Why We’re Obsessed With Ogling New Moms

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West Photo: Kevin Mazur/2016 Kevin Mazur

Just this past weekend, Chrissy Teigen caught some heat when she “stepped out” with husband John Legend nine days after giving birth to their first child, a daughter.

According to screenshots Teigen posted on Twitter, some people thought the new mother was leaving her baby too early. Teigen, a social-media master, handled the situation with finesse. When someone asked how her daughter was, she joked, “I dunno where she is.”

But among the fans accusing Teigen of selfishness or bad parenting were those who specifically thought she was performing the First Official Celebrity Post-Baby Appearance too early. “That spotlight pull be strong,” one wrote. Said another, “She needs to stop all this attention seeking.” A third commended Teigen’s hustle: “Y’all realize she’s a model and her body is how she makes money.” The implication was that she’d left the house for attention and media adulation, rather than because she’s a human who enjoys occasional bouts of fresh air.

The First Official Celebrity Post-Baby Appearance is now a rite of passage that all women of various levels of fame, from B-list to royalty, must endure after reproducing. It runs like this:

1. Give birth
2. Announce the birth
3. Hide out and either hang with the baby and enjoy being a mom, or desperately diet and exercise in order to get back your pre-baby body.
4. Make your First Official Post-Baby Appearance.

The tone of a First Official Post-Baby Appearance is meant to be triumphant. The celebrity should be glowing, and we should all admire her slim, toned body. In fact, the most ideal form of the post-baby body is a body that looks like the baby never happened.

As a ritual, it’s a way to remind the public that celebrities are different from the rest of us. Having a child can change things about a body. Some people naturally bounce back quickly. Some people work really hard to get back to where they want to be. Almost none of us have the time or resources — especially as mothers of newborns — to begin trying to perfect our post-birth bodies right after the child arrives. But celebrities do, so we expect them to “snap back” in record time.

And that time seems to be shrinking. Kelly Rowland took three months to return “glowing” to the red carpet, and occasionally, we are confronted by nearly impossible timelines: Rosamund Pike “showed no signs that she had just given birth nine weeks ago” when she stunned on the red carpet at the BAFTAs in February of 2015, and Kate Middleton took less than a month to reappear in her skinny jeans after giving birth to Prince George in 2013.

Of course, before the skinny-jeans incident, Middleton unwittingly invited controversy when she was photographed leaving the hospital with a swaddled newborn George and looking, well, pregnant. “Kate Middleton’s post-baby bump sparks debate over what normal women look like after giving birth” ran the headline in the National Post, as if Kate Middleton were in any way normal.

The fact that she is not, however, speaks to the reality of childbirth: All the riches in England could not hide the fact that she’d clearly given birth in the past few days. When a huge portion of the adult population of Earth appears surprised that a women who has just given birth still has a “bump,” that speaks to an enormous dissonance between ideals and reality.

Celebrity motherhood is pretty roundly adored these days (even as non-famous mothers get limited support, at least in the U.S.). Tabloids love to be the first to announce an impending celebrity baby, and they cannot get enough photos of the “bumps.” They monitor the bellies of hundreds (or maybe thousands) of celebrity women, always on the lookout for the signs of a growing bump.

But the truth is that we’re still not that comfortable with the realities of childbirth, nor are we that comfortable with actual women’s bodies. The First Official Post-Baby Appearance doesn’t celebrate the mother or the brand-new life that she just produced. It celebrates a return to normalcy in the form of a toned body that allows us to forget how children are actually made.