Mothering Myself – Perspectives On Exercise

By Ca Hoang

Ever since the beginning of summer, my roommates and I have committed to working out at least twice every week. On weekends, we push the living room tables aside, connect our laptop to the TV, and follow the home workout videos on YouTube. The initial dread of regularly drowning in sweat and enduring physical pain soon disperses and is replaced by the joy of engaging our muscles and building our stamina while occasionally laughing at each other’s random comments. I feel grateful that we are continuing this ritual despite the increasing workload we have as students with the semester underway. Exercising together has not only helped keep us active while cooped up at home but also gives us time to focus on ourselves: our bodies, our preferences, our limits. Here at MOM, I am hoping to reflect on some of the ways in which I mother myself as I continue to explore topics in my reproductive justice class with Holly Singh at USF. [My bio link for the museum internship program is here].

Yet, for many expecting mothers as well as mothers who have recently given birth, engaging in physical activity has become their “third shift”. A concept developed by Dworkin and Wachs (2004), the “third shift” refers to how mothers, besides their first working shift and second shift of tending to household matters and childcare, are also socially coerced into participating in fitness regimens in order to “erase physical evidence of motherhood” Mallox, DeLuca, and Bustad (2020). Through thematic analysis, the authors studied the causes and ways in which mothers engage in this cultural phenomenon. They determined five categories that identify mothers within this “third shift’, namely Marathon Moms, Family Fitness Focused Moms, Gym Goer Moms, Custom Coached Moms, and Internet Inspired Moms. The study notes how the media and consumer products have been tailored to pressure mothers to “regain control over their body” and examines the ways in which women’s bodies, post-birth, are conflated with “individual responsibility and moral fortitude”. Both studies also underline how socioeconomic status is entwined with these unrealistic expectations, as not all mothers are able to afford the resources needed to engage in the “third shift bodywork”.

Putting the findings into perspective, I cannot help but feel enraged by postpartum aesthetic ideals that are perpetuated by businesses to profit off of mothers’, and the ways in which they prevail. Rather than being able to prioritize individual well-being with potential health concerns, mothers are subjected to unnecessary and often impractical expectations of having a “good” body by society’s standards. Perhaps unknowingly, my friends and I are also influenced by societal expectations of how our bodies should look when we engage in our workouts as well as in our daily lives. In addition to that, the study prompted me to contemplate how physical activity is dictated by our socioeconomic status. My friends and I do not have the means to afford a personal trainer or special exercising equipment, but we at least have the luxury of space, time, and ability to engage in regular physical activity. This is a clear indication of the health disparities present in our society and yet, the shape of our body is still believed to be determined by how much control we have over ourselves and how responsible we are as individuals. As I enter the next workout session with my roommates, I will keep this in mind: as much as fitness should be promoted, it should never be a measure of one’s character.

Photo credit: Karolina Grabowska from Pexels


Maddox, C.B., DeLuca, J.R. and Bustad, J.J. (2020), Working a Third Shift: Physical Activity and Embodied Motherhood. Sociological Inquiry, 90(3) 603-624.

Shari L. Dworkin, & Faye Linda Wachs. (2004). “Getting Your Body Back”: Postindustrial Fit Motherhood in Shape Fit Pregnancy Magazine. Gender and Society, 18(5), 610-624.

Published by MOM

The MOM Art Annex (FL) is a certified 501c3 designated non profit, connecting Students, Women, Men, M/others and Families through Reproductive Identities, Music, Art, Activism and Education for Cultural, Economic & Social awareness. By creating, producing and presenting visual, literary, educational, academic, performing arts exhibits that celebrate, nurture and support individuals with a special emphasis on identity, experience, and community, MOM acts as a safe space for healing and illumination. We create unique opportunities for people that they might not otherwise have; free of age, race and socio-economic barriers.