Why do my post-pregnancy Tube trips have to be an obstacle course of body positivity marketing?

Can’t we feel comfortable in our skin and valued for who we are without constantly focusing on our bodies and declaring: ‘I AM FINE WITH THIS’?

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I spend half my life on the London Underground, scuttling about from gig to gig like a skittering Tube mouse. Missing trains, fielding perverts and shouting “WE ARE NOT SARDINES” at baffled tourists who neglect to let others get off a crowded train before they board.

In the old days I’d fall asleep (read: pass out drunk) and only come to when I was deep in the haunted wastelands of zone six. I’m sure some people have ended up living in bewildering outposts like Cockfosters simply because they ended up there on the last train of the night and decided that making a new life for themselves was easier than finding a cab home.

I’ve often considered this myself. Advertisements are a huge part of the Underground experience, down in the dank underbelly of London where there is a captive audience.

It was here that Protein World generously invited women to compare themselves to an enormous image of a toned, beautiful, “beach body ready” model in a bikini as they trudged dejectedly into work. The campaign all but demanded that you buy their products and shed your hideous rolls before you inflict yourself on any poor unwarned beachgoers.

Tube users wearily defaced the posters, and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, duly banned the advert. Good move. The challenges of womanhood are quite enough without getting whacked over the head with adverts telling you that you must look a certain way or you don’t get to be happy. That’s hard to deal with at any age, but for young girls it can be particularly damaging.

I know, I know. “If something offends you, just don’t look! Switch it OFF!’’ Fine, but you can’t exactly close your eyes and hope for the best when you’re negotiating a Tube platform. You are force fed images Clockwork Orange-style, and some are really bloody annoying. I don’t think it’s a lot to ask to live in a world without corporations incessantly telling you that you need to look the part before you’re allowed to have any fun at all.

TfL, which has a £1.5bn advertising business, is now being more mindful about what images it pastes on its walls and recently ran a competition along with City Hall called The Women We See. The runner-up was McGarryBowen, and their ads are now plastered all over the Underground network. The mighty idea was to feature unfiltered pictures of new mums wearing their underwear, with their post-operation scars, stretch marks, recently vacated bellies and milk-heavy breasts displayed in all their glory while they cradle their babies.

The caption splashed below reads: “Isn’t she beautiful?” Well, of course she is. All bodies are intriguing and wonderful things, and one that has recently discharged a full-blown human into the world is self-evidently a wonder and a powerhouse.

I don’t want to be churlish about this campaign, but is it perhaps a solution in search of a problem? Can’t we feel comfortable in our skin and valued for who we are without constantly focusing on our bodies and declaring: “I AM FINE WITH THIS”? Is it alright if I admit that, after giving birth myself, I really didn’t give a stuff that my belly felt like blancmange, and the last thing that I cared about was feeling beautiful? In fact, I found a sweet freedom in not caring.

Five years after having my younger child, my belly still looks like it’s holding a baby inside it. It simply doesn’t want to give up that job and there’s not much that I can do about it. It’s OK, though, because I got a humongous present at the end of it, who’s more likely to grab my flab and sing “jelly belly” than soothe my ego.

I know that after a baby your body looks very different. It can sometimes feel like it’s not your body at all, and that your actual body – the one without the stretch marks and boobs that smile up at the sun – has just popped out for a bit while you scoff doughnuts during the 3am feed, and will come bouncing back home as soon as you can get off your arse to join the “buggy-run” mums. You know, the ones who jog briskly past you in the park, pushing their happy babies ahead of them as you do your postpartum waddle a full 10 months after giving birth.

Is it just me or is there something a little condescending about fancy-pants ad directors sitting around and asking each other: “OK, which group of women are most likely to appreciate a bodily performance appraisal right now? I know! Let’s go for the saggy-boob-and-batwing demographic?”

Sorry to sound like a cable-knit anti-capitalist idealist, but these people are selling us stuff. I don’t need a business to tell me that my body looks fine. Every stretch mark, scar, southbound boob and belly overhang led to the scrummy, giggling, wriggling glory of my very own children. That’s all the validation I need.

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