FIVE days after she gave birth, Tiffiny Hall was in her hospital room dressing her newborn son in a jacket and booties hand-knitted by his grandmother. She knew she looked sleep-deprived and puffy, but she decided to go ahead and take a photograph in the bathroom mirror, anyway — little Arnold was just too adorable in that outfit.
So she took the photo and posted it on Instagram. “I am so proud of my body creating this beautiful baby boy,” she wrote. “Arnold, my tiny knitwear model, what a joy you are.”
And with that, the former Gladiator and The Biggest Loser trainer retreated back into the cocoon of love she and her husband, radio and TV star Ed Kavalee, were enjoying with their new son.
But when she next logged on to Instagram, Hall was astounded. “All the comments were about my tummy and not my gorgeous baby,” she tells Stellar. “I was wearing a singlet and I still looked very pregnant with fat arms, yet all these women were thanking me for being honest in showing my body. It made me realise that women really do feel pressure to bounce back — even five days after having a baby. I thought, ‘That’s it — I’m going to keep putting out images of my body.’”
Without realising it, the 33-year-old — swollen belly, nursing top and all — had hit a nerve, providing her followers with a rare dose of normalcy. A quarter of a million people have viewed the photo and Hall, who once wowed Australia with her trim figure and sculpted abdominals, is now the poster girl for honest, genuine post-baby bodies.
“I’m not going to sacrifice time with Arnold to go to the gym, and I’m not going to sacrifice my milk supply by dieting,” she tells Stellar. “I don’t want to waste a single delicious newborn minute worrying or obsessing about my body.”
For his part, Kavalee was bemused. Having made a career out of the comical on radio and, more recently, on TV’s Have You Been Paying Attention?, he is incredulous at the insight his wife’s post gave him into the pressures women face. “I can’t believe there’s an industry in what I call ‘pregnancy-doesn’t-affect-me-at-all’,” he says with a laugh. “Comedians have a bullsh*t meter where we look at the gap between what’s being presented and what’s true. What other surgery do people expect you to be completely rid of five days after you’ve had it? If I had a liver transplant, no-one would expect me to be on Instagram five days later with the hashtag #noliver. No-one expects you to break your arm and be #javelin.”
Indeed, as the couple pose for their Stellar shoot — with Arnold, now almost 13 weeks and dressed in more delightful handmade knits — they reveal Hall has been inundated with offers to showcase her weight loss and return to a “bikini body” in magazine features. Some must have presumed that as the face and body of the TIFFXO fitness and diet program, with its 25,000 members, she would be anxious to be back in peak condition.
“Having a baby is a huge thing and the recovery is important,” she says, gazing at her son. “I was stretched and sore and raw, and emotionally I was shattered. I was concerned about putting out pictures of my body, but Ed told me I looked beautiful and to go for it. If the members of my program judge me, then I don’t need those members. I’m happy having the right kind of people on my program.”
If the reaction to Hall’s decision offers insight into the modern airbrushing of motherhood, then it also illuminates the preconceptions we can have of those we do not know. To many, the former Gladiator named Angel seemed like a freakishly fit version of womanhood with her swathe of blonde hair, golden skin and biceps as pumped as her pillowy lips.
But look beyond the lycra hotpants and high kicks, and you discover a girl as grounded and ordinary as the viewers who grew so captivated by her on television. Hall grew up in Brunswick West, an inner suburb of Melbourne, where her parents were taekwondo instructors. She worked hard in the family dojang, gained two degrees at university, started working as a journalist and threw herself into fitness because it genuinely made her happy.
When Kavalee decided to interview her for his radio show — he had become bewitched after watching an episode of Gladiators — he realised she was as much girl-next-door as goddess. He was smitten; she’d barely noticed him. Hall laughs, “I was in the zone about to tear someone down from 30 metres in the air. I wasn’t up for flirting.”
But Kavalee, who will begin hosting breakfast radio on Sydney’s 2Day FM with Em Rusciano in the new year, kept asking Hall to come into the studio. Hall takes up the story: “In the end I said, ‘For goodness sake, ask me out for dinner rather than calling me in to do breakfast radio at silly hours.’ He was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ I gave him my number and we have been inseparable ever since.”
A decade on, they are a team in every sense of the word. When Kavalee, 38, leaves at 4.30am for radio, he discovers his wife has drawn faces and messages on his boiled eggs. He prints photos of the two — now three — of them and regards Arnold’s soaking nappies as cause for celebration. “I’m so proud of Tiff — it’s like, wow, what an amazing job she must’ve done feeding him to get a nappy like that. Since Arnie came along I love my partner so much more. I’m so impressed by the small things.”
Hall, likewise, is “overwhelmed with love” for Kavalee, particularly because of his support through her difficult pregnancy. Similar to the Duchess of Cambridge, she suffered extreme sickness that lasted all day, and was twice hospitalised suffering dehydration.
“Ed was so supportive,” she says. “He’d hold bowls filled with water and fresh ginger for me to sniff because I couldn’t even hold the bowl. He’d hold back my hair when I was sick and he even filmed some fitness videos for me and my members because I was too sick to do it.”
If the pregnancy was arduous, Arnold’s birth was no less eventful. At a routine appointment, Hall discovered she was 2cm dilated and labour progressed suddenly. When Arnold’s heart rate dropped, Kavalee grew teary but Hall insisted he “coach” her through the birth so she could deliver their son safely.
The little boy was born on September 11 weighing 3.42 kilos and measuring 48cm. Kavalee had come up with the name Arnold after discussing Brisbane Broncos star Allan “Alfie” Langer on radio. Arnold, he says, sounded similar and besides, they’d been beaten to their other favourite — friends had just recently named their new dog Hank.
Despite her horrific pregnancy, Hall says she was ready to have another baby from the second Arnold was born. “I can’t believe how awesome it is. I was so fearful that something was wrong with my baby because of how sick I was. I was so relieved when he came out; now my whole day revolves around his smiles.”
Kavalee adds that he now has more appreciation for couples who start large families. “I can see how much love we have for him and how much we have for each other — and I can understand how people end up with nine kids.”
They are adjusting to parenthood, and laugh that getting to the post office and back is now worthy of a high five. But they resist the idea that they should be commended for “keeping it real”. Yet given that she garnered so much support for being transparent and open — about her pregnancy, her labour and the changes to her body — it is worth wondering if Hall now feels pressure not to lose that baby weight.
“That’s a good question,” she says thoughtfully. “I always looked very fit because my body was functional and I loved fitness and it made me feel happy.” For now, though, “I like doing my 20-minute workouts at home with Arnie because it makes me feel good and like I can take on the day.”
She pauses, aware other mums are keen to gobble up her views on everything from sleep schedules to breastfeeding. But her honesty is not a brand; it’s who she is. “I’ve always been about exercise that makes you happy, not deprivation or punishment. I’m not sure where I’ll land, or if I’ll ever be a size six again.”
She smiles. “Right now I’ve still got a mum pouch. I don’t know if I’ll have it in six months. If I do? I’ll be rocking it.”