By: Kari S.
As women hurtle into progression via more political, economic and social freedom, I find there are anchors along the way to stop or reverse our flight. One such anchor is the media’s unsolicited focus on pregnant women/new mothers and their bodies. I’m unsure of whether I merely have a weak memory, or if the hyper-attention paid to pregnancy “fat” is a recent pimple on the face of humanity, because I don’t remember seeing so many tabloids dedicated to how fat a pregnant celebrity looks when I was younger.
It’s no secret that expectations for women’s bodies have historically been unnatural, unattainable, and unrealistic. However, the difference between now and any time prior to the 1960’s is that the “perfect figure” used to be attained by wearing constructive undergarments, while today’s bodies are without such magic tricks, as we now are judged in near-nudity. I’m not suggesting that shape-wear isn’t worn – of course it is – but how many tabloids have we all seen of women in their bikinis, not looking quite as “hot” as they did on the red carpet? People are quick to point out “fake fitness” at the first opportunity; and there are many, as our clothes are generally less covering/constructive than they were 60+ years ago.
The point is, we have less privacy about our bodies now. And with that lack of privacy comes exploitation, judgment, and harsh standards. One segment of womanhood I always thought was safe was the pregnant woman and the new mothers, but this is no longer the case. While growing up, I listened to mothers groan and joke about how their bodies were nice before having children, but now it’s too late to change. This sentiment progressed into, “I need to get my pre-pregnancy body back, it’s been a few years,” which then altered to be, “I can get back in shape in the first year after having a child.” This trend in “getting fit” after pregnancy was shown in TV shows, movies, and tabloids all over, mostly encouraging women to get back in shape after a safe delivery. It didn’t bother me so much, because I guessed it might be cheaper to just lose weight and be able to wear the same clothes you wore before you got pregnant or something like that. I didn’t start to give it any thought until I saw a magazine cover of some celebrity (I can’t remember who exactly it was) and the captions were all about being thin in 3 months after delivering a baby. My first reaction was: who cares what a mom looks like in 3 months after having a baby? And I assumed no one else cared, either, and I figured the media wouldn’t continue reporting on a topic that probably no one really cared about.
But I was wrong.
I can’t remember who it started with, but I want to say Kim Kardashian. There were the typical tabloids all over the grocery store, slamming “juicy stories” into my face, when I spotted a most troubling headline about Kim being a fat-ass during pregnancy. I recall picking up the tabloid, in a dreamlike state, squinting, unbelieving. I looked at the picture of Kim, being unmistakably pregnant, and read over the captions detailing her shame at being a fat pregnant lady. Or rather, the tabloid indicating the shame she ought to be feeling for looking so fat, with phrases like, “poor Kim, bursting at the seams.” I was appalled. First, the shock came over me that tabloids would once again cover something no one on earth must even care about. I pictured millions of people looking at this with the same reaction of “who freaking cares?” as me. My mind kept shouting, “But she’s pregnant! Pregnant people look like this!” and, “WHO CARES? Why does this tabloid think anyone cares?” Then, like a slap in the face, I was shocked again when I found more articles about fat pregnant people being posted on Facebook, popping up on Yahoo News, and even appearing in several magazines. I’m not sure what was worse: the shock that tabloids would cover things no one gives two craps about, or the shock that people care about something I thought no one cared about.
Then the Royal Baby thing happened. As a person who attended the royal wedding coverage in London (I stood at the palace and was even interviewed by Good Morning America) I can’t pretend I wasn’t a tiny bit intrigued by the events of the pregnancy. I didn’t gobble up the news, though; I simply glanced over a few articles covering the royal events. Anyway, as Kate Middleton is quite thin, I believe the media mostly treated her with a sense of endearment about the “baby bump” as opposed to comparing her to couches like they did with Kim. But the kicker with the Duchess of Cambridge was that the media focused a great deal on her body after she gave birth. Caption after caption gave us details on her “new-mummy belly,” starting out quite round and just a few months later being totally flat again.
I’m offended that women are being scrutinized in such a manner, and I’m even more offended that the media thinks I, or anyone, should care about women being thin during pregnancy and pre-pregnancy fit in as little time as possible after delivery. The recovery time for new mothers is shrinking more and more with each media coverage. One such example is the photo posted by Maria Kang last year. The photo is of herself in a fitness get-up displaying her toned body, with her three children surrounding her, and the words, “What’s Your Excuse?” above her head. As if women need to find an excuse as to why they aren’t her body shape. She wrote some additional Facebook posts about how her picture shouldn’t offend as people were interpreting it incorrectly, but I don’t buy it. I’m sorry, but her posting that picture and saying, “What’s Your Excuse?” was basically a way of saying, “Women have been blaming their body-troubles on childbearing for years, but I have managed to be this fit after three children, so I think being fat after pregnancy is a choice, and many women are too lazy to make the fitness choice, and being fat is not good.” Following this craze has been another controversy over Caroline Erisken’s full-body-shot posted on Instagram four days after giving birth. Caroline is thin in the photo, and instead of the feedback one might expect from a society that shames post-pregnancy flab, a lot of the feedback was negative, saying that she is a freak, unnatural, etc. Others have raised valid points about the competition between women over who can get thinner fastest after childbirth, and one blogger mentioned that the negative comments toward Caroline are just as hurtful as comments made to fatter women after delivery because new mothers are always judged by society and can do no right.
I don’t understand the amount of awareness being given to women’s bodies today – to the point that during a most vulnerable and even dangerous part of our lives we are being watched to make sure we look glamorous every step of the way. What’s next? Are we going to be seeing tabloids of women in the delivery room just not looking their best? What about women going in for non-cosmetic surgeries? Will we be seeing headlines about celebrities not being the right body shape for their emergency appendix-removal?
More than anything I am surprised by the lack of fury in the community about the treatment of our mothers, sisters, and friends. Why don’t we speak out more about body shaming? Why are we continuing to teach younger generations that women have a responsibility to look good one hundred percent of the time or else face rudeness and poor treatment? I’m outraged by the shame placed on women for not conforming, especially as standards continue to climb beyond practical or even feasible. I won’t be surprised at all if the new trend becomes that women go directly from the delivery room to the operating room for a tummy tuck, boob job, and vagina replacement, while make-up artists swarm the table. You might laugh now, but I would have laughed ten years ago if you would have told me we would be worrying about getting too fat during pregnancy and not being model-thin four days after giving birth. Give me a break.