Idealistic Images of Pregnant and Post-Baby Women Cause Bad Feelings

Whether it's a pregnant character on TV or a photo spread heralding a celebrity's rapid recovery of her pre-pregnancy physique, media portrayals of pregnant and postpartum women tend to be unrealistic, women said in a new study.

Nearly half - 46 percent - of women who participated in the study reported that exposure to unrealistic images and messages fostered a host of negative emotions, such as

  • Self-consciousness about their bodies
  • Feelings of depression
  • Frustration 
  • Hopelessness - when they're unabel to lose weight as rapidly after child birth as celebrities 

Images celebrating celebrities' lightning-fast weight loss after giving birth can be detrimental to other women and their infants, according to the study's lead author, Toni Liechty.

A professor of recreation, sport and tourism at the University of Illinois, Liechty explores connections between physical activity and body image in her research.

During the time frame shortly before and after giving birth (perinatal period) women are particularly concerned about their appearance and vulnerable to poor body image.

Fifty women who were at least 20 weeks pregnant or had given birth in the previous 9 months were interviewed for the study.

The women were asked about the impact these types of images and messages had on their feelings about their bodies.

How participants really felt

Most of the participants viewed media portrayals as idealistic and far removed from most women's actual experiences.

"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," Liechty said.

Social media was perceived "as having a unique influence because (these messages were) viewed as coming from 'real people,' including friends and family," Liechty said.

Some women found social media refreshing because they provided opportunities for sharing information and honest, supportive communication with other "real" women, in addition to providing a broader array of content than other media.

However, online media also jeopardized some women's feelings about their bodies.

Some women felt judged by other users' remarks, even when they didn't interact with those people directly.

Participants were nearly unanimous in the belief that media outlets focus too much on pregnant and postpartum women's bodies. They would like to see media explore other aspects of having a baby, such as parenting or the miracle of birth.

While some women said they compared their bodies to those of women they saw in the media and aspired to look more like them, these women also made a conscious effort to protect their self-esteem by reducing their exposure to magazines, blogs or other media.

Regardless of the medium, participants cautioned that it was important to be a selective consumer.

"These participants felt that they had benefited from being intentional consumers of media - seeking out positive messages and avoiding negative ones."

In some cases women who 

  • were critical consumers of media, and
  • had emotionally supportive spouses

were not troubled by the media and were more likely to maintain a healthy body image.

Are you stuggling to lose baby weight?

Personal Trainer, Nicola Glanville provides a variety of ways to healthily lose weight after you've had a little one.

Have a read of Rebecca's story and how she used WLR to help shift her baby weight.

If you're expecting a baby, Dietition Juliette Kellow has some top tips to help monitor your weight during pregnancy

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