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can we stop calling pregnant women and new mothers ‘fat’?

Pick up any magazine or news tabloid or stroll across a website and there will be the latest gossip on which star is pregnant, may be pregnant, or trying cover up pregnancy. Society loves famous people having famous babies. Then the famous babies are born, are often given unusual names, and are set for a life of stardom.

Once the baby fever dies down, media focus then shifts to the new mums and their “fight” against baby weight and how they struggle to return to their old selves. When the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, unveiled the new young Prince the media went a flurry with talk of the baby and the Duchess’ dress, but also her bump and the insider scoop on her post-baby work out.

Now in the latest gossip chapter, reality TV star Kim Kardashian has been reprimanded by the Internet community for posting a photograph of herself in a white swimsuit just months after having given birth. Comments on the star’s Instagram page varied from praise for her shape, all the way through to her actions being “inappropriate” for a new mum.

But in both cases the common focus is on these new mothers’ weight and more importantly how they manage to lose it. So obsessed are we as a society with celebrity and the strive for perfection that suddenly what these new mums eat for breakfast is considered news.

I think it is understandable that any new mum might want to regain control over their body after it goes through the extraordinary and amazing changes of pregnancy. This would be especially so when those mums are in the media and therefore highly scrutinised – and indeed criticised – for their weight gain during pregnancy.

Yes it is true that these celebrities have chosen to be in the spotlight and indeed profit off having such attention. But there is a disjunct when that media attention gushes over any celebrity babies on the one hand; and then criticises these women for weight gain or their inability to lose weight post-pregnancy on the other.

Like other aspects associated with pregnancy, such as birthing and breastfeeding, weight gain and bodily changes are increasingly projected to be abnormal and even ugly for some mainstream media. Sure we want to see the babies, but we don’t want to see how they got here or what happened to their mum in getting them here.

Even if one accepts that different standard for celebrities who interact with media on a daily basis, this perception still has flow-on effects for “everyday” women experiencing pregnancy and motherhood.

Google “pregnancy weight loss” and there are over 84 million viable options for these women to peruse. Combine that with being bombarded with images of celebrities being called fat or describing how easy it was to lose baby weight and you have a great recipe for disaster.

As clinician Vivien Diller PhD stated to ABC Nightline : ‘The fact is when you are surrounded by that kind of imagery it actually does have an effect on how we feel about our body image. We can’t meet it.’

It seems everywhere they look, new mums are being shown ways to lose that dreaded baby weight. Fitness model Maria Kang drew substantive criticism earlier this month when a photograph of her and her children tagged with “What’s your excuse?” went viral. Comments debated whether a mother who works out is “selfish” or whether a mother who does not work out is “lazy”. It seems that women cannot win.

This article does not discount the importance of regular exercise and a balanced diet in maintaining health for pregnant women and new mothers. I agree that there is value for encouraging mothers to try and find time for themselves. But I also feel that setting unrealistic standards shames women who do not or cannot meet them into thinking that there is something wrong with their bodies.

I see beautiful women in my own life who were lucky enough to have gorgeous, healthy babies with little complications in their pregnancy, and yet they too feel the pressure to lose weight and return to their pre-baby size.

I realise that it is very easy for me to comment on this issue given I have never had children. The last thing I want to do is to add to the opinions that are levelled at pregnant women or new mothers.

Women in pregnancy and motherhood seem to lose all autonomy. Society at all levels has an opinion on every aspect of their lives – from pregnancy (too much weight/too little weight), birthing process (vaginal/assisted/C-section) and breastfeeding. From an unsuspecting outsider it appears that birth and motherhood is being increasingly divided into a dichotomy where you either seamlessly give birth to your new baby in some sort earthly yoga position and upon birth immediately feed it nothing but breast milk and organic quinoa; or you cave to medical intervention, formula and solid foods.

I appreciate I am being a touch facetious but my point is that in this myriad of opinion that already encircles pregnant women and new mothers, can we not add ideas of weight and body image? Let us remember that what these women have done is manage to grow an entirely new human being. INSIDE THEMSELVES.  This is naturally going to cause some changes. Conflating pregnancy with weight issues gives an unnecessarily negative connotation to something that we must remember is a truly extraordinary feat.


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