She Gives Birth, She's Wearing a Bikini: Mobilizing the Postpregnant Celebrity Mom Body to Manage the Post-Second Wave Crisis in Femininity

By Hallstein, D. Lynn O'Brien | Women's Studies in Communication, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

She Gives Birth, She's Wearing a Bikini: Mobilizing the Postpregnant Celebrity Mom Body to Manage the Post-Second Wave Crisis in Femininity


Hallstein, D. Lynn O'Brien, Women's Studies in Communication


This essay evaluates the new post-pregnant quickly slender, even bikini-ready, body as a rhetorical phenomenon within the broader context of the new momism and the post--second wave crisis in femininity. The rhetorical analysis of the quickly slender celebrity morn profiles reveals that the new momism is far more complex rhetorically then just backlash and cooptation; rather, the new momism is a sophisticated and complex backlash, and it works rhetorically to simultaneously acknowledge and refute (erode) feminist gains. The quickly slender, even bikini-ready, body also works as a rhetorical device to strategically manage the post-second wave crisis in femininity in ways that continue to re-establish both mothering and beauty as the most important components o f femininity, while reinforcing the domestic division of labor that continues to persist between women and men in the private sphere despite the fact that unencumbered (without children) men and women's lives are much more similar today.

Keywords feminism, new momism, post--second wave crisis in femininity

"There is no question about it--celebrity baby stories sell. But recently post-baby body reveals have become such a big magazine staple, they'll stop at nothing to scoop the story." (James par. 2)

"Rising out of the ashes of feminism, and repudiating its critique of the narrow confines of middle-class motherhood, the celebrity morn profile was an absolutely critical tool in the media construction of maternal guilt and insecurity, as well as the romanticizing of motherhood, in the 1980s and beyond." (Douglas and Michaels 113)

Media are saturated with postpregnant celebrity mom profiles and images: magazine covers and articles, gossip Web sites, and even on television. In all of these media formats, pictures abound of postpregnant celebrity moms looking slender and fit shortly after giving birth. Although celebrity mom profiles have always featured fit, in-shape moms, more recent celebrity mom profiles have begun to highlight celebrity moms' quickly slender, even bikini-ready, bodies. A recent OK Magazine cover story, for example, features Kendra Wilkinson in a blue bikini holding her eight-week-old son, Hank. In keeping with her extremely fast weight loss and return to the slender body, the omg! Web site declares, "Jennifer Garner Debuts Post-Baby Body!" In a picture of Garner with her three-year-old daughter, Violet, the copy reads, "That was fast! Jennifer Garner showed off her slim post-baby body on Tuesday--just two weeks after giving birth to Seraphina" ("Jennifer Garner" par. 1). While neither Garner nor Nicole Richie were in bikinis, omg! also profiled Richie's fast return to a slender body: "One week after welcoming son Sparrow, Nicole Richie is back to her svelte self. Wearing a flowy maxi dress, the mother of two, 27, debuted her postbaby body Wednesday while running errands in Los Angeles with daughter Harlow, 20 months" ("Nicole Richie" par. 1).

In their work on celebrity mom profiles, Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels argue these profiles, begun in the 1980s and well established by the 1990s, primarily work to encourage guilt and failure in mothers because they always show fit (1) celebrity moms juggling it all--work, family, and mothering--with smiles on their faces and in glowing pictures with their healthy, well-behaved children. Douglas and Michaels also argue that celebrity mom profiles are at the heart of the new momism, a term they coined. The new momism is the contemporary form of intensive mothering (2) that emerged in the 1980s and is in full force today. This "good mothering" ideology rests on three core beliefs and values: the insistence that no woman is complete until she has children; that women are the best caregivers of children; and that "good" mothers must devote their entire physical, emotional, and psychological beings to their children all day, every day. In doing so, the new momism also requires mothers to develop professional-level skills, such as therapist, pediatrician, consumerproducts safety instructor, and teacher, in order to meet and treat the needs of children (Douglas and Michaels 6). …

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