I am currently relatively far into a pregnancy that didn’t come easily and hasn’t been seamless. Beyond the struggles to conceive and stay pregnant, the hurdles to maintain a healthy pregnancy, and the day-to-day more common pregnancy challenges lies another layer of complexity to the pregnancy challenges: the unsolicited body comments and scrutiny that often infiltrate pregnancy conversations.
Pregnancy is one of the most transformative experiences of a pregnant person’s life. And while people experience varying degrees of physical, emotional, and hormonal changes during their pregnancies, all pregnant people undergo some measure of physical changes that accompany growing another human being inside of your body. And while most people have good intentions when discussing pregnancy, it often becomes an inadvertent gateway for unsolicited advice, body comments, and unwarranted scrutiny.
As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, body weight fluctuations, body image issues, infertility, and who has been (and is) pregnant, I can say that in all of the phases of my life and throughout all of the changes my body has been through, pregnancy (and the post-partum period) is by far the time where I have received the most comments about my body’s appearance. Pregnancy somehow markets itself to the public as a “free pass” for people to make all sorts of assessments about a woman’s body, its appearance, and the changes it is undergoing. Even the most “kind” comments tend to underscore society’s fixation on and obsession with outward appearance.
The Weight of Body Scrutiny During Pregnancy
If people generally mean well when they comment on someone’s pregnant body, what’s the issue? First of all, there are a myriad of changes happening for a pregnant woman during and after a pregnancy: hormonal changes, emotional changes, changes in phase of life, social changes, just to name a few. Yet, the majority of the comments and questions I get tend to be rooted in an assessment of the physical changes, and not necessarily the physical changes that impact the baby, but specifically, the physical changes in my body’s shape and size.
And the reality is that, even if we are close with someone, none of us have full access to the very personal relationship other people have with their own bodies. We don’t know all of the thoughts people have about themselves, the insecurities they struggle with, the hurdles they have undergone and overcome to get to where they are. We don’t know someone’s history with infertility, body image issues, eating disorder(s). One comment could serve as a trigger or a catalyst for eating disorder thoughts, shame, embarrassment, a set back in one or more of these areas.
At times when I have expressed this viewpoint or something similar, I sometimes get these kinds of responses: “but pregnancy is beautiful” and “You should be thankful and proud of your body’s changes — I loved being pregnant,” or “People just want to show they care!” to which I think: Sure, okay. However, I can be thankful for the miracle happening within my body AND still not want or appreciate comments about its appearance.
Being thankful for the pregnancy does not mean a pregnant person must also welcome the body assessments or scrutiny that comes their way. And being bothered by body comments while pregnant does not at all suggest that someone is not thankful for their journey.
Unpacking Pregnancy Body Comments and Scrutiny
So many of the conversations surrounding pregnancy seem to suggest that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to look when pregnant. Unfortunately, this is the result of a fatphobic society with narrow (and unachievable) beauty standards and ideals. A lot of comments about pregnant bodies seem to stem from other people trying to reconcile their own feelings about someone else’s rapidly changing appearance. Many people don’t realize that the things they are saying are not only insensitive, but can be downright insulting. Below are some comments I have heard or received myself, along with some thoughts about each one.
1. *Early in pregnancy* “Wow! I can already see a little bump!”
Translation: You look bigger than you normally do. The “wow” can make you feel like you’re showing much earlier than you “should” be, too. Whatever the intention with this one, this is a hard one to receive.
2. “How much have you gained so far? When I was pregnant, I actually lost weight because I was so sick.”
Well isn’t that lovely. Yeah . . . no. This one feels off not only because of the judgment, but also because of the thread of comparison woven into the, “I actually lost weight . . .” part of the comment. The weight loss is talked about like an accomplishment, and puts someone who has not experienced this in a position where it’s hard to have any kind of response that feels appropriate.
3. “You’ve really grown in the past few weeks… have you noticed that? You still look cute though!”
Someone just said this to me the other day. And it definitely did not make me feel great. I mean, yes.. Many people grow while pregnant because babies grow. The “still” in here insinuates that “looking cute” at whatever size that comment is made is a concession, like you may look cute now, but you’re on the verge of not looking “cute” anymore. And the need someone has to even say this is just awkward at best.
4. “You’re how far along? You don’t even look pregnant!”
A potential trigger for thoughts about the baby’s health and wellbeing, the baby’s growth, and if something is “wrong” just based on the possibility that someone may be “smaller” than another person at that same point in pregnancy.
5. “When’s your due date? You look like you could go anytime now!”
This translates into, “you look large; in fact, you don’t look like you could get much bigger! Therefore, you must be close to giving birth.” When I hear comments like this, I always wonder what that person thinks they’re accomplishing with such a question and comment?
6. “Oh, you’ve really popped!”
Again, another comment that shows an assessment of someone’s body growth. Also, it’s really just stating something that most pregnant people already know. Yes, of course my belly is growing: there’s a child in there.
7. “You’re ALL belly! It’s so cute!”
When I hear this, I hear, “ Being ‘all belly’ is the cutest way to carry a pregnancy. If you were not all belly, it would be less cute.” And also, who cares?
And some more comments you may be familiar with:
“You can’t even tell you’re pregnant from behind!”
“Don’t even worry about the weight gain, you’ll lose it all!”
“Are you going to breastfeed? It will help you shed that weight quickly!”
“Are you getting stretch marks? I used such-and-such cream and didn’t even get one!”
“I just knew you were pregnant! You’re usually so tiny!”
How to Deal with Body Comments During Pregnancy
So, how do you respond when you’re on the receiving end of comments like these? Honestly, I have reacted differently in different situations – depending on my relationship with the person who makes the comment, the frame of mind I was in when the comment was made, and also what I was hoping to “gain” from the interaction I was having with that person. I may react differently toward a stranger in a grocery store than I do to a family friend or acquaintance.
Below are some strategies to help approach and deal with the body comments you get while pregnant:
Watch the video below for some wonderful, specific advice directly from Dr. Colleen Reichmann about ways to deal with body comments during pregnancy.
1. Anticipate comments:
Anticipate in no way suggests acceptance of the comments. But I have found it helpful to wrap my mind around the fact that it is nearly inevitable that I will receive comments about my body as it grows and changes. This does not excuse them, it doesn’t make them okay, but knowing that wherever I go, from work to the grocery store, it is possible that someone will make SOME kind of comment can help me be better prepared to respond.
2. Don’t respond at all
In some instances, I have simply nodded or quite literally disengaged and engaged in a conversation with someone else who is around. If you don’t know how to respond, or simply don’t want to honor the comment with a response, this can be a perfectly acceptable way to (not) respond. Letting a comment roll off your back can sometimes be the best way to help your mind avoid making meaning out of it.
3. Address the comment directly
Addressing what bothers you about the comment can be empowering and liberating. It can also help to clearly communicate with the other person what and why you aren’t a fan of the comment they made. If you’re comfortable, you can simply tell someone that you are trying to focus less on the way your bump and body look, so you would appreciate it if they helped by avoiding comments about your body.
Telling someone that the comment they made is making you uncomfortable may feel awkward, but it can be helpful to set boundaries around how you would (and wouldn’t) like to engage in conversations about your body and pregnancy.
4. Redirect the conversation
In addition to or instead of addressing the comment, you may find it helpful to have some phrases that help you redirect the conversation.
Depending on the nature of the comment, consider phrases like:
In response to a comment about how you look like you are “about to pop” or something similar: “I’m really looking forward to the baby arriving!”
If you want to change the subject entirely: “I would rather talk about something else. Do you have any plans for the weekend?”
5. Deflect with Humor (if and when appropriate)
Depending on your relationship with the person who is commenting on your body, along with your own personality and preferences, deflecting with humor can diffuse negative emotions you may be feeling while still sending the message that you aren’t going to engage in that conversation in the way someone may want you to. These kinds of responses can send the message that you find someone’s comments to be ridiculous at best while still keeping the mood light.
For example, in response to a comment about how much you have grown or something similar: “That’s the goal – for the baby to grow!” or “Is that how this works? The baby keeps growing through the entire time I’m pregnant?”
Redefining Your Pregnancy Beyond Body Comments
If you are pregnant, have been pregnant, desire to be some day, it can be really challenging to have the way your body looks be a regular topic of conversation. It saddens and sometimes infuriates me to think of the fact that pregnant folks may get more comments about their body on a given day than they do about the miracle growing inside their body.
With this in mind, it’s important to remember that there is no right way to look when you are pregnant. Every body is different, every pregnancy is different, and the pressure to look a certain way when pregnant is a reflection of a society obsessed with outward appearance and the misguided expectations that suggest how one “should” look. Growing a human being is an absolute miracle, and I am so sorry if anyone has ever reduced the experience to an assessment of your body’s outward changes.
Even when the interactions you have with others makes it seem like your body’s appearance is the most significant change you’re going through, remember that what your body is doing is so much more incredible, and you and your pregnancy journey are made of infinitely more than the comments you get from others.
By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC
All images via Unsplash
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