Each time I stand in line at the grocery store or the local pharmacy, magazines with women splashed across the covers are everywhere I look.  They almost always feature female celebrities. This is nothing terribly new.  There is no mistaking, however, the recent trend in studying women’s bodies before and after giving birth.
These pervasive and painstaking examinations (is this the doctor’s office?) generally fall into one of two camps: 1) “Wow, look at Gwyneth’s and Beyonce’s post-baby body – what they did to lose 35 pounds of baby weight in just 8 weeks!” or 2) “Jessica piled on 70 pounds; now she can’t lose it!”  Sure, some of these women call attention to their physical being during or after the pregnancy with Weight Watchers endorsements, onstage pregnancy announcements, and Twitter updates.  But what is the effect of the post-baby body scrutiny for non-celebrity mothers?
It not only sets up unrealistic expectations for regular women who don’t have access to personal trainers, chefs, and round-the-clock nannies; it also creates a barometer by which a new mother is meant to feel like a success or failure based on how many pounds she loses or gains, and in what period of time.
Most troubling, however, is the focus on the physical body itself.  Some outlets have even put together galleries of more than 60 photos of bodies to compare and contrast in just one sitting.  Where is the discussion of the miracle of life?  Or the parent’s love for their new child? Rare is the media coverage that describes the roller coaster of emotions or the haze of changing diapers in the middle of the night.  Instead, we are bombarded with paparazzi snapshots caught of new mothers in bathing suits months after delivery.  Immediately, we know whether she will receive praise or criticism, solely based on her appearance.  Never mind that she brought new life into the world.  Never mind that she only slept for three hours last night. If she isn’t physically appealing by the narrow Western eye of beauty judgment, we are told that she is worthless.
In the commodification of the forever-monitored “baby bump” and “post-baby body,” our culture seems to have lost sight of the strong woman who bears that child.
Something to ponder: How do we change the conversation to focus on what is truly important to the new parents and baby?

Catherine Bailey is a long-time supporter of Strong Women, Strong Girls and served as a leadership coach in SWSG’s Strong Leaders program.  She currently works for a women’s advocacy organization in Connecticut.