Listen: Katrina Roe hears from Dr Justin Coulson about women’s self esteem during pregnancy.
Social media can be a joyful and positive experience for women sharing their pregnancy or birth of their child with the world—but for 46% of women in a new study, it played a big role in creating negative emotions around their body image.
In a study at Brigham Young University in the US, 50 women were interviewed to find out their perceptions of media and body image during the pregnancy and birth period. Most of the participants were between 20 weeks and 9 months pregnant; some had already had their babies.
Women Prefer Authentic Images They Can Relate To
The research found that the more these women talked about this topic on social media, the more they felt awful about themselves. Leading parenting expert and best-selling author Doctor Justin Coulson shared his comments with Katrina Roe on Hope 103.2 Mornings.
“Every time I see a study like this I think ‘what have we done to our society?” he said. “The photos they were seeing are celebrities showing ‘I have no more cellulite; I’m breastfeeding and life is just perfect’, and every other ordinary mum is saying, ‘that’s not possible because I’m still weighing 15 kilos more than I weighed and I feel lethargic and my baby is keeping me awake at night.’”
However, the women appreciated images and stories that showed authenticity and were relatable to their lives, regardless of the media they were looking at – whether it was Facebook, Instagram or old-fashioned print magazines.
Pregnancy Isn’t All About the Body
Rather than focusing on the subjects of weight loss or body shape, a more helpful way to use social media would be to share insights on other aspects of being pregnant.
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“They [the women in the study] were pretty much agreeable that media outlets were focusing way too much on women’s bodies during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, and said, ‘can we please talk about other aspects of having children like parenting or the miracle that is birth?” says Dr Coulson.
But social media makes this challenging, especially platforms like Instagram that are such a visual medium, often based solely on a picture.
The Myth of The ‘Perfect’ Celebrity Life
When a glossed-up picture of a celebrity mum is posted, we forget that it takes a whole team to make the image perfect. The right lighting, the right camera angles and filters all make a difference to how a person looks once the image of them is on the screen.
“When we’re looking at celebrities, most of them have not just one but a whole handful of personal assistants to make sure they look just right,” Dr Coulson said.
“If their baby is having a hard time [their assistant] can take the baby for a walk so mum doesn’t have to. They have so much help. They have somebody looking after their makeup. They absolutely spend time on making sure that every image fits the brand.”
How Can We Be Part Of The Solution? Three Tips
Dr Coulson suggests some ways men can protect themselves from negative body image, and how men can help, too:
Tip 1 – Minimise Your Social Media—or Even Get Off
“[A few months ago] a study came out in the UK that showed that Instagram is the number one platform for us to spend time on if we want to feel lousy about ourselves. You really don’t need it; it doesn’t contribute to the wellbeing of the experience in your life,” Dr Coulson said.
Tip 2 – Consume Your Media with a Critical Eye
The research found that women who were critical consumers were aware that their body types respond differently during pregnancy and after the birth of a child. These women have a much healthier view of their body, regardless of what media they’re exposed to.
“Recognise exactly what’s going on – they’ve got their personal trainers, their dietitians, their make-up artists, their professional photographers and managers to keep them looking and feeling the way they do — our lives are not like that,” Dr Coulson said.
Tip 3 – New Mums Need Kindness from their Partners
Dr Coulson suggests some things partners and husbands can do to help their loved one with their self-esteem, such as:
- ‘I can see that you’ve had a hard day, how can I help?’
- ‘Maybe I can look after dinner/ maybe I can buy dinner?’
- ‘Maybe we can go for a walk?
- ‘Can I take the baby for a drive?’
- ‘I love your pregnant body, I love holding your belly’.
- ‘I love being close to you when your body is making these changes.’
“That kind of support from a partner or husband is so important,” Dr Coulson says. “All too often I hear from women whose hearts are breaking because they have spouses who are too critical and unkind rather than supportive.”