Scrolling through news sites during my nightly 4am feed, I came across a story about model/ actress Emily Ratajkowski’s post birth body. Apparently, Vampire Diaries actress Claire Holt had taken issue with Emily uploading an image of her ‘impossibly’ flat stomach a mere 11 days after birth on the Instagram account for her Inamorata lingerie and loungewear range and that meant several news sites found a hook to write about Emily’s post-partum body. As a recently ‘post’ mother myself (I gave birth to my second son, Ripley, just under 8 weeks ago), my interest was immediately piqued, and I clicked through to examine said flat stomach. Without even a cursory zoom, I could see exactly why Claire was annoyed at the image, showing Emily looking gorgeous in a pair of slinky pjs undone to reveal her midsection without a hint of the wreckage that nine months usually wreaks on most figures.
My initial thought was to wonder who exactly this image serves. Did Emily post it for validation? To ‘showcase’ (aka ‘show off’) her post birth figure and impress her followers? Was it simply sheer narcissism? Surely, she could have spared a thought for the other 99% of new mums who are confronted with a slightly less FHM vision in the mirror less than two weeks after labour? Without rationalising, my primal reaction was to negatively compare my own body to hers. While I’ve been relatively ‘lucky’ to lose most of my pregnancy weight and I’m back into about 50% of my clothes, my stomach does not look like that. I’d describe the current texture as akin to stuffing a layer of plasticine under cling film then using your thumb to make random indents across the entire surface. I’d explain its current shape as ‘gravity-impacted’, with my flesh seemingly un-moored from any muscular structure whatsoever. Basically, I’m not shopping for crop tops RN.
Fortunately, I’m comfortable with my body and know from experience that exercise and time will change things. While I haven’t managed to quite view my post birth body as beautiful, I do respect it for what it has achieved. But for first time mums, who are often incredibly emotionally vulnerable and still reeling from sometimes traumatic births and recoveries, seeing an image like Emily’s could feel completely tone deaf. Comparaitis is endemic and social media is the leading arena for measuring ourselves up against others—on a daily basis. As a well-seasoned player in the influencer games, Emily cannot be naïve to the impact her image would have on many of her followers and from that perspective her choice to post the shot suggests a meanness of spirit and a lack of empathy. At the very least, show some camaraderie and take a day off babe.
But after that first reflexive reaction, I soon began to break down my own argument. Firstly, it goes without saying that no woman should ever feel she should cover or hide her body in any circumstance. As Emily’s career is built around her beauty and genetic lottery win, her figure is central not only to her identity as a woman but also her business. Her physicality has generated a gargantuan following of over 27 million, so are we now saying that the post birth version of that same body should be concealed? Is it because she looks sexy that we have such a strong reaction? Emily’s body has always been insanely hot and never remotely like mine. I didn’t judge my body against Emily’s before I had a baby (I’m not a masochist), so why did I immediately jumpy to judge it against hers post birth? Just because she’s had a baby doesn’t mean she’s suddenly morphed into everywoman— Emily had a one in a million body before her pregnancy, why would we expect her body to be anything less than one in a million after pregnancy?
Emily’s body is her truth. Her famed Instagram account @emrata is where she posts...images of her near-naked body. She even has her own bikini line for chrissakes. What’s she going to do? Hire a stunt double to cover her maternity leave until sufficient time has passed for everyone to accept her body’s shape and sexuality again? It’s not her fault that her body serves as a mirror for our own insecurities. So often we ask women to be less than they are in order to fit in and gain our acceptance. What we are really saying by censuring Emily’s post is that she should obscure her beauty behind a bushel, or else make her body less conventionally attractive if she wants other women to like her. If she happened to have a web of stretch marks, or a still pulsating C section scar, this image would be called inspirational, and she would be described as brave. The comments below her picture would be full of enthused praise—because the truth is, in this instance, a woman’s body needs to be imperfect for us to accept it.
One of the problems with our demands for authenticity on social media is that we only want authentic to look a certain way: something which isn’t polished or conventionally attractive. There’s nothing inauthentic about Emily’s image, but of course it is unrelatable for most of us. However, you could argue no one follows one of the most famous women in the world for relatability - indeed Emily is the quintessential aspirational follow. Were happy to aspire to her body until she has a baby—then she needs to get in with the gravity impacted crew or we will deem her annoying.
This conversation is so heavily suffused in misogyny and patriarchal attitudes. The often-contradictory standards that society holds our bodies to generates resentment amongst women as much as sexualisation and rejection by men. The post-partum moment, much like our teen years, is particularly exposing as our bodies are in flux, thus what we consume in the media has added edges to pierce our esteem. Luckily, we have tools to protect ourselves—the unfollow and mute buttons should be used the second we feel any kind of negativity about ourselves because of something we’ve seen or read on social media. The responsibility for self-love lies with each of us individually. It’s not Emily’s job to reassure us or make us feel better and she shouldn’t have to weigh up her likeability against her freedom of self-expression. That is feminism, or at least it should be.
Ultimately, we all have different bodies and the way they look through the experiences of motherhood and aging and the sheer wear and tear of life (Coronacoaster, anyone?) shouldn’t be the basis for our popularity. While I’ve argued both sides here, the better part of me wants to accept Emily’s body and accept my own too. It’s a work in progress, especially for a sleep deprived and disorientated mum, but I’ll certainly be thinking twice before clicking on any pictures of supermodels at 4am again.