Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Post-pregnancy fitness selfies: Why do they make us crazy?

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
October 7, 2014 -- Updated 1552 GMT (2352 HKT)
Fitness blogger Maria Kang rankled some when she posted this image online asking why others couldn't maintain physical fitness as she does, despite being a mom of three young children. Fitness blogger Maria Kang rankled some when she posted this image online asking why others couldn't maintain physical fitness as she does, despite being a mom of three young children.
HIDE CAPTION
Why the post-baby body rage?
Why the post-baby body rage?
Why the post-baby body rage?
Why the post-baby body rage?
Why the post-baby body rage?
Why the post-baby body rage?
Why the post-baby body rage?
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Recent post-pregnancy photos and selfies went viral and sparked outrage online
  • Photo by Maria Kang with caption "What's your excuse?" seen more than 16 million times
  • Some moms say the angry response is due to "post-baby body fatigue"
  • "We're really just hit over the head with this message," said one expert

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Before you're outraged at yet another story on Maria Kang, the mom who sparked outrage with her scantily clad "What's your excuse?" photo, or Caroline Berg Eriksen, the fitness blogger who created a firestorm after posting a shot that she claimed was just four days after giving birth, hear me out.

This is not a story about them, why they did what they did, whether they are "fat-shaming" by posting the photos or how on Earth they have time to look like that as moms.

No, this is not about them: It's about us.

Why do those post-pregnancy fitness selfies and photos get under our skin so much? And if they make us so upset, why do we keep looking at them?

Kang's Facebook photo, where she shows off her washboard stomach alongside her three toddlers, has been seen more than 16 million times.

"I think it makes us crazy because you are either one of two people: You either have the resources and ability and time to work your booty off all through pregnancy and immediately afterward in order to have that body, or you're genetically blessed, and not many of us fall into those two camps," said Stephanie Dulli, a Washington mom of two young boys and founder of the blog Stephanie Says.

Dulli, who battled an eating disorder when she was younger, said part of the frustration comes from having to no longer just compete with the models and actresses who seem to bounce back immediately after giving birth. Now there's also pressure from other moms on social media.

Viral post-pregnancy pic takes heat
'Fit mom' vs. curvy girls
'Fit Mom': Backlash has been unfair

"It taps into a really seventh-grade place in us where we feel bad about ourselves," Dulli said with a chuckle, remembering what she described as the "You're pretty, so I'm ugly," mentality of middle school.

"It can just be hard to take, but I think it says more about me when I get upset about it than it does the person who posted the picture."

Claire Mysko, spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorders Association, says the vitriolic online response to these post-pregnancy photos stems from women who "have had it up to here with this post-baby body reveal business."

"I don't think it's helpful to shame individuals who post pictures of themselves ... but I understand the frustration, and I think it's coming from this post-baby body fatigue," said Mysko, co-author of the book "Does this Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?"

"We're just really hit over the head with this message constantly that (losing weight) should be our priority as new mothers, and it's a really, really skewed way of looking at things."

'Pregorexia': Extreme dieting while pregnant

Maggie Baumann suffered from an extreme obsession with weight during her second pregnancy, battling what's become known as "pregorexia." She worries about the messages these photos might be sending to women and girls.

"It's not just moms looking at these pictures," said Baumann, of Newport Beach, California, who is now an eating disorder specialist and trauma therapist. "There are teens looking at these pictures thinking, 'OK, this is how I'm supposed to look after I have a baby.' ... It can start eating disorders."

Baumann says "99.99%" of women who give birth won't look like Berg Eriksen four days later, but a good chunk of those same women can't stop themselves from comparing their body with hers.

"We automatically compare," Baumann said. "When you see pictures like this, it's kind of like, 'So what's wrong with me? Why can't I do that?' "

The Pregnancy Hunger Games

Radio host and television personality Jenny Hutt, co-host of HLN's "Dr. Drew On Call," said the driving force for the upset is our own insecurities.

"It is the same insecurity that makes us look at other people's Facebook pages and wonder if our lives aren't measuring up," Hutt said.

"We compare because the people who look thinner, more gorgeous, happier, better engaged in their relationships ... highlight our own feelings of less-than."

Why can't we turn away?

If these post-pregnancy photos ultimately make us feel worse about ourselves, why don't we try to avoid them in the first place?

Instead of turning away from them, we seem to click on them, share them and comment on them.

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace talks to moms and body image experts about why post-pregnancy selfies get under our skin.
CNN's Kelly Wallace talks to moms and body image experts about why post-pregnancy selfies get under our skin.

"It's culturally ingrained in us that our worth is graded by our beauty," Dulli said. "The first thing that's said to us is 'Aren't you cute? Aren't you pretty?' "

When we get older, logically we realize that we are about more than our looks, Dulli said, although she concedes it's so easy to fall back into bad habits.

IReport: The girl in the mirror is my enemy

"It still can tap a chord in you. ... It floods the system, almost, and you can't think logically. You react emotionally, and I'm guilty of that as well."

Mysko said it's especially hard for women to shut out the images because they're "in our faces all of the time."

When or if the images start to make women ask themselves the question, "What's wrong with me? Because I don't look like that," Mysko recommends some mental refocusing.

"It's just constantly repeating to yourself, 'No, it's not me. It's this message, and I need to not absorb this,' " she said.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

Why can we be so mean?

The backlash against Kang and Berg Eriksen was immediate and overwhelmingly negative from the start and is another example, in my humble opinion, of how nasty we women can be to each other.

"The biggest issue to me is the lack of honesty," said Hutt, the radio and television host and mom of two.

"If we own our own insecurities and doubts ... then maybe we will congratulate each other when there's an authentic win -- like a job promotion or a great (picture) in a bathing suit after giving birth, or even the win of the best body gene pool," she said.

She added this nugget, which I love: If we focus on what makes us unique, maybe the "instinct to be bitter about someone who has something (we) don't will dissipate."

Mysko says we can also do something else. The next time we're about to comment on someone's post-baby weight, we can shift the conversation.

"When you find yourself tempted to compliment somebody on how (they got) the baby weight off, just take a moment and stop yourself and think about what else you could ask about and something that might ... take it to a deeper level."

Follow Kelly Wallace on Twitter, and like CNN Living on Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2220 GMT (0620 HKT)
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. CNN's Michaela Pereira grew up in a family of five adopted girls in Canada and eventually reunited with her biological half-sister.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
It began for Nickolay Lamm as a question: What would Barbie look like if she had the dimensions of an average woman?
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 0216 GMT (1016 HKT)
Bill Cosby was thought of as a perceptive comedian and genial father figure. Now, that persona pairs with another, much darker image.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1735 GMT (0135 HKT)
If you think 'my teen would never sext,' you might be mistaken. Recent studies suggest it's more common than many parents might want to admit.
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
I pictured myself graduating from college, getting a cool job and even having a cute place of my own. Instead, I wake to the early-morning sounds of my family dog barking and my parents making coffee downstairs.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Samantha Futerman and Anais Bordier tease, poke and prod each other like they've grown up together, but they didn't. Neither woman knew she had an identical twin sister until less than two years ago.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1402 GMT (2202 HKT)
A school district in Maryland has decided to remove all references to religious holidays from its school calendar, leaving some in the community frustrated.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)
Female veterans often have a harder time finding employment than their male counterparts. But why?
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
I simply couldn't believe my eyes. At a children's party this year, I witnessed full-on "mean girl" behavior.
November 10, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Several children were sent to the hospital after being sickened by ingesting detergent pods.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1446 GMT (2246 HKT)
There are plenty of times when I literally wish I could take a hammer to the portrayal of girls and women in the media. In a new ad, a little girl gets to do just that.
November 8, 2014 -- Updated 1509 GMT (2309 HKT)
"Playing doctor" and "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" are common rites of passage in childhood sexual behavior, according to the experts.
November 6, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
A tech startup claims credit for making Alex from Target go viral, but there's skepticism about how involved it was, if at all.
November 4, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
A soft toy for cribs lets babies post pictures of themselves to social media.
November 4, 2014 -- Updated 1655 GMT (0055 HKT)
Schools are increasingly confronting a controversial question: Should they do more to monitor students' online interactions off-campus to keep them safe?
November 6, 2014 -- Updated 1656 GMT (0056 HKT)
The National Toy Hall of Fame recently inducted three new favorites into its hallowed halls. What's your favorite?
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)
We don't know, and may never know, what led to the Washington school shooting, but we have to ask ourselves, following this tragedy, if we are doing enough to help our boys deal with difficult emotions without resorting to violence.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
The viral video of a New York woman being catcalled on the street has men asking, "So, what should I do?" The answer starts with respect.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1840 GMT (0240 HKT)
Trick-or-treating and dressing in costume have been Halloween traditions for a good long time now, but it seems we're still struggling to get it right.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 2038 GMT (0438 HKT)
Yes, there's actually corn in it. Corn syrup, if that counts.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Walmart found itself sending apology tweet after apology tweet after the Twitterverse raked it over the coals for a major goof on its website.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 2002 GMT (0402 HKT)
There aren't too many times when I'm speechless about what I consider an outrageous example of parenting. This is one of those times.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Holy crap, LeVar Burton.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 2138 GMT (0538 HKT)
Critics pounced on supermodel Gisele Bundchen for advocating a little mommy "me time" recently. When did it become a crime to admit that you -- as a parent -- put yourself first?
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Not again.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
"Breaking Bad's" drug-dealing chemistry teacher Walter White will have to stop making the sale at Toys R Us.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
I happen to agree with Renee Zellweger that all the chatter about her face is "silly." But I, and many other women I talked with via email Wednesday, would add some other choice words to the mix to describe the non-stop attention about her appearance: nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2206 GMT (0606 HKT)
I have long thought millennials, who expect flexibility in the workplace, would be the group that would bring an end to the stigma that is too often associated with flex time -- the belief that wanting a flexible work arrangement means you aren't willing to work as hard. But now I'm thinking it's going to be men who will get us there.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1140 GMT (1940 HKT)
Say it with us: Kids today have it sooooo easy.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1829 GMT (0229 HKT)
An Atlanta judge reportedly reprimanded an immigration attorney for bringing her 4-week-old to court for a hearing -- a hearing she asked the judge to reschedule because she was on her six-week maternity leave.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1604 GMT (0004 HKT)
Monica Lewinsky tweeted for the first time. She called herself "patient zero" of cyber-bullying.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1943 GMT (0343 HKT)
Meet Shyanne Roberts, a 10-year-old competitive shooter with something to prove: "Kids and guns don't always mean bad things happen."
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1350 GMT (2150 HKT)
strawberry ghosts
We love Halloween season. Sweets. Sweaters. Sipping hot cider (maybe spiked). Halloween can certainly get you in the spirit, and nothing warms our hearts like these healthy Halloween treats that help you stay energized instead of stuck in a sugar coma.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1923 GMT (0323 HKT)
Does your baby cry during long flights, causing you to want to disappear from the glares of fellow passengers?
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2114 GMT (0514 HKT)
Ask any teen if they suffer from social media anxiety and they would probably tell you no. But the truth is getting "likes" and the fear of missing out are adding stress to teens' lives.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1313 GMT (2113 HKT)
Many photographers have taken it upon themselves to document stillborn and terminal babies' precious moments after birth.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1946 GMT (0346 HKT)
As part of the insurance coverage offered to its female employees, Facebook is paying to freeze their eggs.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1815 GMT (0215 HKT)
Amal Alamuddin was well-known in many important circles long before she snagged the world's most eligible bachelor. But Amal Alamuddin is now Amal Clooney, according to her law firm's website.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Trends in young adult fiction have shifted from wizards to glittering vampires to bloodthirsty "Hunger Games" and now, to teens coping with illnesses and realistic issues.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0056 GMT (0856 HKT)
Before he died this year, 14-year-old Martin Romero wanted to do something for his community.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
A 12-year-old girl called Dick's Sporting Goods out on its lack of female athletes in the Basketball 2014 catalog.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1636 GMT (0036 HKT)
Before he was even born, Shane Michael Haley had already met the Philadelphia Phillies, been to the top of the Empire State Building and shared a cheesesteak with his parents.
October 10, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
I couldn't quite believe my eyes when I read the initial comments from Microsoft's CEO on how women who don't ask for raises will receive "good karma."
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT