I suspect pregnancy is the final frontier of boundary issues. It’s astounding to me just how many people feel entitled and compelled to comment on my body. My non-pregnant adult weight fluctuates and sometimes people will comment that I look like I’ve lost weight when I likely have, but those comments are fairly few and far between. Most people have the sense to realize that commenting on people’s weight is rude. But now that I am 30 weeks into my second pregnancy, not a day goes by that someone doesn’t make an observation about my body. And it’s been this way the entire time.
The first comments were from my sweet then 3 year old. At 8 weeks, she knew something was different and would put her hands on my stomach, smile hopefully up at me and say she thought my tummy looked a little different and maybe we should think about putting a baby in there. While we didn’t tell her about the pregnancy until 13 weeks, she knew. And she knew because she knows my body almost like she knows her own: we are very snuggly people who often take baths together and she could see the changes. I didn’t mind those comments, though I will confess I was already feeling nervous about my expanding body.
By week 16, my pregnancy was obvious to my clients, class participants and friendly faces I know from the neighborhood. And though I will assume they are well-intentioned, the comments haven’t stopped. Just yesterday a women assured me that I didn’t look pregnant in my face. And that I didn’t look pregnant from the back. I laughed and asked what a pregnant face looks like. She thought for a minute, then said that sometimes women’s faces get fatter. Okay, then.
Pregnancy, at least for me, has been a time of total lack of control over what my body does. My face getting fuller, looking pregnant from the back (whatever that means), my hair seeming shiny or dull…these are all things that will simply happen or not. It’s not a compliment to say that my face doesn’t look pregnant, it’s an assessment. During my first pregnancy, my mom was dying during my first and second trimesters. She died on the day I transitioned into my third trimester; I had other things on my mind than how I looked during my pregnancy. And yet, my mother in law continually told me I was “carrying beautifully.” As though I had anything to do with that. As though I would appreciate hearing it. The baby was growing as babies do, I was taking care of myself as best as I could, as I always do. That’s it. That’s all we can do. I feel as though all of these comments are society’s way of reminding us women that we are all being watched and assessed at all times. Interestingly, perpetuated almost exclusively by other women. Are we trying to reassure each other that we are still beautiful women even though we look more like Alfred Hitchcock? I’d like to believe that. But I’m not so sure.
Pregnancy is such a sensitive time. Never mind all the hormonal fluctuations, women toe a very precarious line when it comes to our weight. One client of mine recounted how she felt when her girlfriends all squealed that she was OMG, SO TINY! at her baby shower. In girl language, this is a compliment, but she started worrying that her baby wasn’t growing well enough. Another told me that in her 9th month, someone commented that she was finally looking like a woman; she’d always had a thin frame and now finally she had some curves. And at about 24 weeks, I had a participant in my Spinning class ask when I was due and when I told her May, her jaw dropped and she blurted out “you’re huge!” While I am inclined to agree, it wasn’t exactly fun to hear.
We women are all exposed to so much judgement and criticism our entire lives. Why, when so many of us are already feeling vulnerable and sensitive about our body’s changes, do the comments ramp up so much?