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Body Image & Motherhood: Interview w/Claire Mysko, Co-author of "Does This Pregnancy Makes Me Look Fat?"


Momasphere had the chance to talk to Claire Mysko, a feminist and writer who co-authored the newly released book called Does This Pregnancy Make Mee Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby with Magali Amadei. In it they surveyed more than 400 women, including those who are considering starting a family, moms-to-be, and mothers. They offer a much-needed forewarning on what to expect from your changing body, exposing the myths, challenges, and insecurities you’ll face throughout. Claire writes books, blogs, leads workshops, and consults with companies and organizations that want to reach girls and women with empowering messages. She has served as the director of the American Anorexia Bulimia Association, the Executive Editor of SmartGirl, and the Assistant Director of Communications for Girls Inc. She is also the co-founder of Inside Beauty, an outreach program dedicated to promoting healthy body image. The following is Momasphere's exclusive interview with author Claire Mysko:


Q. Momasphere: You have been working for years with girls across the country on issues of body image and self-esteem. What inspired you to begin this book project, which I understand involved interviewing more than 400 women?
A. Claire Mysko: My co-author Magali Amadei and I started talking about the idea for this book when she was pregnant with her daughter. Suddenly it became clear that pregnancy and new motherhood are times of tremendous body image insecurity for women. Our bodies goes through major changes, yet there's not a lot of support to help us process those changes in a healthy way. From the doctor's office to the newsstand to the playground, there's plenty of talk about weight gain and weight loss, but we weren't hearing anything about how women were really dealing with all those pressures. So we started asking.

Q. Momasphere:   The nature of the questions you asked the interviewees was quite personal. Was it difficult to get women to open up about such intimate subjects?

A. Claire Mysko: It wasn't hard at all, actually. Women did not hold back with us, but what we did find is that they're often not talking to anyone else. While nearly 80% of women expressed concerns about the body changes of pregnancy and motherhood, less than half of them said they discuss those concerns with their partners and their friends. Many women admitted they felt ashamed that they were worried about something so "superficial" as weight (even though that worry is reinforced everywhere around around us). Others said they feared they would be seen as selfish mothers for having such deep insecurities about their bodies.

Q. Momasphere: From Annie Leibovitz’s groundbreaking 1991 Vanity Fair cover photo of a pregnant, naked Demi Moore, to today’s ‘bump watch’ of pregnant celebrities, has Hollywood’s attitude towards pregnant women’s bodies made it harder or easier for the average mom to deal with her own body changes?

A. Claire Mysko:  I think there is an upside and a downside to the Hollywood coverage. It's positive in the sense that the pregnant body is no longer something to be hidden away or covered up. We now get to see many examples of women who are proudly and stylishly pregnant. But it can be hard to keep a realistic perspective on all those those Hollywood images and messages, especially when they set up the ridiculous expectation that we should all be striving for a "red carpet-ready body after baby." At the end of the day, we have to remember that celebrity media is in the business of selling. Ultimately, these stories are all touting the It baby gear, designer diets and workout plans--which most moms can't afford. And none of that has nothing to do with the day-to-day reality of being a mother. 

Q. Momasphere:
In the book you talk about how ‘getting your pre-baby body back’ often sets women up for great disappointment and sometimes unhealthy food and exercise practices. Can you give our readers some advice about how to develop realistic, healthy goals for ourselves?

A. Claire Mysko: This is where we really do need to shut out the Hollywood stories about stars who are back in their skinny jeans right after childbirth. For new moms, the most important thing you can do is give yourself time to heal and adjust to life with a newborn. We talked to women who regretted that they were instantly focused on losing weight and and working out because it took away from the experience of bonding with their babies.

Your goals should not involve stepping into a time machine to get your body back. Instead, focus on moving forward and remember to stop and appreciate the amazing feat your body has accomplished! Strive for body confidence, which we define as the belief that you are your most beautiful when you are healthy in body and mind. It's not about molding or shaping--it's about taking care of yourself so you can pass along healthy attitudes to your children.

Q. Momasphere: What was the most surprising thing you learned while doing the research for this book?

A. Claire Mysko: There is a huge gap in prenatal and postpartum care when it comes to healthcare providers' awareness of and sensitivity to the fears and anxieties women have about weight and body image. There are millions of women who have been diagnosed with eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. In addition, recent research shows that two thirds of all women deal with some form of disordered eating (chronic dieting, emotional eating, overexercise, etc.). It's just common sense that many of these women are or will some day become mothers. Unfortunately, we heard story after story from women whose doctors said or did things to exacerbate their weight worries. And the scale is still the centerpiece of most prenatal appointments, which is a problem when the act of weighing in can be an unhealthy and triggering experience for many moms-to-be.

Doctors need to take more responsibility to educate themselves about these widespread issues; women need to be more proactive in discussing our histories of eating disorders, disordered eating and poor body image with our healthcare providers so we can find doctors who are equipped to support us and treat us with compassion.

Q. Momasphere: Is there a story behind the book title? Though ‘Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?’  always seems to get a smile, it may be somewhat deceptive since the book really deals with women's body issues throughout their lives. How did you choose the title?

A. Claire Mysko: We chose the title because we wanted something that was lighthearted, but also pointed to just how extreme our body obsessions have become. And you're right--though the title highlights pregnancy, we are really offering advice about how to confront your body image issues when you start planning a family (which is where I was when we researched and wrote the book), during pregnancy and beyond. The women we interviewed reflect that range of experiences. We talked to those who were just starting to think about motherhood, women at all stages of pregnancy, and mothers of infants, kids, and adults.

Momasphere events is hosting a book reading/signing/panel discussion event with Claire Mysko on Thursday Oct 29th at the The Old Stone House in Parke Slope, Brooklyn. Find out more about the details at Momasphere Events.



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