Fighting the ‘Mom-Shell’ Image: New Moms Struggle to Embrace Post-Baby Body
(NEW YORK) -- There is a new breed of mother on the playground.
Just weeks after giving birth, women dubbed "mom-shells," a hybrid of mommies and bombshells, are flaunting their post-baby bodies with skinny jeans and six-inch heels -- an image perpetuated by Hollywood. From Gwyneth Paltrow to Beyonce, celebrity moms have posed in glossy body-after-baby spreads.
Janice Min, the former editor of Us Weekly, says she helped create a celebrity culture of baby bumps with those spreads. Now, she says, those picture-perfect women have "infected our minds" so that "real" moms think they too have to look bodacious after childbirth.
"This crazy shift happened where suddenly it was cool to be pregnant and show off your body after you have the baby," she said. "That was a way for all these actresses to suddenly communicate to the world, 'I'm sexy, I'm still employable, and you want to be like me.'"
But not everyone can look like Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen shortly after childbirth.
"Gisele is a freak of nature," Min said. "These celebrities, a lot of them are just genetic aberrations."
Now there is a populist backlash. Alison Tate, a stay-at-home mom, had just given birth to her fourth child when she did something many women do every day: She resisted having a picture taken with her son at a birthday party because she said she knew she wouldn't like the way she looked.
"After I've had all my children, I felt like I had blown up like a balloon," she said. "It wasn't even a normal kind of being overweight. It's a deflated tire kind of being overweight. You can't fit into normal clothes right away. I felt dumpy, doubt-y, frustrated."
Tate had many reasons to be confident. She had an Ivy League education, she was happily married with four beautiful kids, but she still felt embarrassed by her body after giving birth. So she wrote a blog about the picture experience, and suddenly that moment became a movement.
Tate's website, "Mom Stays in the Picture," started a viral rallying cry and thousands of women submitted their own pictures, even if they didn't look their best.
"You're not looking at whether the mom is overweight, or did her hair, or did her makeup," Tate said. "All you see are moms and their kids, and all the love that are in those photos."
Tate said being a mom-shell is not what motherhood is all about.
"Our kids do not care what we look like," she said. "They only see their mother, and I just think that what women need to do is remember that. You don't ruin their pictures, you complete them."
Perhaps surprisingly, Janice Min can empathize. She too gave birth six months ago, to her third child, and said she also struggled when she saw herself in the mirror.
"It's sort of horrifying," she said. "Afterwards when the bump is gone, you're just kind of a fat lady, and it's really harsh."
Min's self-doubt helped inspire her to write a book called How to Look Hot in a Minivan, to reassure "real" moms that even starlets have a hard time living up to the Hollywood standard.
"We would have quotes from women saying, 'I cried, I work out so hard that I cry,' or, you know, 'I don't eat, I'm always hungry,' you know, crazy things that celebrities do," she said. "That at least puts a reality check on it. But Hollywood is fantasy and we have a hard time, at least when it comes to this area, of separating fantasy from reality because it's so personal for so many women."
In her book, Min shares what she learned about how the celebrities do it. Many famous women will wear a statement necklace, for instance, to draw the eye away from their figures.
"Motherhood and weight are the two most loaded issues for women ever," she said. "And so when you put those two together, it's like moths to the light, but it's also like kerosene to the fire, and women get really obsessed."
When Jessica Simpson battled with weight gain after having her daughter Maxwell, she turned to celebrity fitness trainer Harley Pasternak, who first helped Simpson fit into her Daisy Dukes. In fact, getting her body back has turned into a sponsored event, with her every move watched by her 5.7 million Twitter followers.
But Pasternak said the key to losing the baby weight for any new mom is lots of walking, not a personal trainer. He said women should not feel bad about not bouncing back to their pre-baby figures.
"I've never weighed a client," he said. "I would be upset at someone for not taking care of their health, because as a mom you're setting an example for your child."
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio