How 'mummy tummy' became the latest body image anxiety

A woman's stomach

A cosmetic cream, said to help reduce a woman's post-natal stomach bulge, has been launched - prompting reports of rush buying. But why does it seem women are suddenly worried about this most natural result of pregnancy?

It's a miracle apparently. A new cream costing £18.85 with "fat-burning ingredients" that can help banish a mummy tummy - the softness around the midriff most women are left with after having a baby.

That women worry about their stomachs - and bodies - after giving birth is nothing new. The average woman puts on two-and-a-half stone during pregnancy, so it's no wonder her stomach muscles are left looser than they were.

But in recent years this natural body change has been given its own moniker. At the same time, the raft of celebrity-focused magazines and tabloid newspapers seem to be keeping a watching brief on which famous mothers are winning - and losing - their battle with this baby bulge.

Part of this burgeoning obsession is to do with changing times, says Dr Mary Jane Kehily, from the Open University's Making of Modern Motherhood project.

Bumps on show

Historically pregnancy was seen as a confinement, she notes, whereas now it is celebrated and "very public". Women and their pregnancy bumps are very much on show, often literally. This continues after birth.

Start Quote

Lowri Turner

Women always talked about these issues to friends, but now they are out in the open and that is good in many ways”

End Quote Lowri Turner Journalist and mother

This, coupled with changing linguistic fashions, has resulted in "playful" terms such as "yummy mummy", "mummy tummy", even "mummy job" - a post-childbirth surgical stomach tuck. But such terms are also the result of another significant shift in society, says Dr Kehily.

"A key change driving such phrases is women delaying childbirth until they are older," she says. "By then many have established careers and are not just mothers. They also have a disposable income and pregnancy nowadays is an industry.

"The teenage mums in our study don't talk about things like a mummy tummy. They have more chance of springing back into shape as they are younger, so it's not an issue for them. They also aren't targeted like older women who tend to have more money."

Journalist, nutritional therapist and mother-of-three Lowri Turner agrees. Older mothers have unwittingly spawned a potentially lucrative new market.

"Many women are older when they marry and have children now. They often have the spending power that previous generations didn't. There is now a concept of 'me time' among mothers, that didn't exist when my mother was raising me. She didn't go for a facials or a massages.

"The other issue is more women are getting divorced and are back on the dating scene, so are more concerned about their bodies."

The surge in paparazzi snaps of celebrity mothers going about their lives has given mums something "to compare ourselves to" says Turner.

Not fat, muscle tone
Myleene Klass Pregnant women are no longer hiding their bulges

The term yummy mummy dates back to 1993, says Dr Robert Groves, editor of the Collins Dictionary Of The English Language. He spies an insidious factor in it and the more recent "mummy tummy".

"Rhyme is clearly a factor [but it] makes each of these phrases seem playful, even fun, despite the fact that they all point to very real anxieties about modern life."

But while great claims are often made of "miracle" fat-burning creams, a woman's post-natal bulge is not so much about fat as muscle tone, says fitness expert Dr Joanna Helcke.

"During pregnancy the abdominals have to stretch and lengthen enormously. No other muscle in the body will have to stretch like that," says the specialist in ante- and post-natal personal training.

"In two thirds of women the abdominals will separate completely to allow for expansion, afterwards they need to realign and will most likely need help to do so.

"When it comes to tackling that soft, jelly belly women notice after birth, it's not just about fat burning - it's physiological too. It's about strengthening muscles."

So a cream is unlikely to be the solution, it would seem.

And while it may be tempting to blame today's celebrity-fixated media for planting yet another body image insecurity in women, Lowri Turner says it would be foolish to believe it's an entirely modern obsession.

"I think women probably always talked about these issues to friends, but now they are out in the open and in the public domain and that's good in some ways," says Turner. "It acknowledges that women are sexual and that doesn't just stop because they become mothers. They still want to look good and feel confident about their bodies."

Below is a selection of your comments

I'm due to have my first baby in five weeks and I'm worried about my body afterwards. I want to appear and feel fit, healthy and, yes of course, attractive. I spent years striving to have a good healthy figure before I became pregnant so why wouldn't I feel the same way afterwards? I enjoy wearing nice clothes and unfortunately most clothes don't look that great when you have a flabby tummy! Maybe it is shallow, but some of us do enjoy looking and feeling fab not flab!

Kelly, Bristol

I am 27 and have two children and, yes, I have a "mummy tummy". Why are we so fixated with this? I am proud that I have had the opportunity to have two kids and some things you have to sacrifce - your waist band. Be proud of what you look like and when discussing your "mummy tummy" look at the life you have created.

Sammy, Northants

I can't believe that anyone would actually think this cream would work. Either diet + exercise or tuck your tummy in your pants like everyone else and get on with it!

Caroline, London

This sort of stuff is nothing but a greedy marketing ploy aimed at unnecessarily self-conscious people.

Bob, Stafford

My wife has had two children, and slimmed down very well after the first. The problem is, she discovered coffee and cake mornings after number two, and the downhill slide now (a year later) is well and truly on its way. And I can't blame her at all - between the kids, a job as a doctor in the shambolic NHS, and the constant battle to balance finances, neither of us has any time at all left to exercise.

Bob, Oxford, UK

Since my second child was born 28 months ago I have lost all my baby weight, got down to a BMI of 22.5, wear size 10 jeans, and gained my black belt in karate - not bad for 43 last birthday. However, I can't shift that tummy and have a whopping 38" waist when relaxed. Drives me mad, upsets me when I see photos, and despite being light and fit I am apparently "unhealthy" because my waist measurement is too high - please give us older mums a break!

Kate, Billingham, UK

I'm a 25-year-old first-time mum and I really feel it's so sad that mums (me included) feel so self-concious about our bodies. We have just gone through the most natural and amazing process our bodies will ever do and yet we are made to feel like we look rubbish and should snap back to pre-baby bodies thanks to certain celebrities and the media (especially magazines). It takes nine months to grow a new life and gain that weight... give yourself more than a few weeks to get over it!

Rachel, Preston, Lancs

I feel proud when I look at my body. I am tall, slim and after all it has carried and nursed two gorgeous children. But the flip side is that each morning I have two options: either to tuck my stomach into my jeans or let it hang over it. If I had the money I would definitely have something done about it. Not because society demands us mums to erase all physical signs of being a mum but because I want to wear my tummy tucked in - without the unsightly bulge in my jeans.

Myrthe, Bath

I had my Son 15 months ago and have taken the slow and gentle route to weightloss. I have gone down from a maternity size 14, back to my pre-pregnancy size 8/10 and despite my "muffin top" that hangs over the top of my jeans, I feel happy knowing that it's almost like a medal/prize that I created, nurtured and gave birth to such a wonderful little boy. Women should embrace this and not get obsessed with weight-loss and getting back to pre-baby body. It will happen, just be sensible and don't be in a hurry!

Anne-Marie, Edinburgh

New mothers should stop worrying about what other mothers or women think of them and concentrate on more important things than if they have a mummy tummy. You've given birth to another human being, that alone is a huge achievement. And if you are really so worried about a little bit of fat around your middle, go and exercise or buy some spanx underwear.

Matilda, Sevenoaks

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