne391
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 93°
Columbus
Clear
78° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 81°
Oxford
Scattered Clouds
82° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 87°
Starkville
Scattered Clouds
77° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 78°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather