Yummy Mummy?: (Re) Appearance of the Maternal Body in Popular Women's Magazines in New Zealand
Images and detailed descriptions of the postnatal maternal body have become more common in popular women's magazines than they have in the past. Although researchers generally accept that popular media's representations of the female body contribute to body image concerns among some women, there has been little research that has focused on the recent media constructions of the maternal body or the effects of this increased visibility. This is an important area of research as there are indications that media representations of the postnatal body, in particular body size, are beginning to have negative affects on women's wellbeing in pregnancy and after childbirth. This thesis examines how women's bodies are being represented in popular culture when they become mothers, and what discourses these representations make available to new mothers. The research involved analysing references to the maternal body found in a convenience sample of popular NZ women's magazines. The research, framed within feminist poststructuralist theories, used thematic analysis and discursive analytic tools to explore textual and visual representations of the maternal body found in the magazines. Three major constructions of mothers emerged from the analysis; these were 'sexy', 'healthy' and 'labouring' mothers. Women who, through 'body work' such as diet and exercise, had lost weight and dressed glamorously were depicted as sexy, healthy and praised for their efforts. Mothers who regained a slender, glamorous appearance were often referred to as 'yummy mummies'. Women who lost 'too much weight' were considered to be ill and were individually pathologised as having psychological problems. Mothers were encouraged to diet and exercise as soon as possible after childbirth, with scant reference to possible health concerns for mother or baby, and were targeted by the diet industry. Postfeminist and neoliberal discourses of empowerment, choice and self-care were used to promote and justify these images of mothers. Findings suggest appearance of new mothers was emphasised wherein the 'undisciplined' normal maternal body was denigrated as dull, unattractive and unworthy. Analysis indicated that a new cultural imperative for women to return to slenderness as soon as possible is being evoked. Given the new media pressures being imposed there is a clear need for research with new mothers themselves. Such research will illuminate a period in womens lives that had previously slipped below the radar of culturally prescribed strict beauty standards, but is now under the glare of the media spotlight.