Last year, after a morning of hasty Christmas shopping, we sat down at a hectic, over full Wagamama table. The four of us, dogeared, whining and hangry. In walked a Boden advert. A family of four, with children a similar age to ours, dressed impeccably in Breton stripes and polo shirts. The mum and the oldest boy were even wearing WHITE jeans. WHITE I tell you! We gazed at them in disbelief as their children behaved as neatly as they were dressed. ‘Well, they aren’t even real’ I uttered, and delved into my Katsu, before dropping soy drenched rice on my grubby trousers.
I’ve become increasingly aware of the use of the word ‘real’ and there has been a unease simmering in my tummy. I’ve used it tons of times and have never given it a second thought, but I’ve started seeing it used in contexts that make me think a little bit more about what we actually mean by:
Real mum body
Usually it alludes to the fact that someone is being open about the messier aspects of life: the tantrum induced rage, the depression, the postnatal stitches and constipation, the vomit, the arguments, the unwashed hair, the softer body bits, the mum guilt, the anxiety, the mundaneness. Perhaps the ‘real mum’ photos that litter social media aren’t all smiles and clean floors, but are punctuated with grey eye bags and pen scrawled on living room walls.
So maybe I AM real because I talk about mum rage and share my cry-face.
But maybe I’m NOT real because I’m usually wearing makeup and I love the gym.
But maybe I AM real because I talk about my anxiety and PND.
But maybe I’m NOT real because I didn’t have stretch-marks and could fit into my pre babe wardrobe (why do I actually feel embarrassed to write this?).
But maybe I AM real because my life is just a series of me falling from one awkward scenario and utterance to the next.
But maybe I’m NOT real because my house is always tidy (read this)
(Don’t start me on ‘real mum body’ because that just makes me mad sad. If you’re a mum, and you have a body, you have a real mum body. Whether you’re a gym-honed size 8 or a curvy size 32, whether you’re enhanced with silicon or go makeup-free. Whether you are decorated head to toe with tattoos or have a story of scars, you have a real mum bod. End. Of. Story)
When we glorify and cheer-lead only the ‘real mum’s, what category are we putting everyone else into?
Real vs Not Real. Of course, it’s NEVER that black and white. But words are powerful.
You see a size 6, toned mum pushing an immaculate baby through the street? Or the mum of newborn twins smiling and proclaiming that they sleep brilliantly and she just ‘adores motherhood’. What about the mum who’s kids have never consumed plates of beige 3 days in a row, or the mum who’s freezer doesn’t boast a bounty of fish fingers like mine. What about those who’s kids are screen-free, homework-completing and toddler yoga-ing all whilst feasting on quinoa bites?
Well, that’s not real is it? If it’s not real, what is it? And why do we feel the need to grade something as real or not just by looking at a snapshot of their day, or a small part of their whole?
Yes, those ARE real bits, they just aren’t ALL of the real bits
It is another form of comparison against something that is different to me. Different parenting, different resources, different life experience, different hidden things, different coping mechanisms, different insecurities. It’s a fixation on one part of a bigger picture that we will never see, used to either invalidate or validate our experience of motherhood and how we are doing. It creates distance between people. Between mothers.
‘I’m not like her, I’m rougher around the edges. My kids tantrum and I feed them freezer food a little too much. I never do ‘crafts’ and I HATE glitter’. We write people off as different because in the light of what we see, we see ourselves as lacking. However, we are being inadvertently judgemental by creating this ‘real mum’ divide.
Let me tell you. Being ‘real’ in the sense of showing my rough edges has taken me years. And, it’s still not always comfortable (I say things that sometimes make me feel somewhat sick and scared as to how it will be received…like this post!) To able to be open about some of the tougher, uglier, harder to hear, complex to say, less palatable stuff has been a hard and valuable journey of vulnerability. Years of therapy, years of repeating to myself the message that I’m still loveable regardless of who I am, what I look like, what I’ve been through, what people have told me, and what people think. I’ve spent years challenging the relentless perfectionist desire to portray something that hides my mess because my entrenched message to myself is that what people think of me is exactly what I’m worth – their opinions of me are truths. You might as well have walked up to me and stuck a price label on my arm.
I remember walking down the street, getting used to life as a mum of two. I would have looked in control, happy kids, well-dressed, lippy on, huge sunglasses. Was I fake?
If I’d have taken off my sunnies, you’d have seen red, swollen, bloodshot eyes of all the tears I’d cried that morning, and the wet rims of the ocean of tears that threatened. Would that have made me real if you’d have seen?
To have the confidence to put your shit out there, you need to have a level of internal self-assuredness that says ‘if people don’t like/agree/want my mess, then I’m okay. I’m still okay. I still have value. I’m still worth something. Vulnerability is risky. As soon as you speak out the harder stuff, which of it’s very nature is tinged with personal intimacy, you put yourself out there for people to ‘think things’ about you.
Some people choose not to take this risk. Some people can’t. Some people have had their vulnerability abused or misunderstood and thus their confidence to share, kicked in the nuts. Some people hide inevitable mess as a coping mechanism – the lynch pin that stops it from all falling apart (like my lipstick! It sounds stupid but during my horrible times, makeup was the one of those needed things that kept people relating to me like I wasn’t a ticking time bomb of tears). Some people choose to share this stuff in the intimacy of close friendships and relationships and not in instagram squares or toddler groups.
They are still real.
I’m not denying that when people share the sparkly bits it can feed the insecurities of others and can idealise and glorify certain elements of life, which of course, can cast shadow onto our own truthfully messy existence.
It’s our responsibility to recognise that we NEVER see the full picture no matter how much we see. We don’t need to be victim to how other people choose to portray their lives. I share ALOT with you guys, but never everything.
If you know that you are vulnerable to being pulled into the belief that people’s lives are actually how you see them to be, and yours is rubbish in comparison, then limit your exposure. Limit who you follow, what you watch and what you read until you’ve built some more of the internal self-confidence that says you’re doing just fine regardless of who’s next to you in a coffee queue or above you on an insta-feed.
So, my love.
Whoever you are. Whatever you do. However you do it. However tidy your home is. However your kids behave. However your freezer is stocked. However you find it to talk about the messy stuff. Whatever you’ve been through. Whatever you hide. Whatever you look like. Whatever you believe. Whatever you weight. Whatever you wear. Whatever you choose to share. Whatever you choose not to share. For whatever reasons…
You are REAL.