"Bouncing back": how Australia's leading women's magazines portray the postpartum 'body'

Women Birth. 2012 Sep;25(3):128-34. doi: 10.1016/j.wombi.2011.08.004. Epub 2011 Sep 6.


Purpose: To examine how the Australian media portrays the childbearing body through the use of celebrity stories in women's magazines. The study aimed to provide insight into socially constructed factors that might influence women's body image and expectations during pregnancy and the early postnatal period.

Method: Media content analysis was used to analyse 25 celebrity stories about the childbearing postnatal body (images and texts) collected from Australia's three leading women's magazines between January and June 2009 (n=58).

Findings: A variety of persuasive textual and visual messages were elicited. The major theme representing how the postnatal body was constructed was labelled 'Bouncing back'; the focus of this paper. The social messages inherent in the magazine stories were that women need to strive towards regaining a pre-pregnant body shape with the same effort one would employ when recovering from an illness. Three specific sub-themes that promoted weight loss were identified. These were labelled 'Racing to bounce back', 'Breastfeeding to bounce back' and 'Pretending to bounce back'. A fourth sub-theme, 'Refusing to bounce back: Celebrating my new body', grouped together stories about celebrities who appeared to embrace their changed, but healthy, postnatal body.

Conclusions: The study highlighted the expectations of the postpartum body in relation to speedy return to the pre-pregnant state. Understanding how these portrayals may contribute to women's own body image and expectations in the early postpartum period may better assist maternity health care providers to engage with women in meaningful discussions about this important time in their lives and challenge notions of ideal body types. Assisting women to accept and nurture themselves and have confidence in their ability as a new parent is a crucial element of quality maternity service provision.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Body Image*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Media
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Periodicals as Topic*
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy
  • Self Concept*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires