Is the postpregnancy body the new weapon of choice among superfit women? Yes, charge critics of Norwegian soccer wife and fitness blogger Caroline Berg Eriksen, who posted a flat-stomach, bra-and-panties selfie to her 245,000 Instagram followers just four days after giving birth.
"This is not a selfie. This is an act of war," writes one Australian blogger in response to the image — just one of many blogs, news outlets, body image experts, and social-media commenters around the world to weigh in on the matter in the past few days, putting the photo at the center of a major online body image controversy. "This whole situation has become ludicrous. The competition for women to give birth and then immediately remove any trace from their their bodies that they ever carried a child is OBSCENE. There is no other word for it." Another blogger calls the photo of Eriksen, who is married to pro soccer player Lars-Kristian Eriksen, "wildly provocative."
Eriksen posted the photo of herself on Instagram, along with the caption, "I feel so empty…4 days after birth," igniting the online backlash. Twitter users called Eriksen and her washboard abs "intimidating," "unhelpful," "obviously a freak," and "unfair to all women."
Australian Telegraph writer Sarrah Le Marquand offers a mixed review of the situation, tweeting that yes, Eriksen is a "shameless exhibitionist," but warning in her column that "slamming the super-fit and genetically freakish likes of Berg Eriksen is merely another form of judgment and mothers are forced to contend with far too much of that already."
On Instagram itself, the controversial photo has been "liked" more than 21,000 times, and comments have been overwhelmingly positive. There, supporters note, "U rock girl! I have three kids and I'm a blimp," "Body envy is an ugly thing," "I applaud you," and "Beautiful!"
"Women are sick of this omnipresent pressure to get our bodies back. And when you're juggling a newborn's needs, running on no sleep and trying to take care of yourself, that's a toxic message," notes Claire Mysko, author of "Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?" and former director of the American Anorexia Bulimia Association. So, she tells Yahoo Shine, it's not surprising when people have strong reactions to photos like Eriksen's. "While I don't think it's helpful to shame the individual mothers who choose to post pictures of themselves, I do think the pushback signals a healthy reaction to some very unhealthy and unrealistic cultural expectations."
Earlier photos posted to Instagram by Eriksen show her with a barely-there bump at nine months pregnant, which displeased some followers and may have flown in the face of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' pregnancy weight guidelines. Those recommendations say that "underweight" women (with a BMI of less than 18.5) should gain 28 to 40 pounds during a pregnancy, while those of "normal weight" (with a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9) should put on 25 to 35.
But prenatal nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Melinda Johnson warns against jumping to conclusions from Eriksen's photos, noting that every woman is an individual, with individual needs and abilities. "Obviously, what we're looking at is someone who is genetically gifted," she tells Yahoo Shine. "But we can't say she's unhealthy, we can't say [what] she is. The picture alone doesn't tell us anything at all about her health, the health of her pregnancy [or] even her happiness."