Author: Keer, Chetna
Date published: May 14, 2012
Journal code: WNFS
Chandigarh (Women's Feature Service) - To be or not to be a yummy mummy. That is the question. The post-pregnancy frames of a new mother played up by the press recently triggered a tide of tweets and comments across the cyber and electronic media. All because the mom in question was model-turned-actor and 'First Bahu of Bollywood' Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. And all because these pictures hadn't passed through the customary visual whetting that is the hallmark of celebrity brand-building and public imaging: Airbrushing.
Dripping double chin and chubby skin, the un-brushed pictures of the actress, taken when she attended an event hosted by industrialist Mukesh Ambani at his residence in Mumbai, gave a society obsessed with celebrities another talking point: Flab and famous moms. That a non-issue like the post-pregnancy frame of a famous star, captured on prying television cameras or Blackberrys, snowballed into a social media debate is in itself a comment on our collective obsession with the glitterati.
In a celebrity-addicted cultural-scape - where reams of column space and hours of TV footage have already been devoted to speculation about Beti B's christening, on whether she'll make it to Oprah Winfrey's show with her celebrity parents and where fake Twitter accounts of Beti B are already bombarding cyberspace - it's no surprise that much of Internet India turned into Incredulous India, with eyeballs popping out as people posted animated tweets about Aishwarya.
Here's a sample making the rounds online: "She is a Bollywood actress and being a part of showbiz it is her duty to look good and fit. Till now she has been praised for her beauty, so it is only fair that she should also be criticized if she is not able to live up to it. She needs to learn from people like Victoria Beckham who are back to size zero weeks after their delivery! She needs to lose that weight... it's been close to 5 months already!"
The merits and demerits of the cyber discourse are another story. But the big fat question here is this: Why such a furor and frenzy over the figure of a star mom? Is Aishwarya anatomically any different from a regular lactating new mother, who piles on the pounds post-delivery? Is this new-age motherhood model of 'yummy mummy' a healthy trend?
Says Nancy Sahni, a Chandigarh-based nutrition and wellness expert, "The reason there has been such a noise about Aishwarya's post-delivery flab is because being a public icon she is expected to be a role model for ordinary mothers. While a weight gain of 8-12 kilos is considered normal post-delivery, in the actress's case it's been in excess of the normal increase, which is surprising considering stars have facilities like personal trainers, nutritionists and home gyms to keep in shape. Age may have something to do with it, since Aishwarya is in her late 30s."
But is this whole concept of being a yummy mummy just a fad? Sahni sees the issue as a matter of self-image and social perception. She says "Today, if you go to your child's school you find every other mom looking slim and trim, so it's got to do with a greater awareness about fitness. As long as young mothers shed their pregnancy pounds through exercise and balanced but controlled dieting and not through fad diets, it is definitely a healthy thing."
What about the long-term consequences of shedding the post-baby bulge quickly? Mridula Wattas, Senior Dietician at the PGI, Chandigarh, says, "The nutritional requirements of lactating mothers go up, with an additional intake of 600-700 KCal needed. Though crash dieting is not advised, especially during lactation, a mineral and vitamin-rich diet should be preferred over the generally preferred fatty ghee-laden post-pregnancy foods like 'panjeeri'. For instance, it is better to have roasted 'panjeeri', with lots of dry fruits, instead of a ghee-rich one."
Pointing out the inherent risks of the drastic calorie drop in a new mother's diet, Sahni says, "Gradual losing of the extra kilos is better than sudden slimming among lactating mothers, otherwise it leads to side-effects like brittle bones, anaemia and early wrinkling of the skin, in the long term."
Coming back to the public storm over Aishwarya's weigh gain, episodes like these are ironic. The media first feeds its audience the glossy 'n' glamorous images of yummy mummies. The new-age template of mommyhood is mostly Hollywood-inspired, courtesy flab-free mums like Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Victoria Beckham & Co.
In fact, the Hollywood referencing also sets the standard for much of Bollywood's brand building of motherhood. For instance, when a Shilpa Shetty or Lara Dutta or a Malaika Arora Khan aspire to do a Jolie or a Beckham by conforming to the western celebrity stereotypes of hot moms, they only go on to further enforce the perfect image for the average new-age Indian mum.
Of course, popular media, the vehicle for installing and reinforcing these airbrushed, Photoshop-ed images in the public psyche, is also the one to ruthlessly expose or demolish the non-conformists in this celebrity cult. Subsequently, the audience, fed on these 'botoxed' benchmarks of beauty, with or without the tags of marriage and motherhood, becomes in turn unsparing of those who don't live up to those media-manufactured collages of cellulite-free celebrityhood.
When Kareena Kapoor turned brand ambassador for Size Zero in India, she became the new poster girl of not just the film fraternity but also an entire generation of wannabe Kareenas. But the moment she stepped away from this stereotype, everyone went into overdrive to cut an overweight Kareena to size by splashing pictures of her journey from Size Zero to Size Six.
A generation ago, when the Bollywood benchmarks for women were the likes of Waheeda Rehman, Hema Malini or Jaya Bachchan - who accomplished their child bearing and rearing in an era relatively free of the paparazzi's pixellated peddling of the private lives of the glitterati - calorie-controlled motherhood was hardly the public obsession it has become today. Where Jaya Bachchan may have hardly invited media interest or fan frenzy for any addition to her anatomy in the wake of child bearing, her 'bahu's' (daughter-in-law) baby bulge and post-delivery pounds have turned into a virtual national discourse and mega media moment.
Is this a giftof the airbrushed age of brand building that has the media manufacturing or marketing only cropped and calorie-chiselled celebrity clips? Is it a corollary of the Size Zero Brand of Beauty that endorses zero tolerance for those who do not conform to this contour craze? Whatever it may be, motherhood in itself is an important milestone in a woman's life, whether she is a celebrity or not, and it is totally unwarranted to judge her by populist and superficial notions of beauty.
(© Women's Feature Service)