Yummy mummy wannabe

Six months after giving birth to her daughter, Eva, Orlaith McAllister had her breasts done, going from a C cup to a D cup. “I breastfed for five weeks and I noticed that my breasts got smaller, especially on one side,” she says. “When Eva was born, she latched on to the left breast immediately and got to like that one, so it was noticeably smaller.

“Some women let themselves go,” she says. “I believe that’s how you get into a state of depression after you have a baby, because you don’t like yourself any more. In my pregnancy I did everything to still be me: I ate healthily and exercised—I only put on a stone.”

Perhaps this kind of surgery is not entirely surprising. McAllister is a model and already had experience of surgery—she had breast implants before having children. But she is part of a growing trend: women using surgery to “tweak” the bits of their bodies they don’t like after childbirth. Indeed, the so-called “mommy job” has become common in the United States and these “makeovers” are becoming increasingly popular elsewhere.

McAllister had her surgery with Make Yourself Amazing, a company which promises “a life-changing experience that revitalises, rejuvenates, but most of all reassures”. It recommends breast surgery, tummy tucks and liposuction for the post-birth body—the aim is to erase all evidence of childbirth from a woman’s body.

Californian surgeon David A Stoker was one of the first to market the mummy makeover, offering an all-in plastic surgery package that includes a breast lift, with or without implants, tummy tuck and liposuction. Women, says Stoker, need no longer feel “self-conscious or resentful about their appearance”. Last year the American Society of Plastic Surgeons performed more than 325 000 mummy jobs on women aged 20 to 39, up 11% on 2005.

Surgeons report that breast surgery is increasingly popular with women who are unhappy with the way that breastfeeding and pregnancy have altered their figures.

The mummy job is all about self-esteem, say fans. Critics argue it is a misogynistic pathologising of the post-pregnancy body.

Diana Zuckerman, president of the US National Research Center for Women and Families, recently said that if marketing could turn the post-pregnancy body “into a socially unacceptable thing, think of how big your audience could be and how many surgeries you could sell them”. In short, making women believe that their bodies look disgusting after childbirth is a marketing man’s dream.

It is probably not difficult to achieve. On the parenting website Mumsnet, a popular thread about the post-baby body includes detailed and lengthy descriptions of inside-out belly buttons, loose skin, Caesarean scar overhang, “diabolical stretchmarks” and handlebars sitting across hip bones, with everyone claiming that their disfigurement is the most hideous.

“Does anyone know how this can be improved except by surgery?” asks one mother in desperation. A 2005 survey by Mother & Baby magazine found that 87% of new mothers were “positively unhappy” with their figures: 50% would “consider surgery”; 25% said they would “definitely have surgery”.

Rajiv Grover, a plastic surgeon in London, lists “post-pregnancy surgery” as an option on his website and describes “women who want to get their bodies back after having children” as a major part of his client base. Breast surgery is common, he says: “What you’re seeing now is women who are wanting not to be bigger but to have back what they’ve lost.”

Websites such as GorgeousGetaways.com offer Yummy Mummy Makeover packages in Kuala Lumpur. Mummy jobs are the next logical step in the battle to pretend that having a baby need not change you. Three years ago New York magazine ran a report about women in Manhattan who maintained disordered, quasi-anorexic eating throughout pregnancy to stay as thin as possible.

Tina Cassidy, the Boston-based author of Birth: A History, blames the celebrity effect: it is frequently alleged that some celebrity mothers have had their C-sections scheduled in the eighth month of pregnancy to avoid putting on weight in the last few weeks.

The worrying thing in America, she says, is that this “what baby?” surgery fad is eclipsing the real debate about women’s lack of power when they are giving birth (a third of women in the US have Caesareans).

“Women who have had a really powerful birth experience are enamoured by motherhood and feel that it completes them as a person,” she says. “They don’t dwell on the physical aspects. It’s your badge of honour.” What is wrong with our culture when it cannot celebrate women’s bodies and what they can produce? “It’s like nobody is supposed to get older and nobody is supposed to look any different when they’ve had a baby. Time is supposed to stand still for every woman’s body.”—Â

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