When The Snapback Isn’t Snapping Back
Celebrities are frequently praised for returning to their pre-pregnancy body before the umbilical cord is even cut. Most of us join in a chorus of oohs and aahs, share their selfies, and lament over how we need to put down the doughnuts and promptly find our way to the gym. Although entertaining, the relationship between our society and “snapback” culture can have detrimental implications on women’s self-esteem and overall mental health.
This is especially true for Black women who already face unique challenges not meeting Eurocentric societal standards of beauty. Snapback culture places an unfair and sexist pressure on women to be both the creator of life and sex kittens simultaneously. It creates a dishonest and shallow narrative that only focuses on the physical aesthetic of post-partum life and perpetuates unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of women to view childbirth and healing like a quick store run.
While on a Zoom happy hour with a few other Black new moms recently, I realized we were all struggling with various aspects of our postpartum identities. We tap-danced around the topic between glasses of wine until I finally blurted out that my sex drive is non-existent. After a collective exhale, one by one, my friends began sharing their good, their bad, and their ugly. We talked about our breasts that now look like deflated pancakes, our depleted energy, our unshaved legs, and our wardrobe of leggings that accommodate our new kangaroo pouch.
The multi-dimensional one dimension of the snapback
One might think that social media provides a multi-dimensional, almost voyeuristic look at post-partum, but it doesn’t. On one hand, there’s praise over snapping back that reinforces a nasty side of the media that promotes body-shaming. When photos were released of Lauren London attending a Lakers game after giving birth to her son, Kross, the internet exploded with criticism about her baby weight. But on the other hand, we sometimes hear the honest challenges that celebrities like Beyoncé and Chrissy Teigen experienced postpartum.
In Beyoncé’s Netflix documentary, “Homecoming,” she shared that she weighed 218 pounds when she gave birth to Rumi and Sir and had challenges with toxemia. While I appreciate the transparency, if you fast forward to now all of these women look amazing. I’m not suggesting that they should’ve held onto their baby weight just to make me feel better about my battle with the bulge. After all, Beyoncé had to prepare for the glory that was Beychella. But the average mom doesn’t have access to nutritionists, celebrity trainers, and the motivation of our career hinging on maintaining a certain physical aesthetic, or at least something close to it. Making comparisons to a celebrity mom and listening to the lies of social media are grave mistakes. To make matters worse, this is only one dimension of childbirth. The media tends to primarily highlight who gained weight, who lost weight, how they lose it, and why you should question your existence for not doing the same. Postpartum is so much deeper than just weight loss.
Typical postpartum recovery ranges between six to eight weeks but can vary depending on factors like age, hours in labor, type of labor, and pre-existing health conditions. Aside from some of the more immediate changes that women experience such as hormonal fluctuation and vaginal bleeding and soreness, many women also struggle with either postpartum depression (PPD) or the baby blues.
About 70% to 80% of women experience slight mood swings post-partum. Doctors say that infrequent mood swings are common after giving birth, but if symptoms persist longer than a few weeks, it might be PPD. Between 10% and 20% of new mothers will experience PPD and a recent study found that 1 in 7 women might experience PPD in the year following giving birth.
Sleep deprivation only adds insult to injury. It’s hard to feel emotionally and mentally centered when you’re tired as hell. A study found that just 5% of parents with children zero to six months old sleep a full eight hours and only 43% get between one and three hours of undisturbed sleep on a regular basis. I was among the 43%.
For the first three months, I slept minimally during the day while my daughter slept and was up all night watching “The Golden Girls” and “My 600lb Life.” I was also figuring out how to be a mother. I had just made a huge transition from only having to care for myself to caring for and protecting this little human who was helpless and completely dependent on me and my husband. Talk about a lot of pressure.
Society, Black women, and our bodies
During my pregnancy, I gained 60 pounds. Before getting pregnant I was a healthy weight, followed a keto diet, and exercised regularly. About five months after giving birth and once my postpartum mental fog began to clear, I became disgusted with my postpartum body.
For centuries, Black women have been told we aren’t beautiful, nor do we possess worth beyond sexual fetish. Social media and cultural appropriation of the Black community have both exacerbated this and created a small plot twist. There are now three categories of acceptable Black female body types that dominate the media. The “fitspiration” in which women are thin and muscular, the age-old Eurocentric skinny, and the Magic City stripper build – with a round large backside and a waist the size of a pencil. While two of these categories contradict the mainstream waif Eurocentric standard of beauty – a standard that has been oppressive to Black women for years — many Black women still feel trapped in a revolving door of societal expectations.
Mind, body, and sex
So what happens when you’re exhausted, mentally fatigued, overweight, and don’t feel sexy? For me, it was a decline in sex. At first, I attributed the change in my sex drive to sleep deprivation and hormonal changes. But the truth was I didn’t feel pretty.
I felt sloppy and because I was so distracted being a new mom, I stopped taking care of myself, which only fanned the flames and made me feel worse. It was a vicious cycle that resulted in lowered self-esteem and a confused husband. I finally shared with him how I felt, and we were able to get our sex life back on track. But it took time, effort, and patience — and a little horny goat weed.
Reconceptualizing the snapback
Although I still stan Kelly Rowland’s flat stomach, I had to accept that I will never be my pre-pregnancy self again, and that’s okay. Giving myself permission to release that pressure has been freeing. I still feel it’s important to exercise and eat healthy, but I have also grown a deeper appreciation for my body.
It has carried me through years of trauma and failures and successes and celebrations. It has done one of the most magical things that one can do – breathe life into this earth. I have reconceptualized my definition of the snapback to one that empowers and celebrates me on my terms, and I challenge other moms to do the same.