Mom-shells: beauty and pregnancy

Image‘When I found out that my due date was May 1st, my first thoughts weren’t of baby blankets and onesies. All I could think about was, how am I going to avoid looking like a wet dish towel in one of those post-delivery photos?’

Yes, these are someone’s real thoughts. They’re the thoughts of Kate Williamson who, writing on, takes us through the lengths she went to to prepare for that photo in a post called How to Look Great During Childbirth.

I’m always amazed at friends of mine who post their brand new mummy photos on Facebook just minutes after pushing out their babies, looking stunning.

But these photos are becoming increasingly common. And this has been accompanied by an ever-increasing pressure to look great before, during and after giving birth.

For example, there are few things as revered in celebrity gossip columns as a hot post-baby body. It seems women in the public eye compete to see who can lose their postpartum weight the fastest. We look on in awe at the new mums posing in bikinis seemingly just days after they were in the delivery room. We’re wowed by these mom-shells because their svelte bodies seem to be contrary to the laws of nature – amazing. New mums shouldn’t look so ‘good’. But the proliferation of these stories makes the rapid return to pre-baby bodies seem like the norm, making those women who do not ‘get their body back’ fast enough – if at all – seem like failures. Actress Hilary Duff took – shock horror – eight months to get back into her 26-inch skinny jeans. And because she ‘took her time’ doing it, with the help of a daily personal trainer and gruelling exercise regime, the celebrity magazines seemed to celebrate her finally reaching her goal weight. Go Hilary!

Janice Min, a former editor of Us Weekly, felt a sense of responsibility at having pedalled these kinds of hot momma stories in the magazine. But she realised the extent of the pain that this caused when she had her own children.

Writing in the New York Times, she said: ‘The notion that instantly stick-thin figures after birth are normal is untrue. Sometimes, in my sleep-deprived nights, I ponder our ideal of this near-emaciated, sexy and well-dressed Frankenmom we’ve created and wonder how to undo her. Even just a little bit.

‘Not only for the pressure to let up on me, and you, but also perhaps so my little baby girl can one day love her own children, too, without hating her body at the same time.’

The all-pervasive nature of modern media means that everyday women, including women in the church, can feel a sense of peer pressure from the example of these celebrity mums.

I am not a mother. I’ve never been pregnant or given birth. But several of my friends have. And I have realised that I too am guilty of giving women the once-over when I see them for the first time after they’ve had their baby. I expect them not to look great, to look less than their former selves. And those who do look great are met with surprised and almost bewildered compliments from me about how good they look – you know – considering…

As far as society’s concerned, women give up their bodies when they have children. And of course it’s a price worth paying. But these women are the same ones who, before they became mummies, longed to feel valued, of worth, beautiful. Motherhood doesn’t change that entirely.

But it does change your body. In ways that I am yet to understand. My survey told me however that around half of women felt worse about their bodies after they had children.

A recent study by the University of Minnesota found women’s body dissatisfaction increased in the months following childbirth, the most dissatisfied time being six months after their child’s delivery. That was the month they were most likely to feel ashamed of their bodies and avoid tight-fitting clothes.

On average, women weighed five pounds more nine months after giving birth than they had done pre-pregnancy.

For women who had suffered from eating disorders, their body dissatisfaction was exacerbated during childbirth, but it also made women who had previously had no such issues feel bad about their bodies.

‘The cultural “thinness” mindset could unfortunately have negative repercussions on a mother’s mental health,’ the researchers said. ‘It’s important to educate women about expected postpartum weight and body changes, and to find ways to enhance mothers’ postpartum self-esteem and body satisfaction.’

Did having children change the way you feel about your body?

Have you felt a pressure from the media or other women to look good after childbirth?

How can we ensure we don’t add to new mums’ post-baby body issues?


11 thoughts on “Mom-shells: beauty and pregnancy

  1. I was keen to get back to wearing normal clothes especially my jeans after my daughter was born and was really pleased when I could but my body especially my tummy did look different and I didn’t like it – to be honest though I was too busy enjoying having a baby to look after to worry about it too much. I only took photos of my baby after the birth, not because I looked awful, I can’t remember thinking about how I looked at all i just wanted to show everyone my beautiful baby. We should ignore touched up celebrity photos – our real bodies will never be able to compare with those and just think of the angst and insecurity that hides behind those fake smiles and “perfect” bodies.

  2. I got weighed at the start of my pregnancy and then never again, so I was oblivious to how much weight I put on. I was pleased to feel the weight drop off after giving birth (thanks to breastfeeding a very hungry young boy), but I did feel the need to do more and so started counting calories and exercising. My milk started to dry up, so I stopped that nonsense, as it was more important to me to breastfeed than to lose weight. Unfortunately, two years down the line, I’m heavier than I’ve ever been and can no longer blame baby weight! I wouldn’t say body image has become less important to me, but I am so busy now that I don’t have that much time to worry about it or, sadly, do much about it. I’m sure if I really wanted to, I could find the time to exercise, but other things (work, spending time with the hubs etc) are far more important to me at this stage.

    As for the post-birth photo – I didn’t go for a manicure or anything, but as my due date approached I did make sure my nails were painted and my eye brows shaped. As it turned out, the little man was 12 days overdue, so I wasn’t quite as groomed as I’d have liked! I definitely don’t look my best but I uploaded the one to Facebook anyway. When I look at that picture now I’m sometimes vaguely aware of my gross hair and blotchy skin, but the overwhelming feeling is one of amazement and just thinking back to that magical moment in which I’d just become a mum.

      • I reckon in many cases it’s different priorities but also access to different resources. Celebs often have more flexible schedules – I can definitely imagine where both parents are celebs they might take like 6 months or a year off work and only do ad hoc stuff like premieres or whatever. So that means dad is around when mum hits the gym (possibly in their home) or spends an hour with a personal trainer in the middle of the day. Likewise, they can probably nip off for a romantic lunch once in a while if they have a nanny or family who live locally. For parents who do 8-5, it’s trickier. That said, I’m sure there are many celeb mums who need to still make tough choices with regards to how they spend their time.

  3. I don’t think women should be praised for losing weight quickly after birth. In my mind, it’s better to do it gradually. This is especially true if you are breastfeeding. In the beginning, when you are seriously sleep-deprived and the babe is feeding every 2-3 hours, you have got to to keep eating lots and drinking plenty of water, otherwise you won’t have any energy at all. So of course that means exercise is important, but as others have noted it’s difficult to find time to do much more than walking with the stroller. All this to say, I think it’s fine if a woman can lose that weight quickly, but it’s also fine if they don’t. It should be “fine” either way. It can take up to a year to get back to your previous weight (if at all) and I am getting there slowly. But that’s how my body works, and I’m ok with that. Other bodies work differently, and that’s ok too! The focus should be on gratitude for the health of baby and mother – that’s what counts.

  4. Pre baby I was pretty confident. 2 babies later and have zero confidence in how I look! It’s a pretty weird thing to get my head around as I’ve never really experienced such low self esteem.
    Celebrities don’t bother me that much. I’m pretty sure they have personal trainers, nutritionists and cleaners to help them recover after pregnancy and labour, not to mention a budget to purchase a new wardrobe – all things I don’t have..! It’s the comparison to mummy friends that gets to me (something you’ve talked about before!) – wondering how people managed to get such tiny little waists so short a time after having a baby!
    In spite of this, I’m proud of what my body has achieved and feel stronger and more capable than ever, even if I think the current body is not as beautiful.
    Oh and I really dislike the phrase yummy mummy!!!

  5. I agree with Georgina regarding the celebrity Mums. They have the money and all the help with nannies, cleaners and chefs.There is far too much pressure for Mums to get back into their jeans as soon as they walk off the labour ward, I out on 2+ stone with each of my pregnancies and took a couple of years to get back to my pre pregnancy weight. I often felt jealous of other Mums and how wonderful they looked, and how quickly they regained their figures, but all our bodies are different, some women don’t look pregnant at 9 months, while others start showing at once. I am a big boned woman, I am never going to be a size 6, so why worry about it?
    Regarding photos taken soon after birth, there is a horrible one of me lying on the operating table while Mark shows Charlie to me, but I love this photo because it shows the moment I first saw my son. I have other hospital pictures of both my boys and me soon after birth and I don’t look at my best, but I don’t care, I have just had major surgery and had a baby!

    • As far as I remember, all the post birth pics of me showed a bit too much flesh so I stuck to posting photos of my wee man! (Which were the ones people wanted to see, surely)… In my experience how I look post baby is part of my new conflicting priorities: putting j before me; realising there’s more to life than looks; just not really caring as much as am too busy; vs maintaining my own identity and as part of that looking good and not letting myself turn into a blimp because I developed a taste for flapjacks while breastfeeding. Losing weight post birth can be down to breastfeeding, sensible diet or stress; it’s not necessarily a good sign. So good to keep all in perspective.

  6. What a great thing to discuss. Thank you Chine.

    I agree with what has been said about the danger of unrealistic expectations of mums’ bodies. For me, though, the cultural expectation that women’s bodies will bounce back is linked to a wider trend of expecting that women’s *whole lives* will revert shortly after birth to their pre-child states. Somehow we expect women to be back in the office and picking up social life at full pelt as fast as possible, as if one of the most significant things in all the world has not just happened. Parts of the media are not terribly good at portraying celebs as mums at all unless it’s to discuss the baby belly (how often do you see famous women breastfeeding?), so that important aspect of a woman’s life is minimised to keep up the public face the media has given her. I’ve nothing against famous women deciding that they want to pretend that motherhood hasn’t happened if that suits their purposes, but out here in the real world it does tend to shake things up a tiny bit. It’s another form of reductionism that we buy into when we aspire to these mythical, media-generated and downright daft expectations of motherhood.

    One last thing – responsibility for changing this absolutely rests with us for our attitudes towards ourselves and other women, but men also have a real part to play. The most powerful change will come from men and women working this out together. So I’d like to hear from any boys brave enough to share their thoughts!

  7. Great post Chine, thought provoking as always.
    I feel like my new lifestyle as a mum has had a bigger impact on my body than pregnancy. I eat more as I’m at home and I’m less active than I was at work, plus baby’s needs come first so if there’s only enough time for one of us to have breakfast she has hers and I grab two bourbon creams on my way out the door (same goes for getting makeup and hair done too!). I lost my “baby weight” within a month but it’s gone up now due to bad decision making (late night chocolate fests!).
    Before pregnancy I had a strong and physically fit body as I was running so much (marathon training gave me abs- now they are shot to pieces!), post baby it’s been hard for me to start almost right back at the beginning with my fitness, this has been a harder learning curve than getting used to bigger jeans.

    In terms of how I feel about myself and “that” photo, of course we’re always going to try put our best side forwards, I definitely deleted some terrible photos in those first few days. But as someone previously said the photo focus is on baby, no one wanted to see me looking puffy, pale and perplexed so we took photos the next day, and even then it was from the chest up! Bodywise the focus should be on baby too- for a (very short, precious) time my body is focused on nurturing my baby so I didn’t want the weight to drop too quick as I was desperate to breastfeed. I think I’m one of those annoying people who has returned to relatively “normal” pretty quick but this is definitely due to bfeeding and being very active prior to pregnancy. I feel a lot more relaxed about my body now because I have a new respect for it, it grew a baby, pushed one out drug free and then fed her despite great difficulties- the least I can do is give it some carbs and a chocolatey treat every once in awhile!

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