Last week, at a lunch I was attending, a woman asked me if I had any children. I replied no, that this would be my first, and she appeared surprised and asked when I was due, saying she did not even realize I was pregnant (mind you, I was wearing a very maternity-like maternity top). I replied “the end of July” and, in the course of her reply, noted that I was “wearing the pregnancy well,” implying that by not looking hugely pregnant, I was somehow winning at pregnancy.
A friend pointed out that she was probably just trying to cover her possible embarrassment at not noticing my pregnancy – and that might very well be true – but I think her statement is also reflective of the larger societal problem of how we view the bodies of women and how, in turn, women view themselves. There is a problem when a 6 1/2month pregnant woman is looked at as doing well because she is not over-showing and just as great a problem when a 9-month-pregnant woman is told that she “looks ready to explode,” “is so big,” etc.
I think some of the problem is body image and some of the problem is pregnancy image. The body image problem is the same old story you know – in the USA, we value being small to the exclusion of healthy practices and that value seems to transfer right on over to pregnancy. The pregnancy image problem is one of either not valuing or not fully understanding pregnancy, expecting all women to fit into some ideal of what pregnancy is, and somehow being surprised when a woman GROWING A CHILD is bigger than that expectation. It’s also a problem of not trusting that women can make the right pregnancy health decisions for themselves and that being bigger does not necessarily mean unhealthy any more than being smaller and fitting into those expectations means healthy.
I am pretty lucky in that I believe I have a fairly good body image (but I also know that I have the privilege of having fairly good genes to begin with, which makes a huge difference in my life experiences related to body image). And I have largely enjoyed my growing body – see what it is doing, what it can do. And recognizing that it will never be the same again, but accepting that easily as part of the gift that pregnancy is for me. But even I find that as I get bigger and my bump gets less bumpy and more bulgy that I judge my size differently and more harshly than I should. And being surrounded by others who may be doing the same leaves me a little sad for pregnant women as a group, powerful and beautiful creatures that we are! (Funny that even as I write that, I feel like I’m “bragging” too much or too full of myself… but maybe we need to be a little strong in our self-praise, maybe that’s also part of the problem).
Anyway, it was an interesting experience. I don’t want to disregard the importance of health during pregnancy, but I also don’t believe that most folks talking about size are also talking about health, even if they hide behind that thin veil of concern (perhaps while (humorously) consuming a double cheeseburger from the local fast food joint). I think that pregnant women – all women – – all people – deserve better.