February 8, 2011

I’m Pregnant But I Just Feel Fat.

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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