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?