I’m Pregnant But I Just Feel Fat.

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Pregnancy, Body Image and the Age of ‘Bump Watch’

Originally posted at Feminist Fatale, April  2010. Updated for Elephant Journal.

I can’t believe I said it – not once, not twice but repeatedly throughout my entire pregnancy. I started to feel that way at the beginning of my first trimester and it continued all the way through week 40.  It is bad enough that the feeling reflected my own distorted body image,  but I’m not the only one. I’ve heard it from far too many other pregnant women. In fact my pregnant cousin, 27 weeks along and absolutely stunning, recently posted a comment under a belly shot on her Facebook page exclaiming, “I feel gross and funny looking.” The thread that followed included countless reassuring comments from friends insisting that she looks beautiful (and, she does) and that the weight gain is all baby.

My cousin and I are part of an increasing trend of women that bring society’s cult-of-thinness-mentality into pregnancy,  manifesting in an underlying fear of weight gain and (normal and natural) bodily changes. Instead of equating the swelling belly, rounded breasts and increased adipose tissue with hormonal changes and necessary weight gain designed to support the pregnancy, too many women just feel fat- and hate it.

The fact that the original version of this post has received read thousands upon thousands of hits, has been shared in countless pregnancy support groups, has generated a deluge of comments and emails thanking me for sharing my personal story and has been continuously read daily, despite being almost a year old, confirms the magnitude of the problem.

I had always found the pregnant form immeasurably beautiful. Radiant women with full curves and a new life growing inside left me awe-struck. I looked forward to the day that I would become pregnant and join this league of life-giving, glowing, goddess women. Within moments of receiving the results of my home pregnancy test, one of the first things that went off in my head was, “uh-oh, what about my body?” As a body image activist and individual continuously battling unrealistic images of beauty, I am embarrassed to admit that the fat fear was present almost from conception.

Yes, I had moments where I felt beautiful but I certainly didn’t embrace my fecundity and fullness in the same way I had imagined. Those “beautiful” moments were sprinkled in among a general terror over my ever-expanding body. I remember coming home crying at the end of the first trimester because I felt ugly and fat.

Reflecting on those feelings of body hatred makes me sad, sad because my beautiful son was growing inside of me. I’ve written about this subject a lot lately because it is maddening that women seem destined to carry their culturally induced body anxieties into what is an  incredible and miraculous  life experience. The tabloids ridiculous and utterly disturbing obsession with the celebrity baby-bump and the post-baby body has not helped pregnant women feel any better about the changes their body goes through. In fact, it’s just “another way to make a woman feel fat.”

To help women cope with body pressures before and after pregnancy, author Claire Mysko wrote Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby.

If you’re like most expectant women, you’re worried about what pregnancy and motherhood will do to your body, your sexuality, and your self-esteem (even if you don’t want to admit it out loud for fear of the Bad Mommy Police). While the journey to motherhood is truly miraculous and brings forth life, it can also bring forth a myriad of legitimate concerns.

Enter beauty activists Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei, who offer a much-needed forewarning on what to expect from your changing body, as well as a reality check for each stage of your pregnancy, exposing the myths, challenges, and insecurities you’ll face throughout pregnancy and beyond—and what to do about them.

Unfortunately, I did not find this book until well after my son was born and deep into the throes of my own body loathing. I hope all pregnant women (or soon-to-be-pregnant) will find this book and that it will assist them.

While I think this information is  incredibly helpful, it’s not enough because we’re in a ubiquitous media environment that continues to throw jabs from every angle. We need to employ active tools of media literacy to deconstruct these images as well as create and expose ourselves to new images- realistic images. That’s why I love the website, The Shape of A Mother, a website that demystifies the pregnant and postnatal form with images and stories from real mothers without the aid of computer retouching or plastic surgery.

As a first-time mother, I admit that I was clueless and surprised at the physical changes I encountered. I felt alone and disappointed that most of the physical and emotional changes I experienced were not discussed honestly and openly by other mothers. I felt like I was thrown into the jungle without the adequate provisions and tools to emerge successfully. We need less stories about women like Ellen Pompeo (who went up to-gasp-size 26  jeans during pregnancy), Gisele Bundchen , Nicole Richie (“svelte after one week!”)  or countless other celebs and more stories about average women who are pregnant but just feel fat. Maybe if we have more people discussing these issues candidly we can avoid more women spending their pregnancy obsessing over their inevitable expansion and being present to the miraculous process they are engaging in.

Now that would be beautiful.

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anonymous Sep 10, 2014 8:05am

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anonymous Jul 4, 2012 7:36am

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anonymous Nov 23, 2011 11:45pm

I found this blog while searching for other blogs on self-esteem. I enjoyed the article and I think that self-esteem is one of the most important but under-appreciated pieces of psychology. A lot of people suffer from it but most people do not realize they possess it nor how to treat it. It is a shame because we have so little time on this planet and we if we don’t love ourselves what kind of emotions are we having and even more sadly what kind of existence is that? I actually just wrote an article on self-esteem on my blog. I would love for people to check it out and tell me what they think of it. Either way this was a great read and I am going to see what else your site offers.

anonymous Nov 23, 2011 5:38am

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anonymous Sep 28, 2011 2:01pm

[…] cells) to be released into your body. To ensure the healthiest pregnancy possible, you will want to achieve your optimal weight before becoming […]

anonymous Aug 22, 2011 3:16pm

Just because a women is pregnant doesnt mean shes not fat, they are fat they have a belly that looks like is tearing apart of their body, they are fat, being a mother is a choise, if you want to be a mother youre gonna have to be fat during the pregnancy and accept that your body will never be the same nor look the same.

anonymous Jul 25, 2011 4:47pm

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anonymous Jun 16, 2011 8:55pm

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anonymous Mar 10, 2011 11:46am

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anonymous Feb 13, 2011 11:19am

Please do provide that base of your research since it was not presented in the article. If you have all these "stats" why were they not mentioned and included in piece?

As an anthropologist I would be interested in seeing this research as would my finace who works as a statistician for a national reserach center.

Again, I have always heard pregnant women lamenting about weight gain either during or after pregnancy, so I do stand by my opinion.

    anonymous Feb 15, 2011 9:31pm

    Several of the studies are linked in this piece re: http://www.feministfatale.com/2010/05/5-feminist-… the increased satisfaction among younger and older women. I'd also be happy to connect you with my colleague, Claire Mysko, who wrote the book on pregnancy and body image. Let me know.

anonymous Feb 11, 2011 7:01pm

I have heard pregnant women say " I'm getting so fat" of " OMG I am so huge" my whole life so I have to disagree that this is a *new* thing that is resulting from the skinny-trend.
I think this is an over-reaction. Just because a girl says " I feel fat" during pregnancy does NOT mean that they are in the "cult of thinness". I think that they really just feel "fat".
If you are skinny and suddenly your body is changing that dramatically then yes, you feel "fatter" because you are!

    anonymous Feb 11, 2011 9:47pm

    Actually, there *has* been a statistically marked increase in body dissatisfaction among pregnant women along with increased cultural scrutiny of the pregnant form. In the last 5 years, the focus on women's pregnant and postnatal body is unparalleled to anything we've seen previously. That scrutiny and judgment has increased right along with women's distress over their expanding shapes. Yes, women have always gained weight and it has always been a dramatic shift. It's one thing to notice it and another to hate it and diet during pregnancy, something that happens quite frequently. No, women's feelings of "wow, look at how big I am" is not new. The self-loathing and cultural body snarking certainly is. I appreciate your sentiments but I kindly disagree and would be happy to point in you the direction of actual research confirming the points I make. I didn't just write a story based on my own feelings. I wrote a piece examining sociological facts. I write this because this issue is important and I don't want to dismiss it as a personal "over-reaction." Whether we like it or not, the cult-of-thinness is all around us and it has statistically impacted ever-younger girls, aging women and, yes, pregnant women, too. These are all recent developments. We didn't have 4-year-olds fretting about their weight 20 years ago, we didn't have eating disorders rising among middle-ages and elderly women nor did we have pregnant women lamenting their weight gain in the same way we do now. I hope this comment was helpful.

anonymous Feb 10, 2011 8:09am

We need to see more REAL images, likes yours or mine, of REAL women that are pregnant, not models wearing fake baby bumps or celebs post baby wearing double body shapers under their well-cut clothes.
We need to teach our sisters that growing human beings from scratch is a no bullshitter, and that our bodies will go through the single most amazing metamorphasis on the planet, and that there will be changes with this. These changes should be celebrated and embraced as a rite of passage as a woman — the becoming of a mother.
I sure don't love my stomach-butt post horrible diastasis with ol Benny Boy, but I absolutely love my children more than any single little part of my body. The fierce power of my love for my babies is no match for what magazine editors or fashion stylists think my body should look like after having birthed them. My life well lived is certainly more powerful than a few inches of loose skin or stretch marks.
Pregnancy is the antithesis of thinness. How can you be thin when you are literally FULL of life? The roundness of pregnancy and immediately after – the belly and breasts – should be seen as beautiful and bountiful and joyful.

anonymous Feb 9, 2011 8:55pm

I felt the same as I always do!

I have never felt attractive.
I just wish I could have acceptance.

I cannot wear skirts/dresses/makeup.
my biggest fear is to be attractive in any way to a man, as that has always lead to being used.

anonymous Feb 9, 2011 1:45pm

Thank you for writing this! I often feel alone in my pregnancy because I am not having a flowery, magical pregnancy like everyone else I've talked to. I had such awful nausea during my first trimester that I would dry heave from washing my hair in the shower- the smell of shampoo and conditioner was so intense that I would get light headed- let alone food! I am in my 2nd trimester now, my nausea comes and goes, but definitely isn't as bad as in my 1st trimester. That being said, I am not enjoying my pregnancy. I also don't like my changing body. My lifestyle is so active that it has disrupted everything. I can't do as much yoga anymore- and nowhere near what I used to do, I can't eat the same foods or the same amount of food that I used to, I can't wear the same clothes anymore…… This pregnancy has come into my life and disrupted everything. Will I love my baby? Of course! But I don't love this feeling. And I find it so hard to discuss my struggles with other women because I am supposed to be "glowing" (I'm not- I'm green with nausea and pale with exhaustion) and basking in the miracle of life (no basking here- I'm just trying hard not to vomit!).

    anonymous Feb 9, 2011 5:33pm

    Lia- I get it! I felt the same way. Key "…hard to discuss my struggles with other women because I am supposed to be 'glowing'…" Please pass this on to any other women that could use this as a gateway to greater conversation.

      anonymous Feb 9, 2011 5:33pm

      I meant *LISA* Darn typo.

      anonymous Feb 9, 2011 9:01pm

      & Lisa
      I wanted to die, I didn't want to be pregnant, the "boyfriend" isolated & mentally abused me
      but I had an easy pregnancy otherwise. I wish everyone could have! x

    anonymous Feb 10, 2011 8:17am

    Lisa – I vomitted 24/7 for the first 7 months of my first pregnancy, and with my second pregnancy was put on chemo anti-nausea meds so that I was physically able to care for my first child. I had heartburn and diastatis and insomia with both pregnancies. I didn't have fun at all.

    But I did give birth to two amazing, intelligent, creative, gorgeous children and on the days I get more than four hours of sleep I glow radiantly because I love mothering them.

    Your shiny days are coming, Girl. Hang in there!

anonymous Feb 9, 2011 11:16am

Absolutely beautiful article and VERY important. Thank you so much for sharing this. I'm going to add that book to my booklist. I've read Ana May Gaskin, but that's more from a natural birthing experience. And, I agree, women should talk about this more and stick together (to help us all live in reality vs. media reality). Much love to you and you look beautiful.

anonymous Feb 8, 2011 9:09pm

To those of us who have never been blessed with being able to carry a baby to term, each and every one of you is gloriously, perfectly beautiful.

"Happiness is not getting what you want. It is wanting what you have."

anonymous Feb 8, 2011 7:18pm

I loved every aspect of my pregnant body but the stretch marks and what being pregnant did to my breasts. I remember crying about that at the end of my pregnancy and then crying about it even more after my son was born and my breasts didn't just magically return to the way they had been and my skin was still red streaked.
It took me a long time to overcome the disappointment I had for my body…but slowly I accepted that my body was a baby making beauty and anything that was "wrong" with it was that way because I had harvested life. :] I love my body now. Every butt dimple, every faded stretch mark, each saggy breast. It's perfect.

anonymous Feb 8, 2011 7:16pm

awesome post! i love the shape of a mother website. here's another great one for all of us girls/moms with regular beautiful bodies who will never make the porn industry – the "normal breast gallery" – http://www.007b.com/breast_gallery.php

anonymous Feb 8, 2011 4:41pm

You mean when I'm pregnant I'm not gonna look like this?
<image src="http://fwnet.ipower.com/images/2009/01/pea_in_the_pod_7_jeans-300×450.jpg"&gt;

anonymous Feb 8, 2011 4:13pm

i just hate this obsession with being "fat" in pregnancy. i'm 24 weeks into my pregnancy, i was fat to begin with (maybe that's why i don't "get it"), and i'm constantly astonished at the pregnant me. i like it. i think it suits me. emotionally i've been a wreck, but physically… well this is how my body is supposed to look.
i get daily emails from a popular pregnancy site. i'm astonished and horrified at how many of them talk about "looking slim" in maternity clothes, or "hiding" the beautiful curves that come with pregnancy. get real! we're not SUPPOSED to "look slim" when we're pregnant!
when dealing with my pregnancy mood issues, internet searches for kindred spirits found hundreds of forum posts about "i hate my body", "i'm so gross", or "i hate being pregnant because i'm so fat!"
where did all of this come from? have we completely forgotten what magic our body is working? why is there so little info on pregnancy related mood issues, but so much info on "looking slim" in pregnancy?
ok, rant off. 🙂

anonymous Feb 8, 2011 4:13pm

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Melanie Klein, RevolutionOfRealWmen. RevolutionOfRealWmen said: RT @feministfatale: I’m Pregnant But I Just Feel Fat http://bit.ly/h0ZA5v With reference to @ClaireMysko (new @elephantjournal) […]

anonymous Feb 8, 2011 2:51pm

Lovely. Thanks for sharing.

anonymous Feb 8, 2011 11:08pm

Amen, sister.

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Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker and professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Santa Monica College. She is a contributing author in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice and is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body, and co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition.