Congrats, you just had a baby. Trouble is, it shows. Good news, though, there’s an easy fix for regular people who want to look refreshed and lovely for those crucial first pics: All you have to do is hire a glam squad.
In a style section piece at the New York Times, Rachel Felder profiles Donna Yip, a lawyer who is among a number of women—who are “not ubiquitous but on the rise”—partaking in some postpartum pampering for those much-circulated first photos of mom and baby. Felder reports:
“I think someone realized, ‘Why should I not look good for that great picture that I’m going to show everybody, the first picture of my child?’ ” said Joel Warren, an owner of the Warren-Tricomi salons.
Those images are frequently posted on social media like Instagram, as Ms. Yip’s was, to be seen by a broad network of friends, colleagues and close family. It is probable that the practice has been fueled by the barrage of images of women like Kate Middleton, who after delivering her children left the hospital with sleek, bouncy hair that more readily suggested a leisurely blowout than the physically taxing experience of childbirth.
Probably fueled by Kate Middleton? Sure, I guess. Middleton looked particularly gorgeous in the wake of the royal birth, leading some new moms to even post comparison photos of them next to her. On a What to Expect forum, new mom “mrsbachman11” posted a side-by-side pic with the comment, “Way to make me feel like a hot mess Kate !”
For the record, I think mrsbachman11 looks cute. She looks happy. She looks naturally glowing. She looks like a person who’d just given birth and was stoked on love hormones for their new baby would look. I think this is a more “realistic” depiction of what it looks and feel like to have had a baby than anything more contrived that involves eyelid primer.
But of course, that mrsbachman11 doesn’t think so is all part of the strange paradox of pregnancy—perhaps nothing will force you to reevaluate your idea of your own body and its ability to be both mystifying gross and wondrously beautiful than this experience. During even the smoothest pregnancies, the body still rebels. It grows in directions you can’t stop, presents with symptoms that made no sense (i.e., ear zits). It is, in the most basic sense, being hijacked. It feels that way even when it doesn’t look that way—people may say you’re glowing, but you feel monstrous all the same. Likewise, the process of giving birth is also paradoxical. At the moment of birth, you’re literally changing, but you’re also “you” again for the first time in months—at the same time that you’ll never be the same “you” again.
So in those fresh moments postbirth, when you’re taking that picture, the one that you will remember forever, the just-after-you-met-your-child photo, what exactly do you want to see? You, in the most natural form you could take? Gleeful, a fresh glow, exhausted, zombified, in love, terrified, hungry as fuck—whatever that moment looks like on you? Or, do you want to see a carefully primped photo that makes you look like the you that you remember being—the you that you hope to be again.
Either one is cool. I don’t begrudge anyone wanting to look good. Labor is a bitch.
But we have to acknowledge that social media in general has led most of us—some clearly more enthusiastically than others—to feel we have to not just document the many moments of our lives, but look excellent doing so. Look ever positive, beaming, happy, attractive. Pregnancy and motherhood were swiftly thrown under that bus and will likely never be pulled back out.
Try as we might to circulate no-makeup selfies and photos of “real” bodies postpartum, and as obvious as it is in the larger sense that women can never escape the pressure to be perfect, there are also individual women who have every right to portray themselves as they want as well as the accurate suspicion that life will be somewhat more friendly if what they want lines up with what other people want, i.e. if they, as women, look good. What is “natural” anyway, if most of your life is spent in makeup? If the “you” that you imagine, the “real” you in your head, is all dolled-up, not splotchy and exhausted?
When I see perfect photos of moms post-birth in perfect makeup, the juxtaposition of the baby’s newborn freshness and the mom’s smoothed-over visage looks to me like someone handed them a prop baby. There is noticeable effort between that, and what women actually “look like” after babies. And yet, these prettified women also look great, because yeah, makeup works.
Tips, anyway, for looking good postpartum include “Keep it simple? Yes. But barefaced? No.” and “Get new threads.” Of course, it’s everyone’s call to make. You could always take both types of photos: One “real” one that you cherish and one “socially acceptable” that one you feel “good” about sending around. Isn’t life so wonderful and exhausting?
I look at myself in the photo of me after just meeting my daughter and I remember exactly how I felt: bonkers in love, hungry for any form of meat available, so so tired, so so sore, so numb to all of it at the same time. I’m also greasy, sweaty, splotchy, and dazed looking. I was so terrified and blissed out that it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to spruce up before a photo. Don’t get me wrong: I love it. But I’d never post it online.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.