Is the Post-Baby Body Obsession Hurting Women?

Kate Middleton and her flat belly. Photo: BAUER-GRIFFIN.COMJudging by the tabloids, it would seem that the return of Kate Middleton’s body to its prepregnant glory is just about as intriguing as the arrival of her royal infant.

More on Yahoo! Shine: Kate Middleton's Post-Baby Body Is Already Being Scrutinized

“What baby weight?!” began a story in Us Weekly Tuesday, celebrating the duchess’s “stunningly slim post-baby body” and “completely flat stomach!” with an unnamed source noting, “The small weight she gained while pregnant has just melted off.”

More on Yahoo!: Kate Middleton and Other Celebs Feel Pressure to Lose the 'Mummy Tummy' Fast

The same story, more or less, ran in countless other publications, with USA Today’s declaring, “In the thin-after-baby celebrity Olympics, there's a new title holder. The mummy tummy tweeted 'round the world is gone.”

Middleton, of course, is just the latest in a long line of celebrity moms glorified for shedding baby weight at lightning speed. Shakira, Gisele Bündchen, Megan Fox, Beyoncé, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Jennifer Lopez and Kristin Cavallari are all among those who have shown off tight abs within a few months, if not weeks, after giving birth. Some, like Jennifer Hudson and Mariah Carey, have even tied endorsements for weight-loss programs into their big reveals. Others have reached martyrdom status by sticking to extreme methods—like Jessica Alba, who talked about how she slimmed down after having her baby by wearing a double corset, which, by her own account, was “brutal” but “worth it.”

In every case, it’s pretty clear to new moms everywhere what the takeaway is meant to be: Get it together, sister.

“I think the main message is that losing the weight should be our primary focus,” Claire Mysko, coauthor of “Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?” and former director of the American Anorexia/Bulimia Association, told Yahoo! Shine. “But if you’re constantly in the space of ‘How am I going to get my body back?’ then it really robs you of the experience of being a new mom.”

Snooki's postpartum reveal. Photo: Us Weekly“The message, that you just had a baby and you should lose the weight in two weeks, breaks my heart,” postnatal-fitness authority Lisa Druxman told Yahoo! Shine. “It’s unfair and unrealistic for a woman to put that type of pressure on herself.” Further, she added, “I always say, it took nine months for you to change your body, and it should take at least nine to change it back.”

So what, then, accounts for the obsessive media coverage of — and the public’s avid consumption of news about — celebrities' postpartum bodies?

"I'm not sure that the public is as obsessed with postpartum celebrities as it is a chance for media outlets who already capitalize on celebrity stories to add a 'chapter' to a celebrity saga: When will she lose the weight?" sociologist Karen Sternheimer,  author of "Celebrity Culture and the American Dream," told Yahoo! Shine. "Once the baby is born, the storyline can continue during what otherwise is often a time when a celebrity is out of the spotlight for a time."

But Mysko believes that the stories are also sought out by some who are fulfilling a basic need. “I think there’s a high level of comparison going on, which is natural, especially for first-time moms,” she said. “Unfortunately, what you’re seeing in the media is not representative of reality. There’s a huge profit web behind it all: You’re seeing the reveal, hearing the diet plan, and it’s all connected to diets and products, and driven by the typical thing of making money off of women’s insecurities. So, though the drive to compare is a natural inclination, I think it’s more helpful to talk to real women.”

So much for the normalization of postpartum bodies, as was the hope in July when Middleton boldly allowed her still-there belly to show in the first flurry of photos taken at the hospital, with baby George in her arms. It prompted huge discussions about how — get this! — women still look pregnant right after a baby is born.

There have been a small handful of other vaguely realistic incidents: Hilaria Baldwin revealing her own postbirth belly as she returned home from the hospital; Ali Larter talking about how it took her more time than many celebs (a whole five months, wow) to lose her 45 pounds of baby weight; Jessica Simpson saying that her second baby has made her belly feel like “goo” (as she’s still shilling for Weight Watchers); and “Cougar Town” actress Nicole Sullivan calling out Hollywood moms out for lying about how they lost their baby weight. “I felt broken. I felt like an outsider in my own community,” she admitted, recalling how she felt when looking at photos of other postpartum stars. “There just are not a lot of overweight people in Hollywood. I felt like the jerk who couldn’t figure it out.” And then she turned to Jenny Craig.

One of the big dangers in the obsessive media coverage, Mysko noted, is that the conversation is filtering down into the real lives of new moms. “Weight loss has become the priority, so rather than women asking each other, ‘How are you feeling?’ it’s ‘Oh, you look good’ or ‘How are you getting the weight off?’” she said. “It’s the only time that people feel very comfortable asking us about our bodies and our weight.”

Losing baby weight is a real concern, wherever it’s coming from, she added, but rather than “internalizing negative media messages and taking them out on ourselves,” she said, “it’s important for women to have others who they can talk to about it meaningfully.” That’s especially the case for women who have struggled with pre-pregnancy body-image issues or eating disorders, Mysko said. She suggests that new moms step away from the media coverage for a while and reach out to friends.

Druxman, whose book “Lean Mommy” and fitness DVD “Mama Wants Her Body Back” focus on exercising gradually and in a “purposeful way,” said it’s also crucial that women remember where the celebrity messages are coming from.

“What we have to realize is that that image is their job,” she said. “They have the resources and they have the time to look that way. These women live camera-ready. And we have such artificial images of what beauty is.”

Related:
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Parenting Off the Pounds: How I Lost My Baby Weight by Doing Absolutely Nothing
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