Charlotte Philby: Does a mummy have to be yummy?

No sooner does a woman give birth than the pressure is on to look good

She is the very epitome of beaming celebrity, airbrushed to near-oblivion, dolled up to the nines, radiating perfection. Oh and what's that in the picture? Ah yes, her new-born tot. Another soap star who has given birth is gracing the cover of a magazine, and showing us round a home that is remarkably free of the clutter which, for the rest of us, is part and parcel of having a young child.

Nothing wrong in that, you may well argue. Just a chance for us, the adoring public, to coo over our her new arrival, and snoop around the house. Well, I don't think so. The illusion created by these model new mothers – and of course very often they are models – is troubling. Is this really the state to which women experiencing motherhood should aspire?

Of course there's nothing new in the notion of the yummy mummy – but the supposed desirability of such a figure has just been depressingly reinforced by The Yummy Mummy's Survival Guide, a new book by Liz Fraser that offers tips on such gravely important matters as how to look glamorous in the playground.

Fraser talks us through her struggle to be both a mother and a sexy woman, and expounds at length about the depths of despair women face when confronted with the wobble of her belly and the sight of her untended hair-do in those post-pregnancy months, and about how soul-destroying this can be.

And one might concede that you could hardly blame such women, given that we are bombarded with images of what we are told represent the perfect mother at every stage of the pregnancy. Pre-birth, there are the slew of pictures of naked, re-touched celebrities clutching their perfect baby bumps – a trend that goes right back to a very pregnant Demi Moore posing for the cover of Vanity Fair.

Then, weeks later, the same women are showing off their iron-board stomachs having undertaken some gruelling exercise and dieting regime. There are the endless stories in how to shift "the post-baby bulge", bolstered by images of barely pubescent models, encouraging us to lose excessive weight within weeks of having a baby – despite the adverse effect this may well have on a mother's mental and physical health and that of their new-born, at a time when we should be enjoying the awesome power of our bodies. Those who fail to live up to the objective set out are held up, lambasted and ridiculed.

All of these matters point to the over-riding fact, that we have become so over-sexualised as a nation, and so obsessed by a single – and largely unattainable – idea of what makes a woman sexy, and in our quest to achieve that, that we have lost sight of what's really important – our own mental and physical health, and that of our children. What has happened to us that we have such a warped take on what qualifies as being the perfect mother?

The irony, of course, is that there is actually nothing more attractive than the glow of a pregnant woman, and the sense of tenderness, capability and pride a new mother exudes. This is what the female form is about. That, along with a healthy dose of self-confidence, is as good as it gets.