Why is it even considered worthy of comment?
Like much of the world, I allowed myself to get caught up in all that Royal Baby madness. So, along with millions of others, I was watching television to see Prince William and Catherine (no, she does not want to be called Kate), Duchess of Cambridge, emerge from the hospital, cradling their new-born son in their arms. The freshly-minted parents were beaming with pride and joy – as you do when you have just met your first born – and the mother looked absolutely radiant, glowing with good health and happiness, her hair professionally styled to its usual Middleton-swishiness.
Imagine my surprise then when the media decided to ignore her ear-to-ear smile, her sparkling eyes, and yes, that amazing blow-dry, to focus attention on what they called her ‘baby belly’, that discreet little bump around her waist where she had carried the Prince of Cambridge to term. Social forums like Netmums were delirious with delight that Catherine had chosen this moment to make a point for new mums everywhere: that this was what a post-birth body looked like, and there was no shame or embarrassment in showing it off. In those minutes, as she stood before the gates of Lindo Wing and showed off her baby son as well as her baby belly, she had made millions of women feel better about their own mummy tummys.
Well, if that’s what the Duchess intended to do, full marks to her. But frankly, what amazes – even angers – me is that this is a story at all. Why do we allow society to hardwire these unrealistic images of how a woman’s body should look into our brains, so much so that we are astonished and astounded when we see a new mother put her ‘real’ figure on display?
Here’s a news flash for all you body fascists out there. A woman’s body is not a rubber band (yes, really!). It doesn’t snap back into shape like elastic the moment she has pushed out an 8-pound person out of herself. The uterus take a couple of weeks to subside to its normal size, and the abdominal muscles that have been stretched over nine months, take time to settle down as well. So, it is completely natural for a woman who has given birth to still look, well, pregnant. Call it a baby belly or whatever the heck you want, but that is what every woman’s body looks like after she has squeezed out a brand-new human being out of her.
And yet, we never see these images of post-partum mums in the media, which would give women a realistic idea of what to expect when they are expecting (and after). Instead, we are inundated with pictures of celebrities like Victoria Beckam, who seems to emerge from the birthing suite wearing skinny jeans that show off her impossibly-tiny waist. Or even supermodels like Gisele Bundchen, who showed off her washboard abs in a bikini for a Vogue cover, a mere two months after giving birth. There’s nothing quite like seeing these amazing post-baby figures to make ‘normal’ new mothers feel awful about their bodies and themselves.
Small wonder then, that these days most famous women appear leery of exposing their real selves to the camera soon after giving birth, waiting a couple of months for the baby belly to disappear. And if they do have to make public appearances, they wear loose, flowing dresses so that nobody notices the mummy tummy below.
Even Catherine’s mother-in-law, Princess Diana, emerged from the hospital carrying William, while wearing a tent-like smock, beneath which it was impossible to ascertain her exact shape. So, I guess it was a brave choice for the Duchess to wear a custom-made Jenny Packham dress which was belted just below her bust, drawing attention to the post-baby bump below. And given how intensely she controls her own image, it wasn’t just a happy accident that the dress was designed to draw attention to her gently-swelling stomach.
But however comfortable Catherine may be about her baby belly, not everyone was willing to let the matter rest. The day after Catherine gave birth, the ever-enterprising folk at OK magazine put out a new Royal baby issue with the Duchess on the cover. The headline read “Kate’s post-baby weight loss regime” and went on to add, reassuringly, “She’s super-fit; her stomach will shrink right back”.
The sub-text was all too clear. Now that the sprog’s out, it’s time to hit the gym and regain that waist, Kate. There’s no excuse for looking pregnant even after you’ve given birth. So, get on the treadmill, woman, and don’t spare the crunches.
But, hearteningly, what was even clearer, was the backlash. Social media was abuzz with women (and some men, for good measure) pillorying OK for its cover. British television presenter, Katy Hill, spearheaded a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #dontbuyok, and even tweeted a picture of her own ‘baby belly’ for good measure. OK hastily backtracked and apologized profusely for its so-not-OK coverage.
For me, it brought back memories of all the flak Aishwarya Rai had to endure for her post-baby weight. And how different things could have been if we, in the Indian media, had also launched a campaign to force the bullies off her back. It would have been a lesson for new moms everywhere that it was more important to lose yourself in your new baby than lose that old baby weight.