Have you ever looked at a fictional character or celebrity and felt bad about your own pregnant/postpartum body? According to this research, you're not alone.
Understanding that celebrities have extraordinarily fast bounce back game when it comes to losing baby weight isn't exactly rocket science. After all, we all know they have access to top-notch trainers and nutritionists, not to mention professional photographers and retouchers who can make them look flawless. Yet time and time again, women everywhere compare their own pregnant and postpartum bodies to the ones they see in the media, and often feel like failures as a result.
The same effect holds true where fictional characters are concerned: TV shows and movies portray their pregnancies by shoving a cute little 'baby bump' up a (usually very slender) star's shirt, and as soon as the baby is born, all evidence of that fictitious pregnancy flies out the window. In real life, though? Things don't really happen that way, at least not for most people.
From a purely objective standpoint, we all understand that Hollywood depictions of pregnancy aren't often accurate—but that doesn't mean they don't mess with our heads, and new research from the University of Illinois proves this. The study, which was published in Human Communication, sheds some light on the damaging effects these unrealistic images have on mothers.
The researchers behind this study conducted in-depth interviews with 50 pregnant and postpartum women—members of the group detailed their views on media representations of pregnancy and how they affected each woman's body image. The findings didn't surprise us one bit: Both social and entertainment media made women more critical of their own bodies, and the moms surveyed expressed a desire for more true-to-life media messages about what pregnancy does to a body.
We imagine this effect has existed for a long time where celebrity and fictional pregnancies are concerned, but in recent years, mothers have had an additional source of unrealistic images: Social media. The researchers looked at the effect these social platforms have on moms as well...and it may be even more damaging. Because mothers perceive images found on social media as coming from "real" people, social images can precipitate competitive feelings—and it goes without saying that critical comments often found on social media have an incredibly dangerous effect as well.
On the flip side, some women appreciated social media, as it gives people spaces in which they can come clean about real issues. We are definitely seeing a shift here, with more and more moms getting candid about their experiences with pregnancy, and the physical changes that come about as a result.
The researchers also made an important point: Women across the board reported the importance of selectively exposing themselves to images that boosted their confidence while avoiding those that made them question themselves. Is this something you do as well?
Ultimately, we all just have to remember that everyone's pregnancy and postpartum experience is different—and that what you see in the media isn't always the reality. Just because that celebrity's baby weight "just fell off" or that social media star only gained 20 pounds during her pregnancy, that doesn't mean it's the gold standard. There's no sense in comparing your body or story to anyone else's.