As a Mommy

Pregnancy Body-Shaming

Photo: M Harris Studios, 2016

When a woman gets pregnant and starts showing, it can be a wonderful thing. However, it then makes her vulnerable to outside perspectives of her body…usually from people whom they barely know. This continues throughout the pregnancy and extends into post-partum until she has “sufficiently” snapped back to her pre-pregnancy size. While most people think they may be making well-intentioned comments, it can sometimes be received differently. I’ll admit, I’ve accidentally said some embarrassing things to pregnant women in the past as well. As with most pregnant women, I’ve heard every comment under the sun, the good the bad and the ugly.  By my second go around with this baby, I usually laugh it off or find some witty retort to make them feel equally as uncomfortable. However, some women have heard ridiculous comments that sound outright mean-spirited, and subsequently made them feel horrible. For all the awkward and negative encounters that my mom friends have share with me, I wanted to share a bit of preggo-talk etiquette that some people could benefit from knowing.

First off, if you don’t really know the person well and wouldn’t normally talk about her appearance as a friend, this is not the time to start. I understand it can be a great conversation piece, but it’s definitely awkward when coming from a stranger. Secondly, your judgement of whether her belly size matches with her gestational age is not a compliment, but rather an unnecessarily verbalized observation. Saying, “wow you’re so small for __ weeks” or “I can barely tell you’re pregnant” may upset a first-time mom who has become so proud of her tiny, yet expanding, belly. Saying, “You’re HUGE!!” or “Are you sure you’re not carrying twins?” can seem like an innocent joke, but could make a mom feel self-conscious of her growing weight. My favorite is when people comment about other parts of the body that have changed such as “I can see it in your face”,”your nose is definitely getting wider” or “I can tell your a** is getting bigger” (totally serious, I’ve heard all three). I really had to bite my tongue to not reply, “So is yours”.
Some women fit society’s prototypical pregnant body figure: only gaining in their belly and everything remains unchanged.  However, most women grow in several different areas like their arms, boobs, butt, legs, neck, face etc. Either way, they have no control over how their body will change and where the weight will be distributed.  Some women gain 20 lbs, some gain 45+ (like yours truly).  The same goes for the post-partum shrinking stage. Some women shrink quicker than others, and celebrity pregnancies pressure society to lose weight as quickly as possible and make sure that “snap-back game” is strong. I’ve heard another woman say to a co-worker, “It’s been a year already, you should have tightened up by now”. Again, I almost wanted to step in and say, “It’s been 30 years, Karen*, why haven’t you?” But that wouldn’t be nice, either. *not really Karen.
Bottom line is this: commenting about a woman’s body or weight while they are pregnant can be a subtle form of body-shaming. This is especially true for a stranger, or acquaintance. Men are usually not the main culprits, although they do say some pretty dumb stuff to pregnant women. I’m seeing more woman-to-woman criticism because we naturally like to talk about each other. It’s bad enough that we judge each other’s appearance at baseline, but when a woman is carrying a growing fetus for 9 months, they should get a free-pass from this type of unsolicited feedback. Think carefully about your words. Think about the struggles this woman might be going through during this delicate time.  Pregnancy is a blessing, but also really challenging, so it shouldn’t have to include self-image issues.  Switching up your vocabulary could mean the difference between a back-handed compliment and genuine words of encouragement. When in doubt, stick with “You look great!” or “Your bump is adorable”. Every mom loves to hear those ones 🙂