Women are under a ridiculous amount of pressure to look a certain way from their younger years right into our older age. Scrutiny about shape, size, ageing, lumps and bumps, grey hairs are forever haunting women, and the media doesn't do much to help. An aspect of womanhood that is often forgotten about is pregnancy and life postpartum, and the unrealistic expectations that women are frequently bombarded with. Through both media and social media, women are being exposed to ideals surrounding motherhood where it's 100% achievable to bounce back immediately into your 'old' body (or better) once your bundle of joy has arrived, but a study from the US is showing how detrimental these messages can be.
The study was held by lead author Toni Liechty, a professor at the University of Illinois, along with co-authors Sarah M. Coyne, Kevin M. Collier and Aubrey D. Sharp, all of Brigham Young University. Fifty women participated, each participant ranging from 20+ weeks pregnant or up to nine months postpartum, and were asked about the media's representation of pregnancy and postpartum women and their bodies.
Emerging from the study, it showed that 46% of women claimed that exposure to unrealistic images and messages cultivated negative emotions including self-consciousness, depression, frustration and hopelessness when they were unable to lose weight quickly after childbirth.
The study also showed that women are particularly more vulnerable to poor body image and concern over their appearance during the perinatal period (so just before and after giving birth), and that portrayals of pregnancy and postpartum in the media are far from most women's experiences. This is partially due to the confidence of being back in a bikini in weeks after giving birth and the lack of visibly sagging skin or stretch marks, things that many women deal with as a result of having a baby.
Social media provided a “unique” influence on body image due to women feeling like the images and messages were coming from 'real women', which goes to show despite how 'real' social media is, it is equally as full of smoke and mirrors as any other form of media.
The women in the study all noted that they appreciate it more when images or stories in the media resemble more of an authentic or relatable experience for them, and gives them a sense of reassurance in their own journeys.
Pregnant women should be allowed to take the time out from worrying about their bodies to celebrating the miracle of pregnancy and childbirth, and studies like this show that the media is far from giving women a break. This is just another reason why we need to tackle media stereotypes and unrealistic expectations head-on, rather than allowing them to carry on doing damage.
Founder and Editor of The Unedit