Back in the day, an asshole neighbor of my parents' allegedly said, a week after his son had been born, "I'm giving my wife a month to get back to 110. A tight 110." In those days, this was shocking.
Not anymore. (Okay, a guy saying that aloud still is... hopefully.) Earlier today, we all learned that OK Magazine doctored photos of Kourtney Kardashian to make her look like she's lost all her baby-weight...because that's what you do when your child is five weeks old. Clearly, we've reached some kind of apex (or nadir) of baby weight-loss madness. Look, moms have probably wanted to "lose" baby weight since the beginning of time. But it's only recently that we've become collectively fixated on regaining a "pre-baby body" within weeks if not days of delivery. (The unquestioned superiority of the "pre-baby body" is another kettle of fish entirely.) Never mind that a mother - particularly one who's nursing - is not "fat" but that these few weeks are effectively, still a part of the pregnancy process; such rapid weight-loss has become a goal.
Says Katie Gentile in a terrific article in today's Daily Beast, "It is chilling to watch the culture become more and more obsessed with babies, while the evidence of how these babies are created is removed from public view." A further distancing of "fun parenthood" from its reality. She continues,
It would be easy to see this obsession with post-baby weight control as just part and parcel of the usual misogynistic obsession with women's weight. Female celebrities are under constant pressure to stay thin. But look at it another way: When women shed the baby weight, they are not merely getting back their pre-baby body, they are obliterating all the evidence of ever having had a baby in the first place. This means the one thing that only women's bodies can do is expected to be immediately erased. The post-baby body is wrung of its recent life-giving feat. Sagging milk-filled breasts must appear perky; the once-swollen abdomen is made concave. It's as if we should actually believe the baby dropped from the stork, from the sky, from anywhere but that toned, buff body.
Whenever we're confronted with the sight of a celebrity, miraculously springing back to pre-baby size within days of birth, we go through the same thought process: that's not healthy; that's not natural; that shouldn't be glorified; and if I had trainer/money/nannies/dieticians/chefs and it was my job, well, I could do that, too. Of course, what the "job" of newly svelte (or seemingly-svelte) moms like Kourtney Kardashian or Kendra is, precisely, it's hard to say: if you're a reality star, shouldn't your reality, whatever that is, create the plotline? If one's a model whose job is to be a human hanger well, then, sure, we can all see the career imperative at work. But what about all these actresses: why is it their "job" to get back a body with which they can play maximum range of skinny characters who've never had children? Unless one is playing "Hollywood actress," why this need to maintain the false reality?
The interesting thing about the whole "baby weight craze" is that it's so patently artificial. It might serve to make new moms feel inadequate, but I'd be very surprised if it's really affected the diet and weight-loss plans of the majority of women who buy these magazines trumpeting the secrets. The reality of a new baby - its care, feeding and the rush of emotions of it all - surely supercedes the desire to emulate celebrity fitness. From what friends with new babies report, running a brush through one's hair and grabbing ten minutes' sleep is accomplishment enough, and stars' rubber-band pregnancy bellies are not even aspirational, but a realm so alien as to be temporarily invisible. And if you spend any time on actual mommy-blogs, the realities are very different. While new moms despair, vets are always quick to supply a supportive dose of reality and remind others that every woman is different. "What you see in Hollywood requires surgery, or ridiculously unhealthy combinations of starvation," says one commenter on UrbanBaby. "Think about all your body's been through, and don't be so hard on yourself," implores another, when a woman worries about the "last ten pounds" 8 months after giving birth. (This woman, by the way, would be wise to avoid many of the comments on the Daily Beast story, which seem to have been authored by my parents' neighbor.)
It's nothing new to glorify the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But what's creepy about the baby-weight craze is that it's not holding these acts of weight-loss up as another by-product of la-la land living, but as everywoman struggles. In fact, the "pound-a-day" diets, the colonics and detoxes and three-hour workouts are probably more unattainable for the average woman than a designer frock or a ride in a private jet. They rely on a lifestyle so privileged, and priorities so misaligned, as to occupy a gold-bathtub realm that should invite parody. And my concern is less for the actual mothers, who, if under the impression Hollywood is the norm surely get over that pretty fast, than for young women who perceive pregnancy and childcare as easy and glamorous. And it's at moments like this that I think, Thank God for Teen Mom.
The Post-Pregnancy Weight-Loss Obsession [Daily Beast]