There was a time when a mother had a baby, went home, put on a shapeless smock top and spent the next year immersed in milk, mastitis and making memories as a family.

No-one expected her to be, or look, anything other than a mum, and if that meant her hair wasn't done or she never fitted into her old jeans, so be it.

Fast forward 30 years and the demands of the newborn days have been joined by a new benchmark: how quickly you can regain your pre-pregnancy shape.

"Body after baby" is a phenomenon birthed in the era of tabloid magazines and in full force in the image-making-and-faking theatre of Instagram. It's there, on the seemingly innocuous grid, that scrutiny and judgment have produced a toxic commentary that threatens the joy and wonder of new motherhood.

New mum Anna Heinrich, one of the nation's most popular influencers since meeting her husband, Tim Robards, on The Bachelor eight years ago, was recently targeted for posting pictures of herself on a boat just two weeks after giving birth to her daughter Elle.

Smiling with friends in a bikini top and high-waist briefs, she was assailed by social-media critics calling her out for setting impossibly high standards.

Anna Heinrich says mothers shouldn’t be criticised for their bodies after they have babies. Picture: Manolo Campion/Styling: Irene Tsolakas
Anna Heinrich says mothers shouldn’t be criticised for their bodies after they have babies. Picture: Manolo Campion/Styling: Irene Tsolakas

But far from boasting about "bouncing back", the 34-year-old lawyer says she was simply enjoying a fun day out after the rigours of pregnancy and childbirth.

"The intention behind the image wasn't to say, 'look at me, look at my body, look how I've recovered'," she tells Body+Soul.

"I put it up because I was having a great time. I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad, I'm just living my life. Instagram is a fraction of what I am."

While she typically deletes and blocks negative comments, Heinrich says that as a mother of a daughter, she's disappointed by the judgement women direct at each other.

"There is no ideal. We're all unique, we're going down different paths and there's no right or wrong way. I don't understand why people criticise - it's a reflection on themselves," adds the Crown Sydney ambassador, who plans to celebrate her first Mother's Day with five-month-old Elle at the hotel.

It's not a view shared by Australian actress Claire Holt, who recently slammed US actress Emily Ratajkowski for sharing photos of her flat stomach a little over a week after welcoming her son Sylvester.

Anna Heinrich with her daughter Elle on the cover of Body+Soul magazine.
Anna Heinrich with her daughter Elle on the cover of Body+Soul magazine.

In fact, Holt went so far as to post a photo of her own tummy two weeks after giving birth side-by-side with Ratajkowski's image, which she declared "annoying".

The mum-of-two and star of hit TV shows The Originals and The Vampire Diaries claimed Ratajkowski wasn't contributing to "body positivity" and said her post "makes other people feel shitty about themselves".

In a direct challenge, Holt implored her to use Instagram to make people feel included, pointing out that she was both an "outlier" and "lucky".

Heinrich, who's been open about the emotional rollercoaster of being a new mum, believes we need to suspend dialogue around mother's bodies.

"We shouldn't be criticising people for how they choose to live their life and how they recover. It's not like Emily is going out of her way to do something different from her past Instagram posts."

While she believes society needs to embrace greater body diversity, she says we can't know anyone else's intention in posting images.

"If you don't like viewing these images then unfollow [the person] if it's going to make you feel insecure."

“We’re all unique,” Anna Heinrich says. Picture: Manolo Campion/Styling: Irene Tsolakas
“We’re all unique,” Anna Heinrich says. Picture: Manolo Campion/Styling: Irene Tsolakas

The irony of the modern incarnation of "body after baby" is that the phenomenon initially began as the reverse: a showcase of mums, such as Britney Spears, who didn't "bounce back".

Former magazine publisher Louisa Hatfield recalls how in the days before everyone could photoshop and filter their images, shots of celebs battling to regain their bodies made for strong sales.

"New mums struggling to get back to their pre-pregnancy shape felt so much better when they could see celebrities - who have money, home gyms and personal chefs - were struggling just like them," she tells Body+Soul.

Journalist and author Magdalena Roze has become an advocate for post-natal health and thinks we need to focus on the "forward" - rather than the "bouncing back" - by being gentle on ourselves.

"The 'body after baby' obsession worries me as it does nothing to support women when they're vulnerable and adjusting to a new identity. I'd love to see the conversation change from one not just of nourishment but also reverence and support," she says.

As for Heinrich, she confesses that she, too, has days when she's exhausted and emotional and ends up comparing herself to others. But she's learning that she can't be in control of everything and so focuses on what she can: being kind, caring and embracing her new role as a mum.

She's also grateful for the deepening of her close relationships, particularly with her mum and husband.

"I'm no longer the old me, I'm a new me - and I'm trying to work out the best way to be the new me."

* For the full story, go to bodyandsoul.com.au

This story appears in Body+Soul magazine, found inside The Sunday Telegraph (NSW), Sunday Herald Sun (Victoria), The Sunday Mail (Queensland), Sunday Mail (SA) and Sunday Tasmanian (Tasmania).

Originally published as Anna Heinrich on after-baby bodies: 'We're all unique'



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