To prepare our toddler daughter for the arrival of a new sibling in the fall, my well-intentioned husband recently bought her a pregnant "Midge" doll. This is the Mattel-manufactured friend of Barbie who comes complete with high heels, clingy mini-dress, and a detachable magnet stomach that holds a tiny baby.
Earlier this year, some critics of Midge demanded that the doll be pulled from store shelves because it was "too realistic." Huh? The problem with pregnant Midge isn't her realism. It's her surrealism.
There's not an ounce of body fat on Midge. Her complexion is peachy-pure with no trace of morning-sickness green. And when you pop off the plastic tummy to deliver the baby -- voila! -- not a stretch mark in sight.
As a mother and a mother-to-be with a disappearing waistline, drawstring wardrobe and non-detachable belly pooch, I would have liked to tell my daughter that pregnant Midge is just pretend. Expectant mommies don't really look like snakes who just swallowed softballs. And after they deliver their babies, they don't just turn back into hors d'oeuvre toothpicks with the olives neatly stripped off.
But then I saw the pictures of actress Sarah Jessica Parker published in W magazine this week. Parker is a walking, talking, glossy-haired, stiletto-heeled, human Midge.
Just six months after giving birth, Parker is showing off her washboard stomach to the world. One photo shows her ecstatically hiking her sweat-drenched shirt up and yanking her low-riding pants way down to show toned and glistening abs. The titillating, high-fashion shoot was highlighted on the Today Show (Parker "looks hot," declared co-host Matt Lauer) and in USA Today ("Parker's one hot mama," the headline salivated.)
Parker may be hot, but I am bothered. She is just one of a long line of celebrity women who have sent a dubious cultural message that any and all physical traces of motherhood are shameful legacies that should be furiously worked off, shed immediately, surgically removed or lasered away. It's one thing to maintain a healthy diet after giving birth. It's quite another to starve yourself in postpartum disgust. "I have killed myself to shed the pounds," said supermodel Elizabeth Hurley after the birth of her son last year. "I've been eating gerbil food, so I better look good," boasted actress Holly Robinson Peete after having her third child.
Some stars have gone so far as to induce labor up to a month in advance to avoid abdominal stretching. Among those who delivered their babies by designer C-section: Hurley, Madonna, Claudia Schiffer and Victoria Beckham (a gaunt British entertainer formerly known as the singer Posh Spice, who gave rise to the phrase "too posh to push.")
This is madness. As Dr. Jennifer Blake, obstetrician and gynecologist in chief at Toronto's Sunnybrook & Women's College Health Sciences Centre, told the National Post recently: "The most important thing for a woman who is pregnant or has just had a baby is her health and the health of her baby. A flat stomach should be the last thing on her mind."
Parker glibly admits the standard she has set -- and so eagerly exhibited in her steamy W magazine spread -- is "too high for most normal women." A multimillionaire who earns an estimated $150,000 an episode on her HBO hit show, "Sex in the City," Parker and her famous girlfriends can afford an entourage of yoga gurus and full-time nannies to support their postpartum workout obsessions (not to mention their Louis Vuitton diaper bags and closets full of Manolo Blahnik shoes).
For we "normal women," there are far more important things to be doing with our time and money than spending dozens of hours each week with some high-priced body Nazi, away from our children, in order to erase the legacy of childbirth. This Mother's Day weekend, I'm burying Midge at the bottom of my daughter's toy chest. And no tummy crunches, no treadmill, no gerbil food for me. I'll take the real shape of motherhood any day -- beautiful lumps, bumps, and all.