This week the Duchess of Cambridge (who I'm just going to call Kate like everyone else does) once again did what was expected of her: She gave the world a royal baby -- and a nice big one, at 8 pounds, 6 ounces. She survived the bump watch, the consternation over her meager weight gain (clearly unwarranted) and the hyperventilating over the birth. Today is her first day at home with George, and it would be great if she could just curl up with him and relax. But whether she realizes it yet or not, she already faces a new public trial: the sprint to skinny. We all know the drill. Pictures will zero in on her stomach to see how long it takes for her to look washboard-flat again. She'll be pitted against Kim Kardashian in a great race to lose the weight. No doubt she'll win, since she's congenitally slim while Kim takes curves to an extreme heretofore unseen in nature. Maybe her body will bounce back immediately without dieting or "abominable crunches," as my 11-year-old calls them. Maybe it won't. But either way, her weight loss will be followed in close up, with plenty of acid-tinged commentary. Unbelievably, it has already started: check out this tasteless cover of OK!
How did we get to this ridiculous place, where losing the baby weight is a competitive sport followed by millions? Magazines certainly haven't helped, with their covers of celebrities in bikinis, all smiles and hipbones, showing off how thin they've gotten just a few months -- or even weeks -- after giving birth. As the editor of Redbook, I'll admit I've sometimes been part of the problem.
But I'm proud of our September cover featuring Kristen Bell, photographed 11 weeks after her daughter, Lincoln, was born. In our shot she is comfortable, clear-eyed and lovely. She is also, by her estimation, 15 pounds away from her pre-pregnancy weight. She gained a very normal 43 lbs with Lincoln, and when we spoke to her she was pleased that healthy eating (extra fruits, veggies and protein shakes) paired with low-impact exercise (Bar Method classes and workout DVDs), plus breast-feeding, had taken care of 28 lbs. The rest, she told us, didn't worry her:
I'm going to continue working out and see where it goes. I'd like to get back down to where I was before the baby... but if this is where my body wants to be, so be it. I'm not going to make myself miserable for the rest of my life trying to get back to where I was before.
After all, her adorable partner, Dax Shepard, was loving her a little heavier. All during the pregnancy, "all he did was tell me how much he loved me chubby," she told us. "He even asked me to stay chubby after the baby was born."
Full disclosure: We moved this cover from August to September when Lincoln was born a little later than expected. I counted the weeks to our cover shoot and rescheduled to give Kristen more time. I didn't want Redbook to be part of the media meat grinder that pressures a new mother to torch off the weight while she's also feeding and caring for a newborn. Those first few weeks are grueling enough without trying to eliminate carbs, too. I will never forget the sleep deprivation I went through with my second daughter; at one point, after waking up with her every 45 minutes, I burst into tears and wailed at my husband, "this is what they do to PRISONERS OF WAR!!!"
It all worked out perfectly. Kristen got some extra weeks to adjust to the stresses -- and enjoy the wonder -- of motherhood. Redbook got a gorgeous cover. She looks fantastic and if she never loses another pound, that's just fine. She's already pulled off a newsmaking reveal, and the headline is this: There are more important things to think about than stripping off the baby weight. Like, say, the baby. My message to Kristen, Kim and Kate? Take your time. Be patient with your body. And whenever you possibly can, sleep.