Browse any gossip website or tabloid newspaper on any given day and you can expect to be rewarded for your time and money with scores of “exclusive” pictures of pregnant celebrities “proudly displaying” a “burgeoning baby bump” or, alternatively, “hiding” it away.
In reality, the women photographed are doing neither - they are simply being pregnant.
But excitement abounds when it comes to pregnant women in the public eye. In fact, it seems the only thing more compelling than a celebrity “flaunting” her “huge pregnant belly”, is the speed at which she can shed all that dreadful excess weight in order to show off her glorious post-baby body.
Never mind how, as Kirstie Allen’s character remarks in the 1989 film Look Who’s Talking, she’s managed to squeeze “something the size of a watermelon out of an opening the size of a lemon”; the pressing question we should all be asking is can she or can she not slip back into her pre-pregnancy skinny jeans?
In a bid to counter-balance the negative effects of these rabid body-shaming commentaries, a US photographer has made it her mission to celebrate the beauty, 'flaws', and shapes of new mothers in “a world that thrives off women feeling insecure”.
Jade Beall hopes her work will help “inspire future generations of women to be free from the unnecessary self-suffering and embrace their beauty just as they are”.
Her website and book, The Bodies of Mothers, feature untouched shots of pregnant women and new mothers. The images typically depict nude women, often breastfeeding their children. Beall has said that she wanted to address the “epidemic” of women who feel unworthy of being beautiful.
A noble enterprise, indeed, but last month it appeared she had inadvertently ruffled the feathers of a troop of male Facebook users of a particularly sensitive disposition.
Beall had posted on her Facebook page a shot of seven nude women with their nipples and genitals blurred - and was inundated with messages from men insisting she remove the “disgusting” image.
Women’s bodies have become so hypersexalized that a photograph of a nude woman presenting her body in an unsexualized manner, using her breasts to nourish a child rather than to titillate a male onlooker, is almost taboo now.
But having a child can prompt women to re-evaluate their bodies and to see them in a positive light, often for the first time.
Cathy Williams, 32, has two daughters and two sons, all aged under seven. “When I was younger I looked at all the ways my body wasn't good enough. My focus was on how my body looked and I always found it lacking,” she says. “Now how my body looks is secondary to what my body can do and has done.
Cathy says she is the heaviest she has ever been. On top of that she has “a jiggly 'mummy tummy' thanks to knackered abdominal muscles, a load of stretch marks and breasts which would definitely fail the pencil test”.
Yet, she says: “For the first time ever, I love my body. I love that it has created and grown four of the most amazing people I know; I love that it has fed them for years and I love that my body allows me to look after them every day.
“I absolutely don't care that I'm a bit fat, that my skin is dimpled and scarred - my body grew people; I'm a superhero!”
Amber Allen, 26, says she a had a “horrible, negative” attitude toward her body as a teenager. But that body recently accommodated not one but two additional lives: Amber gave birth to twins 19 weeks ago.
“My body nourished and supported two babies to 38 weeks so that they were born at a healthy 6lbs 1oz and 6lbs 6oz and were able to go home the next day,” she says.
“Sure, it stretched to measure the horrifying equivalent of 47-weeks gestation with a singleton by the end but it recovered - albeit with a few stretchmarks, which I'm actually rather fond of.”
Not all women feel so at ease in their post-pregnancy bodies, though.
“When I was pregnant I felt like a queen. I loved my bump and I felt beautiful. Now I really don’t,” says Cassie Watts, 34, a first-time mother who gave birth to her son Hudson 11 weeks ago.
“I have found my post-baby body very hard to deal with. I want to hide away. I am proud of my body for having my son, but I hate the way it looks.
“I keep trying to remind myself that I created a human being, which gives me temporary relief until I see someone like Heidi Klum parading around in a bikini weeks after giving birth.”
Cassie says she feels enormous pressure from the media “to look a certain way”. She adds that feels “selfish” for having such negative thoughts when she feels she should be concentrating on her new son.
“There’s a huge amount of pressure from the media on women to lose their baby weight - it’s very dangerous at such a vulnerable time,” warns midwife Jess Austin.
“Women are already suffering from a lack of sleep and sometimes low moods. They have been through a major and often quite difficult experience,” she says.
“About 25 per cent of women give birth by Caesarean in the UK,” she adds.
“It’s major abdominal surgery. You’re not even meant to drive for six weeks let alone do exercise.
“While a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy and after birth is encouraged, we should not be pressuring women to get back to their pre-pregnancy figures in an unrealistic timeframe.”
Thanks to body positivity advocates such as Beall and her Beautiful Body Project, women are increasingly questioning the portrayals of the ‘perfect’ body touted by the media and advertisers, who prey on consumers’ insecurities.
“Society tries to teach women that their bodies are ornamental first, useful second,” says 33-year-old Rebecca Williams, who has a two-year-old son.
“I am in awe of my body: it had everything it needed to produce another human. That’s pretty impressive.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies