The Incredible Shrinking Mom

The post-baby body has become the ultimate celebrity status symbol

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for poor Jessica Simpson. The singer/fashion brand/reality TV star is accustomed to being picked on by the tabloid press, but these days she is getting the kind of attention that should make women around the world shudder.

Jessica’s offense? Emerging from her first pregnancy with something other than the kind of sleek, toned, ripple-free physique that we’ve come to expect from celebrity new moms.

Weight control issues have plagued Jessica for years, but never more so than in the weeks before and after the May delivery of her daughter Maxwell. Jessica embraced her pregnancy gleefully, posing for magazine shoots and keeping up promotional appearances well into her final month — despite having gained a reported 70+ pounds.

In the weeks since giving birth, that unusually large weight gain has proved stubbornly hard to shed. Jessica still shows up almost daily in the tabloids, but the happy tone that accompanied her much-publicized pregnancy has been replaced with a kind of snarky finger-pointing over her post partum shape and size.

Jessica is reportedly under contract with Weight Watchers to get back into shape — can a Jennifer Hudson-like transformation be far off? — but in the meantime she’s become an object of ridicule to some, a sympathetic figure to others, and a focal point in the debate over post-pregnancy body issues.

In part, Jessica’s latest turn in the public eye is the result of unlucky timing. Over the past few years, the post-baby body has become the ultimate status symbol for female celebrities. You know the routine: a few weeks after the joyful birth announcement, a star reappears on a beach or fashion runway or magazine cover with their abs miraculously intact, their skin taut and looking very much as if their new bundle of joy had been delivered by a stork while mom was nibbling on carrot sticks.

Often the turnaround time is shockingly brief. Supermodels like Miranda Kerr and Doutzen Kroes (above) were back to work within three months of giving birth, while Beyoncé was approaching her pre-pregnancy shape in the vacation photo below, and dropped about 60 pounds, in the same amount of time.

For magazines like People, stories about celebrity post-baby bodies are a reliable staple that have a predictably gruesome appeal. Search through the magazine’s archives and you’ll find dozens of tales of stars such as Melissa Joan Hart, Jessica Alba, Christina Aguilera and many more, along with details of their punishing regimens for getting back into shape.

There’s an obvious downside to the public’s fascination with how celebrities handle this most universal of human situations. Women are given wildly unrealistic expectations about the post-partum experience, and are sometimes tempted to stay thin during pregnancy to save their figures. Obsessing about weight loss after pregnancy can lead to eating disorders, body image issues and longer-term health concerns that compromise both mother and child.

What’s more, new moms who focus too much on their weight miss the full experience of pregnancy and new motherhood. “Before, pregnancy might have been seen as an opportunity to relax into one’s body and to experience one’s body as it naturally grows,” Merryl Bear of Canada’s National Eating Disorder Information Centre, said recently. “But there are more challenges to a pregnant woman’s self-perception that are exacerbated by the images and the stories of celebrities who get pregnant, have their babies, and throughout the process … just have their pre-pregnancy body with a bump.”

And some women are fighting back against unrealistic expectations in this area. In Connecticut, a blogger community called CT Working Moms staged a photo shoot (above) in which its members happily showed off their “normal” post-baby bodies as a way of countering the bounce-back phenomenon and encouraging real women to embrace their changing bodies. The group’s ‘Goddess Gallery‘ became a viral sensation, and the CT Working Moms has since invited other women to submit photos of their own less-than-perfect post-pregnancy bodies.

You can also find a thoughtful activist approach to the issue over at The Shape Of A Mother, a no-holds-barred blog that deals with post-partum body issues. Blogger Connie, who runs both SOAM and its companion site Zebra Belly, says she started the sites 6 years ago after realizing that “a post-pregnancy body is one of this society’s greatest secrets … all we see of the female body is that which is airbrushed and perfect, and if we look any different we it hide it from the light of day.”

Projects like these go a long way toward adding balance to the issue and making women feel less alone, and less abnormal, as they adapt to their own post-pregnancy lives.

Much of the recent attention given this issue is due to the succession of post-baby bounce-backs involving Victoria’s Secret supermodels. The idea of posing for a bikini catalogue mere weeks after having a baby (as Miranda Kerr, above, did) seems ridiculous, yet the Angels have done so with almost freakish regularity in the past few years.

That alone has made them a target for criticism —how can such dramatic transformations possibly be healthy? — but there is an upside to the highly idealized image that the Angels present, too.

Women like Miranda, Adriana, Alessandra and Doutzen are blessed with good genes to begin with, and they enter their pregnancies in top physical shape. When they bounce back to that shape 8 weeks after giving birth, it’s not because they are starving themselves or their babies, it’s because they are already deeply, ferociously committed to fitness and well-being. In fact, their careers depend on it.

Most women can’t ever expect to have the figure that Victoria’s Secret supermodels possess, and most of us can’t afford the high-priced celebrity trainers they employ to keep themselves toned. At the same time, though, the Angels’ devotion to fitness and healthy living sets a good example for women in all life’s stages.

For women struggling with body issues after pregnancy, it’s worth remembering that it’s not your shape that matters most; it’s how you love and raise your children. And the most attractive new moms are the ones with the happiest, healthiest kids. Don’t envy Victoria Beckham (above) for her slender shape or hunky hubby, but for the adorable brood that she and David have produced.

As for Jessica Simpson, I’m struck most by how little she seems to be bothered by all the attention given to her post-pregnancy weight issues. She appears to be enjoying the blessing of her new daughter and is making baby her one and only priority.

For now at least, Weight Watchers can wait.

Richard Vincente reports on lingerie trends for


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