Kate Middleton in India this week. (Photo: Getty Images)
The post-baby body obsession just never seems to stop — not even if you’re royalty, simply trying to enjoy yourself at a garden party while visiting India. That’s where Kate Middleton was this week, when the princess found herself waylaid by a party guest with a very direct question.
“How do you lose all the weight after having two kids?” Bulbul Dhar-James, a political science professor at nearby Jamia Millia University in New Delhi, told both People and Us Weekly about her exciting exchange with Middleton, at a celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday. “And she said, ‘I am running after my kids!’” (Her follow-up, she noted, was “Aren’t you tired of smiling?” to which the princess graciously answered, “I’m just reciprocating. Everyone is so warm.”)
The exchange was reported by both outlets with tacit approval — as whimsical, insider-y news, and with Middleton’s answer, “running after my kids,” serving as the all-important reveal.
But how is this an acceptable question to ask a stranger — particularly when you’re an academic who has lectured on topics of gender and empowerment? Yahoo Beauty reached out to Dhar-James to ask her about her line of questioning. “I would like to clarify it was a compliment about how slim, elegant and amazing she looked in person, even better than in the photographs,” she says in an email to Yahoo Beauty. “And a counter question about the secret to that, to which her answer was simply, ‘I keep running behind my kids.’”
Dhar-James adds, “From a gender perspective I really do feel it is a sign of empowerment in terms of the work-life balancing and multitasking the personal and the professional roles — mother, wife, duchess, daughter, daughter-in-law and much else including the self, which women very often tend to overlook with especially motherhood… The Duchess having made time for herself amidst being a ‘hands on’ mother is appreciable and worth emulating.” Finally, she adds, “If indeed if it was only about body and weight, it would not just have been intrusive but downright insulting.”
Which was how the story, as reported, could have come across. But according to Dr. Robyn Silverman, teen development specialist and body-image expert, such personal topics have unfortunately come to be regarded as public. “As body types and pounds are discussed daily in the media, talking about weight and shape have become normal party fodder. In fact, not talking about diet and weight is less typical than discussing it,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “Celebrities are not immune to these seemingly benign, yet judgment-laden, questions because their bodies have been watched and discussed at length — so much so that it seems the business of everyone.”
Middleton shortly after giving birth in 2013. (Photo: Getty Images)
That’s definitely the case when it comes to the fixation with postpartum bodies. Recent discussions have centered around the amazing post-baby figures of Chontel Duncan, Masika Kalysha, Ivanka Trump, Candice Accola King, Coco Austin, and, of course, Kim Kardashian — all of which not only adds to the pressure many moms already feel to drop their weight and get back to “normal,” but tells young women and girls that snapping back to “perfect” form is one of the most important goals to strive for.
“This sends a very backwards message to women, one that minimizes the importance of how they are experiencing the profound changes of new motherhood, and places a dangerous emphasis on physical appearance,” Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association and author of Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? She penned a sarcastic piece in the Independent shortly after Middleton gave birth for the first time in 2013, when her body size became the center of international discussions.
“Is this week over yet? Because we’ve already been through a lot, people. Birthing an heir to the throne is tough work,” Mysko wrote. “But making sense of the Duchess’s current and future body shape is even more exhausting, am I right? When it came to the latter task, thank goodness we could all come together, join hands and raise our voices to say, ‘We got this, Kate.’ It reminds me of that inspiring quote from some super insightful famous lady: It takes a village to raise a child and get his mum’s body back to bikini readiness. Just stop for a moment and let that spiritual call to action wash over you.”
Regarding the latest post-baby body question posed to Middleton in India, Silverman notes that Dhar-James most likely meant well (which, apparently, she did). “The professor who asked Kate Middleton about her weight was likely trying to give her what many people would consider a compliment in the form of a weight-loss question. This has become the new normal,” she says.
But, she adds, “Our bodies are personal. And while some women are happy to discuss everything from diet tips to the size of their jeans, some women would feel targeted and offended by the same questions. We also need to be careful of the messages we send to young girls about what questions are acceptable from others. People generally want to feel and look their best, but we should not need the validation or judgment of a stranger to determine how we feel. In my opinion, party talk should stick to less controversial topics, unless the other person has invited that level of conversation!” Sounds good to us.