Why We Need To Stop Commenting On Pregnant People’s Bodies | It’s Jenna J | Personal Trainer, Body Image Coach, Yoga Teacher, Dance Teacher
Sometimes I feel like a misfit pregnant woman. I don’t really like being pregnant. Those monthly progress pictures where I show my bump and compare my baby to produce are NOT my thing. I won’t be doing a maternity photo shoot in a meadow. I’m secretly (openly) relieved that I got to have a virtual baby shower instead of an in-person one. I am not particularly in awe of the magical feat of my body growing a human. Mostly I feel uncomfortable and inconvenienced.
That probably makes me sound like an asshole but it’s ok. It’s my truth.
And maybe knowing that will help people understand my position better. I mean first the baby was making me puke up to 3 times a day. Then he started sitting exclusively on top of my bladder. Now he’s just making my ribcage hurt. I’m running out of letters in the alphabet to go up in bra cup sizes.
Before I go on, I’ll acknowledge that I know I am extremely privileged.
For everyone out there struggling with fertility or longing to become a mom, I feel for you and honor your lived experience too. In spite of the fact that our healthcare system in America sucks, I still have access to it. I’m having a relatively smooth pregnancy in spite of all of the above. I move through the world with quite a bit of thin privilege, so I don’t have to deal with my doctors hassling me about my weight. Even though I might have to buy some new clothes, it’s still possible for me to find things that fit. Yet I still feel like I don’t belong in this “mom” club. Truthfully, sometimes I don’t want to join in on things like “prenatal yoga” or even enjoy talking to other moms because I feel like I’m not really like the rest of them.
I’m not a regular mom. I’m a cool mom.
Except today I am a very ragey mom.
Backstory: I found myself really triggered the other day. Without getting in to too much detail, I’ll just say that upon encountering a family member I hadn’t seen in awhile, this person said, out of nowhere: “Let me see your stomach.”
I was like “Ummmmmmmm no. That’s awkward.” It completely caught her off guard. She asked me why. She didn’t understand and left in a huff. Meanwhile, I found myself literally shaking. It was like I couldn’t get the words out or articulate clearly why this request was NOT ok with me. It took me a few hours, some venting to my sister, a kettlebell workout with a friend, and writing this blog post to start to feel it out. Clearly I have some shit to work through here.
I have to imagine that I’m not the only one who feels this way.
I am asking that we reconsider the way we talk about and relate to pregnant people’s bodies, and ask if it’s really necessary or wanted?
According to a poll of my Instagram following, 99% of people think that comments like “Let me see your stomach.” are inappropriate.
That’s not saying much, considering that most of my followers follow me because we have likeminded views. Or that many people probably didn’t have the guts to respond with “You’re the weird one.” and deal with my wrath. Nevertheless, it did prompt some interesting commentary in my DM’s.
A few people pointed out that people who say things like this mean well. They’re just excited for me. They equate the cuteness of my future baby to the size of my bump right now. They want to be complimentary. It’s the only way they know to acknowledge my pregnancy. And that maybe these kinds of comments are appropriate only if they’re coming from a close friend or family?
Full stop: If you don’t know the pregnant person well enough to know exactly how they feel about commentary on their body, you probably aren’t as close as you thought you were.
Take the time to find out before you proceed to invade their personal space. Back to the shit I need to work through. I decided to do some thinking about exactly why these sorts of comments grind my gears so much. It runs deep. Here are my thoughts.
It pisses me off that women are expected to be small and thin for our entire lives, but somehow pregnancy is the exception.
It seems so arbitrary to me. I have spent my entire life, especially as a dancer, hyper aware of my weight and size. I have spent so many years sucking my stomach in that I now actually have to make a conscious effort to relax my abs. A flat stomach and visible ab definition has always been #goals, according to the rest of the world. And now I’m supposed to flip the script and suddenly feel like my growing bump (which still looks like more beer than baby) is “cute”? That is next level mindfuckery and it’s not that simple. I’d say I need to do some more body image work here, but really I think the world does too. Until everyone thinks a plus sized woman in a bikini is also “cute” I’m not interested in this compliment. It’s a messed up double standard and I’m not here for it.
It’s a reminder of the way the world tries to control women’s bodies.
I am fiercely pro-choice and have been for as long as I can remember. Nothing makes me angrier than hearing about old white men (or anyone) trying to legislate when and under what circumstances we get to reproduce. Granted, I chose to have this baby. But I think it’s bullshit the way people think they can still take ownership over our bodies. It’s like you get pregnant and people take it as a free invitation to comment on how you look, make judgements about how big or small you are, try to touch you, tell you what you should be eating, how you should be working out, etc. Fuck that. My body is still my own. I might have to share it with a baby right now, but I sure as shit don’t have to share it with anyone else. It doesn’t matter what kind of relationship we have.
I am not used to commentary on my body and I like it that way.
Again, another form of privilege. But let’s talk about my journey, because I feel like it’s not that different from a lot of others. I spent much of my tween through adult years perpetually trying to lose weight. On the rare occasion that I was successful, I was met with the “OMG YOU LOOK SO GOOD” rhetoric. Reinforcement that smaller is better. I’ve also never truly been in a larger body either, so I can’t relate to the “should you be eating/wearing that?” or body shaming from family or society. Since I started my body acceptance journey and gave up dieting for good around 5 years ago, my body has been stable and predictable. Nothing noteworthy. I wound up in a medium sized body and haven’t lost or gained a significant amount of weight in years. As a result nobody has really had much to say about my size or appearance in a long time, and I’ve gotten used to that. Privilege or not, to hear it now feels jarring. Definitely stirs up old body image shit I thought I had moved past.
My size/shape/weight/bump size is the LEAST interesting or important thing about me.
There are SO many other things we could be talking about right now. And while many feel it necessary to acknowledge someone’s pregnancy, a simple “How are you feeling?” is enough. Let the pregnant person guide the conversation. It will be pretty clear where they want it to go by what they say next. Take a cue from them. For me, personally, I don’t love my current reality. All I want is to feel normal again. So distract me please. Ask me about work. Tell me about your day. Vent about that lady at Target who wouldn’t wear a mask. Literally anything else. I realize not everyone feels this way. But a few seconds of conversation and some social awareness should give you a pretty clear idea about where people stand. Social media is usually a great clue too. People posting weekly bump updates probably want to talk about this stuff. Those of us posting about BLM and pictures of our dog? Probably not so much.
It’s overstepping of a boundary.
Pregnancy feels very personal and private to me. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. My body is MINE. And I am hyper aware of it. Especially as a dancer/yoga teacher/fitness professional. It’s weird AF when everything I’ve come to know feels foreign and different. It’s like an extended stay at an okayish hotel where the towels smell funny and the sheets are scratchy and the water pressure is low and the AC makes weird noises and keeps you up at night. It doesn’t make a difference if you’re excited to be in Disney World. It still kinda sucks. If I want to share with you (my creaky full sized bed or my pregnancy experience), I’ll invite you to discuss, look, touch, etc.
It’s a glaringly obvious reminder of how much value you (we as a society) place on physical appearance.
It pisses me off. When I was a little girl, my mother used to remind me that “The world does not revolve around Jenna.” So when I’m out in the world, I try to remind myself that most people are probably not staring at me and judging the state of my pregnant body. I tell myself that my clients are staring at me intently because they’re soaking up my demo of how to hip hinge correctly, and NOT because they’re trying to figure out of my bump looks bigger this week than it did last week. When people comment my appearance, good, bad, or otherwise, or ask to get a closer look or touch, it reminds me that unfortunately, I was wrong. People actually are staring and judging. That makes me really uncomfortable.
I want other people to stop narrating my experience for me.
I got this one from my sister, and it’s my favorite. Anyone who has ever been pregnant, assumes that other people’s experience will be just like theirs. “Oh yeah? The second trimester is golden but just wait til the third. You’ll change your mind once the baby comes. You must be so exhausted/excited/etc!” But what if I’m not?? Everyone’s experience is so different and I want there to be space for that. Less assuming, more asking. Not just in this situation but in general.
I know what you’re gonna do next. You’re gonna wanna leave me a comment or send me a message.
And it’s either gonna be a “Hell yes! Thank you for saying this.” Or it’s gonna be a justification of your behavior. “Well when I was pregnant, I liked when people said this. I think pregnant bodies are beautiful. People are just excited for you. They mean well.” Blah blah blah. Yes. I understand. That is your experience. I am sharing mine. You might think I’m being too sensitive. Or self centered for even writing about this. That’s fine. It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want. I don’t expect everyone to understand it. I do expect them to respect it. Whether it’s in regard to pregnancy or any other sort of commentary that people find offensive, it’s really pretty easy to be like: “Hey, you don’t like when I say that? Cool. I’ll say something else.”
I definitely think there is some more work for me to do here.
Body image work is lifelong and insecurities can show up extra hard when you’re pregnant. Even things you thought you had worked through already. Beyond the internal work, society could also use a bit of a mindset shift in the way we treat and talk about pregnant bodies and all bodies really. My body, my business. In pregnancy and always.
This content was originally published here.