Media Portrayal of Pregnancy and Postpartum Body Image

Media Portrayal of Pregnancy and Postpartum Body Image

Movies, television shows, magazines, websites and social media are affecting the way pregnant and new moms view their own bodies. A new study from the University of Illinois published in the journal Health Communication highlights the impact of media portrayal of pregnancy and postpartum body image. For nearly half of women it’s not helping them feel good about themselves during this incredibly special, and often stressful, time in their lives.

The study interviewed 50 women during the perinatal stage, which is just before through just after giving birth. They were asked about the impact of media images and messages regarding pregnancy and postpartum body image.

Many moms said they felt the media puts undue emphasis on pregnant and postpartum bodies. Between showing idealistic pregnancy bumps in bikinis, an unrealistic portrayal of childbirth in movies, and celebrities who return to their pre-baby weight in merely days or weeks, women are left feeling depressed and frustrated by their own bodies.

The interviews found that, on top of conjuring up negative feelings, women were skeptical that media depictions of pregnant and postpartum were real or realistic and wanted to see changes in the way these sacred periods are represented.

“Participants felt that media portrayals of women ‘losing all their baby weight’ in a short time frame set unrealistic expectations and did not account for the realities of giving birth, such as hormones, physical healing and the stress of caring for a baby,” Toni Liechty, Professor of Recreation, Sport and Tourism at the University of Illinois, said.

The truth of the matter is every woman’s body is different and every woman handles pregnancy and childbirth differently. Therefore, there should not be an ideal standard set for how a woman should look. Hormones, physical and biological differences and each woman’s unique circumstances play a role in her aesthetic response to pregnancy.

While the media may portray celebrities as “bouncing back” from childbirth lickety-split, those celebrities may have lost weight using unhealthy means, or have the resources to hire nutritionists and trainers to help them drop the baby weight. Also, the photos and media messages fail to report whether or not celeb moms are taking on the bulk of childcare, waking in the night with their newborns, breastfeeding every 2-3 hours, and feeling the normal anxiety and confusion that most new moms feel. That new mom cover model you’re admiring may look slim and refreshed but she’s probably not under the same circumstances as most moms in America.

Women also reported a complex relationship with social media. In some instances they felt social media helped inform and support their role as new moms. At other times indirect messages and images made moms feel bad about themselves.

Sources: Science Daily and University of Illinois

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