We’ve all seen it on Facebook or Instagram. Many of us have also done it. We have most likely thought little of it other than that it’s a happy parent (most commonly a mom) sharing her pride and joy. But I am pretty sure I’m not the only one who has gone into a spiral of worry and comparison upon seeing another mom’s post about the successful doctor’s visit and the baby’s latest height, weight, head circumference, and sometimes even body fat percentiles.
You see, as new moms, many of us don’t realize that as long as our baby is moving along in her own curve and the doctor is not concerned with her growth, it doesn’t really matter what percentile she measures in for any of these categories. And when we see these happy posts from parents who are just excitedly gushing about their child’s healthy progress, it can really have a negative effect. I would even venture to say it could feel similar to body shaming.
My kids have spent time in the 5th percentile for height and weight. To be honest, my youngest is probably still somewhere in that vicinity at age 6, while my oldest has moved up closer to average, give or take, at age 9. Do you think when I would take them to those frequent doctor checkups during their first years I’d come home and post their percentiles on social media along with a photo of them sitting on the exam room table? (I didn’t. And if I had, it wouldn’t have been out of a sense of pride in my kid’s weight being in the 5th percentile, but likely as a way of offering some self-deprecating humor to the situation to feel less alone.)
I definitely did post photos on social media to share with friends and family that my children were doing well and healthy. But I was honestly quite insecure about the whole percentiles thing, and I always hoped people would stop sharing their children’s. It felt like they were rubbing it in my face that their kids were growing so much — like they were better eaters or their moms had better milk to nurse them with than I did. I joked more than once about producing “skim milk” instead of “whole milk.”
Our society is obsessed with ridiculous ideals of what makes people beautiful or attractive. It seems to vary slightly with trends, but it is mostly focused on thinness and impossible-to-achieve curves in targeted areas — while remaining extremely “fit” and toned everywhere else. As adults, many of us struggle with comparing our imperfect bodies of all shapes and sizes to those ideals. It may make us uncomfortable to see people who seem to fit those ideals flaunting their bodies on social media, especially if we have our own body image insecurities.
So then why is it OK to do this when our babies fit society’s ideal that the cutest are the ones who are chubby and have “edible” arm and thigh rolls? Why is it OK to tell the whole world that we must be doing something right as parents since our baby is in the 75th percentile for height and the 90th percentile for weight? Can we not move away from this in the interest of empathy? In the interest of not perpetuating expectations that a lot of people cannot meet and may end up feeling “not enough” about?
I hope this perspective will inspire you to at least stop to think about this. I’m sure some will think I’m overreacting — or that I’m just plain wrong. And that’s OK. But if I can help at least one insecure and nervous new mom see fewer of these posts, then perhaps I can help her feel like she’s doing a good enough job. After all, what really matters is that her baby is doing OK and is perfect just as he is!