October 1st, 2009

Spotlight: Claire Mysko, Co-Author of “Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?”

Claire Mysko (photo by Kate Glicksberg)

Claire Mysko (photo by Kate Glicksberg)

This month we interviewed author Claire Mysko,  co-author of  “Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby.” Available online and in bookstores starting today, the book tackles the body image issues many women experience before and after pregnancy, some of which are exacerbated by a baby-crazed media. An expert on body image and self-esteem, Claire is also the author of “You’re Amazing! A No-Pressure Guide to Being Your Best Self.” This self-esteem guide was named to the 2009 Amelia Bloomer list, a project of the American Library Association which recognizes empowering books for girls and young women.

Occupation: Writer, speaker, consultant

Favorite blogs:
Glossed Over, BlogHer, Jezebel, Salon’s Broadsheet

Favorite websites: girlsinc.org, about-face.org, adiosbarbie.com

What inspired you and Magali Amadei (co-author) to write “Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?”, and how did the book come into being?
Magali and I had been working together for years to raise awareness about body image issues and eating disorders. We first started talking about the idea for this book when Magali was pregnant with her daughter. Her recovery from bulimia had been all about shifting her focus away from the numbers on the scale. Then suddenly, it was as though everywhere she turned people wanted to talk about weight. During pregnancy, everyone wanted to know how much she had gained. After she gave birth, every other new mother she encountered wanted to commiserate about how she was planning to shed the pounds. We realized that pregnancy and new motherhood bring up huge appearance-related anxieties for women–nearly 80% of the women we surveyed for this book admitted that they have concerns about the body changes that come with pregnancy and motherhood. Yet women don’t have much support to deal with this pressure in a healthy way. Instead, we get loads of tabloid stories about celebrity new moms who lost their baby weight in five minutes.

In your book, you talk about the power of tabloid magazines and the “baby bump watch” stories they run on celebrities, and you research and interview celebrity moms like Bridget Moynahan about how they handle the pressure. What surprised you the most in your research and in talking to them?
Women tend to feel insecure when they compare themselves to the stars’ “perfect” bodies. But all the workouts, diets, and glammed up photo shoots don’t add up to happiness and fulfillment for celebrities. In fact, a lot of them regretted the amount of time and emotional energy it took away from them at a crucial time when all they wanted to do was bond with their babies.

How do you want women to respond when they see magazines telling them how to “get your body back?” The media term “get your body back” is a setup for disappointment. Even if women are able to get back to the same weight they were before pregnancy, they need to understand that there are some things about their bodies that will be permanently changed. Not only that, but a child permanently transforms your entire life. New motherhood is a time to focus on moving forward.

Tabloids report on Nicole Kidmans post-baby body.

Tabloids report on Nicole Kidman's "post-baby" body.

You also mention that the number of People magazine stories about pregnancy, babies and postbaby bodies more than doubled between 2003 and 2005. Why do you think there has been such a recent surge of interest on the topic? There is a huge profit web attached to celebrity pregnancy and baby fever, and with the proliferation of online media, including celebrity gossip blogs, the potential for profit keeps multiplying. The problem is that these images and messages are selling the Mommy Brand–the must-have maternity and baby gear and the designer diets and workout plans. None of that has anything to do with the real work it requires to be a parent.

How would you suggest women balance the value of tabloids as items of entertainment, as opposed to prescriptions for the “perfect” life and being a “perfect” mommy? It can be fun to escape into the glossy world of celebrity entertainment sometimes, but it’s important to keep a healthy perspective and look at those stories with a critical eye. Most women we talked to were well aware that the stars have teams of nannies, chefs, and personal trainers, and even that images are routinely retouched. And while that awareness is certainly a step in the right direction, it doesn’t necessarily protect women from feeling the sting of comparison, especially during pregnancy and after childbirth–times when we are more vulnerable and prone to self-doubt. When we asked women to describe their feelings about the media’s coverage of celebrity pregnancy and motherhood, some of the most common words we heard were “ridiculous,” “unhealthy,” and “frustrating.” If you are consistently feeling bad about yourself when you read those articles or look at those pictures, the best way to take care of yourself is to limit your exposure. We also encourage women to use their voices to talk back to the media. Too often we internalize the negativity and assume there is something wrong with us, when really the problem is with the media we’re consuming. If you see or read something that irks you, send an email, make a comment, or write your own blog post about it.

Of course, there’s so much more in your book about the importance of and challenges to maintaining a healthy body image. Where can we find the book?
The book is available in bookstores October 1st. It can be found online at Amazon and Indiebound.

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