Are Media Moms Bad for Our Health?
The obsession with celebrities and their journey into motherhood
Posted May 20, 2013
Even Gloria Steinem, the 79-year-old feminist, who usually reserves her comments for loftier subjects, reacted to all the fuss saying, "Our bodies are never public property under any circumstances." She reminded us, as she has for years, that the objectification of women, famous or not, is insulting and damaging.
Sometimes these new moms are just plain adorable, like when Drew Barrymore gushed about baby Olive during her rounds on daytime talk shows. Down to earth and vulnerable, she has us feeling she is just like any of us. (Wasn't it just yesterday we were gushing about her baby face in ET?) More often, these brand new parents appear part of a trend that has them displayed as self-absorbed, fantasy figures doubling as experts on how baby bearing should -- or shouldn't -- be done.
Surely most expectant moms are preoccupied with their baby's arrival. And many wish they could feel and look as great as these celebs do. But what does the everyday woman's experience of motherhood have to do with how the rich and famous navigate it all? Even the names they choose -- Suri, Sunday, Apple and Ocean -- should remind us that our worlds are far apart.
Take the recent issue of Us Weekly featuring Kim Kardashian and Kate Middleton, both due around the same time. Reality star Kim talked about the harsh criticism she received for putting on too much weight during her pregnancy. Rumor has it she gained the pounds hoping to become a spokesperson for Weight Watchers -- á la Jessica Simpson -- anyone remember her? "Gain it, lose it and then show others how" may lead to millions of dollars for Kim, but clearly it isn't something women in 'real' reality have uppermost in their minds.
Kate Middleton is being slammed for how little she has gained during her first two trimesters, raising questions about a potential eating disorder. Makes you wonder if anyone can be thin these days without being given a diagnosis! Gwenyth Paltrow, Natalie Portman and Anne Hathaway are constantly scrutinized about their bodies -- anorexia, bulimia or natural? When it comes to pregnancy, Us Weekly calls the debate "The Baby Weight Battles," as if these women are opponents in some newly created Olympic sport.
On Katie Couric's Weekly Buzz segment about celebrity babies, she recently asked "Why don't people just leave them alone?" Agreed -- but I'm curious what's behind this ever increasing preoccupation with Hollywood's bountiful bodies? During an ABC Nightline interview I asked the producer (who happened to be pregnant) if this trend might reflect the confusion women feel about where to focus their maternal instincts -- on themselves, their bodies or their babies?
You see, a woman's road toward motherhood (like other paths prior to the Feminist Movement) was once pretty straightforward. Pregnancy meant slowing down, taking vitamins, drinking lots of milk and getting plenty of sleep. Hormonal cravings were to be satisfied and a fair amount of weight was to be gained. Like the transformation of Betty Draper in Mad Men over the past two seasons, many women went from svelte to matronly once children were born.
Fast forward and women are now told that nine months of 'eating for two' is misguided. Instead, it's all about consuming just the right amount of just the right foods while exercising before, during and soon after giving birth. The good news? Getting one's body back is not only possible, but recommended. The not so good news is, it's becoming the gold standard for moms today. Anything less is viewed as failure.
Photos of celebs fighting the "battle of the bulge" have them looking as glamorous as always. They wear stylish maternity clothes -- at work, working out, even at award ceremonies days before delivery -- appearing soon after with baby in hand, beautiful and blissfully happy. As if by magic, they look as if nothing has changed. Everyday women watch them thinking, "I'll have what she's having," wondering how they manage to do it.
What most don't see, is the team of experts that surround them along the way. Their motherhood marathon includes trainers and nutritionists who tell them what to eat and how to stay fit. All the way to the finish line, they employ stylists and makeup artists who help them look their best no matter how their bodies change. Then there are the nannies, who watch the newborns and other children, giving them hours of free time to rest and get back into shape. It's not without effort that celebs look so great, but it takes a village to make that happen. Of course, there's always photoshop and cosmetic surgery to correct any imperfections should hard work not be enough.
Meanwhile, the everyday woman typically has a household to run, a job to return to and other children who require her tender loving care. Her body may get pushed to the back of the long list of other things that need her attention, as much as she may wish otherwise. She may begin to wonder; "Is it more important to fit into my skinny jeans and bikini than bond with my new baby, mate and the rest of my family?"
With so much focus on how quickly celebs return to their pre-pregnancy image, an industry has been created helping others do the same. While it's encouraging to see so many new moms back in the gym, I question how positive this trend is long-term. My concern is less about their physical safety -- being fit is almost always a good thing -- rather, how this impacts their psychological and emotional well-being.
I see many young women in my practice feeling stressed as they try to lose baby weight too quickly. Many are discouraged when their bellies remain round and breasts stay engorged for the 6 to 9 months that it typically takes for the pounds to come off naturally. They feel embarrassed, believing they've failed to meet expectations -- but which ones? To be back on the treadmill? To be model thin? When you add these new pressures to fluctuating hormones, lack of sleep and post partum vulnerability, I sense a crisis brewing for this generation of young mothers.
Whether it's Kim, Kate, or Drew, why not admire them for their courage to bear children under scrutiny and do it so beautifully? And most important, let's wish them luck in keeping their marriages and families intact. When it comes to the rest of us, remember that there is no such thing as a 'one size fits all' path toward motherhood -- even if the media may have us believing otherwise. Instead of trying to aspire toward unrealistic goals, how about we give ourselves a chance to experience this very special time keeping the health of our children uppermost in our minds?
What do you think this obsession with Hollywood moms is about? Do you think it can be helpful or harmful to the everyday woman?
Vivian Diller, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in New York City. She serves as a media expert on various psychological topics including parenting, relationships and aging. She is a consultant to companies promoting health, beauty and cosmetic products. Her book, "Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change" (2010), edited by Michele Willens, is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances.