When personal trainer Sia Cooper was six months pregnant with her daughter, Everly, she posted a photo to Instagram—of her six-pack abs. The backlash was swift and severe; Cooper began receiving death threats. And the criticism didn't stop after that single post—in the years to come, she got flack for taking selfies, having tattoos and piercings, even for posting (fun!) videos of herself working out in the aisles at Target.
In March of this year, Cooper responded to her detractors by posting a tongue-in-cheek photo of herself doing the things she's so often picked apart for—like drinking wine and letting her kids eat chocolate (both of which she only allows in moderation)—with "Bad Mom" emblazoned on her arm. Once again, the post went viral—but this time, with an outpouring of support from moms who had similarly felt judged and diminished for failing to live up to expectations set by others. Here, Cooper explains how she learned to turn the negative energy directed towards her into strength to empower other parents to take care of their kids and *themselves* with confidence.
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I think all mothers have been criticized at least once for their parenting decisions. Personally, I've lost count. Since launching my Diary of a Fit Mommy brand four years ago, online trolls have weighed in on everything from co-sleeping to using plastic Crock-Pot liners. However, the biggest criticism that I’ve received—and still get—is that I make time for fitness even though I'm a busy mom.
The drama began when a major tabloid picked up on the fact that I still had a six-pack while seven months pregnant with my second child. Readers were quick to share abrasive reactions. They claimed my abs were so tight that I’d smother my baby in utero, or that continuing to work out would lead to shaken baby syndrome. Some even called it child abuse.
They claimed my abs were so tight that I’d smother my baby in utero, or that continuing to work out would lead to shaken baby syndrome. Some even called it child abuse.
As you can imagine, dealing with nasty and threatening comments is scary, shocking, and sad. If people aren't upset about my abs, they're outraged because I exercise while shopping for my family. If it’s not that, then I’m criticized for my very presence on social media: “Why are you on Instagram? Don’t you have kids to take care of?” (That’s always the go-to rebuke for any mom when someone doesn’t like or understand what we’re doing.)
Throwback to when I was 6 months pregnant with Everly. I went viral for the very first time when the news said I had a six pack during pregnancy (LOL). Although that’s totally ridiculous, I will say one thing. The female body is so incredible and capable of doing SO much. I kept a fit pregnancy up until the day my water broke and I’m so thankful for that! Your baby is so well protected in your womb and your organs accommodate to fit this amazing little tiny life inside of you. Just watch.. some of you guys may be stunned, but this is what our bodies were made to do! Amazing right! Wonder how baby #3 will go. 🤣🤷🏽♀️ and no i am not pregnant! #fitpregnancy
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My point is, there's no shortage of criticism when it comes to mothers. We hold women to tough, often contradictory societal standards. On one hand, we have extra pressure to be healthy—and for moms, that’s mainly for the health of our babies, without much focus on the mother. On the other hand, if you practice good habits like exercising, people think it's too much, too egocentric. I get picked apart for doing lunges at Target; Jessica Simpson was mocked for gaining weight while satisfying her pregnancy cravings. So are we all "bad moms"? Nah.
Obviously, I care about physical fitness, and I don't think it's selfish to do so, either. In putting your health first, you are also putting your children first. A baby’s health is paramount, but so is the mother’s health. You can’t have one without the other. We need to shift our thinking to nurture the health of mothers just as much as we do for our children. As a former nurse, I want to emphasize that maternal health is not just about keeping a fit pregnancy. It’s the span of what's going on with a woman’s body during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum.
Staying healthy is good for me, and it benefits my children, too.
Then there's the mental-health piece. Exercising helps me be a better parent by keeping me sane. I work from home, and some days, I have to get out. I just need a little time away from my children and husband. Like most moms, I can feel pulled in a lot of different directions. This is compounded when you work from home and all of those “directions” are right in front of you—or just down the hall. The time I take to go for a solo run, lift weights on my own time, or exercise helps me clear my mind and de-stress—which makes me refreshed and excited for family time.
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I didn't always feel this way. I used to feel guilty about jumping toward my weights once my babies fell asleep. Then I realized that if I couldn't take care of myself, how in the world was I supposed to take care of my family? Today, I feel that staying healthy is good for me, and it benefits my children, too. I give them a mother who is in physical shape to pick them up and run with them. I get to add years to my life to spend more time with them. And when we run around together or cook as a family, they're learning about nutrition and fitness without even knowing it.
Not all mothers want to makes fitness a top priority, and that's okay. We are all trying to mother the best way that we can. Instead of constantly rushing to judgment, it’s important that we all work to support one another. Because if you're a mom, nobody knows the hard work you're putting into your children’s lives more than you do. So here's my advice: Feel good about your level of exercise, whatever it may be. Never apologize for taking care of yourself along with your family. Oh, and this is an important one: Don't let strangers on the internet make you feel bad about your life, because they're not living it. You are.
There's no way around it: Mom-ing in the age of social media is complicated. Here's how model Katie Willcox is raising her daughter to be confident. And this is how Miranda Kerr practices mindfulness with her son.
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