Jessica Valenti Talks The Absurdity Of ‘Baby Weight’ At The 92Y Tribeca
Last night at the 92Y Tribeca, a trio of feminists tackled the parenting and “happiness” question. In a panel prompted by Jessica Valenti‘s book, Why Have Kids?, she and Rebecca Traister, author of Big Girls Don’t Cry, and Anna Holmes, founder of Jezebel, bounced around a few critiques of Michelle Obama‘s “mom-in-chief” proclamation and Ann Romney‘s not so subtle insistence that she had raised her husband along side her sons.
But first, moderator Lori Leibovich, the Women’s Editor of The Huffington Post, asked that new mother Jessica kick off the discussion with a baby weight anecdote.
Jessica shared with the audience how following the publication of her book, she, like many authors, was in the process of pitching articles to different editors. Following one pitch, an editor countered — as many often do — with an alternative suggestion. Could she detail how she lost her baby weight?
This is a woman, who aside from her noted feminist background, just penned a book detailing why the whole “most important job in the world” rhetoric is, in fact, patronizing to women. Her portrait of contemporary parenting explores obscenely outdated workplace policies as they relate to childrearing. She proposes how envisioning parenting as a job propagates destructive perfectionism in women. But nevermind all those talking points and analyses, as what really needs to occupy the focal point in dialogues about motherhood is baby weight.
“It epitomizes so well what’s wrong with the way we talk about motherhood,” Jessica said, who ultimately did share how she shed her baby pounds. She had preeclampsia.
As she candidly documents in her book, Jessica was diagnosed with the condition at seven months pregnant and had to have an emergency c-section. Her daughter was two pounds at birth and could not be touched for two months. But, hey, she did drop the baby weight in a day thanks to the life-threatening condition and following surgery. So maybe we should be promoting that baby weight loss tactic to women in the paramount effort that is, or apparently should be, becoming skinny following carrying a human being.
Jessica described the question as “offensive” given her unique circumstances.
As a new parent, her commentary on the mommy blogosphere was lengthy, insisting that many online dialogues between parents fixate on consumerism — not sorely needed support systems like subsidized childcare. She found it perplexing that such a vibrate and populated community tends to focus on having diaper ads pulled from the airwaves as opposed to advocating for substantial maternity leave. However, Jessica acknowledged why online parenting narratives often seem to stray from these fundamental needs.
“Talking about breastfeeding is a lot sexier than talking about parental leave,” she said, citing the now infamous TIME magazine cover.
The author also noted the antagonistic reputation of mommy blog comment threads, where readers often chide one another for disavowing breastfeeding, attachment parenting, or an array of other parenting practices. Upon describing the hypothetical heated feeling of attacking another mother online, Jessica observed how easy it is to take one another to task for breastfeeding as opposed to systemic problems.
Traister agreed, echoing Valenti’s thesis that there is no metaphoric village for childrearing anymore, thereby breeding conversations about who is making “the best” parenting choice. But those personal decisions, which parents are now encouraged to take so much pride in, don’t stop at mere “mommy wars” buzz. Such rugged individualism, the ladies suggested, has also lead us to the anti-vaccination movement, a national crisis in which decisions for one’s own child greatly compromises the safety of others.
Suddenly, the “best choice” and the “breast choice” sound like bookends to the same problem.