Body shaming – and society’s narrow body image ideal – is nothing new. But it seems this now extends to pregnancy, with 94% of mums-to-be experiencing bump shaming during pregnancy. Robyn Wilder shares her own experience of this…
I was obsessed with my bump from the minute I fell pregnant. From the moment I saw the double-line on the pregnancy test, I hankered after a lovely, smooth, perfect semi-circle I could stroke, sing to quietly, and rest my hand on. What would it feel like under my hand, I wondered? Hard? Squirmy? Would I feel it move?
My bump may have seemed like a strange thing to focus on, but understanding that you’re pregnant, especially in the early days, is a bit like trying to appreciate the work of the Large Hadron Collider. You know what you’ve been told by all the experts, but you can’t see it working. The weeks stretched out before me, and I began to think my bump would never arrive.
Suddenly, about three months in, I noticed a modest little hump puffing out the waistband of my dress. Aside from my tights now being demonically uncomfortable, I was overjoyed. My bump quickly became the significant other in my life. I loved it, I cradled it, I stroked it on the train like a crazy lady. My bump was great training for motherhood; a stand-in for my actual baby, who is now my solid sidekick in pretty much all my adventures.
“You don’t look pregnant – just a bit ‘post-Christmas’,” friends told me
What I didn’t realise, though, was that – as my bump grew – apparently it became everybody else’s business, too. At first I only noticed this as a positive thing. Other women I met or passed in the street would look at me first in the bump and then in the eyes, and shoot me warm, glowing smiles which made me feel amazing, especially since at the time I’d only be 30 minutes post or pre-vomit.
But with my second second came the comments: “You don’t look pregnant – just a bit ‘post-Christmas’,” friends told me in tones that seemed meant to be reassuring, but just served to bewilder me – why would I not want to look pregnant? I was pregnant.
At least three times complete strangers laid their hands on the growing watermelon strapped to my front – and sometimes before actually talking to me. Once when I was out with my husband someone looked at my bump and then asked my husband if the baby was his.
Soon it felt as though I couldn’t leave the house without being criticised. “I didn’t actually realise you were pregnant,” an older women told me at the doctor’s. “I saw you had a great big belly, of course, but then you’re already quite overweight, aren’t you, dear?” The term “great big belly” reverberated in my head all the way home. I felt like a giant walking hillock, and I cried as soon as I got in.
And that wasn’t the end of it by any means. “How far along are you now?” People would demand. “Ooh, no, you look much larger. Are you eating properly?” Others would remind me, chucklingly, not to eat for two. Friends and colleagues would let out great exclamations upon seeing me, shouting “YOU’RE HUGE! YOU’RE ABOUT TO BLOW!” Once on the train, a well-meaning man tried to get me a seat, implored the carriage “Can’t you see this lady’s about to give birth?” I was seven months pregnant, and purple with embarrassment.
The sad thing is, I’m not alone. A recent study by Channel Mum shows that a whopping 94% of mums suffer some sort of bump-related criticism when they’re pregnant. Strangers tend to account for most of these, followed by colleagues and then friends. Plus at least 17% of pregnant women considered dieting as a direct result of comments like this.
Pregnant mums need nurturing and support, not slurs and criticism
Siobhan Freegard, founder of ChannelMum.com said: “Pregnant women’s bodies are not public property. Most of us would never dream of commenting on a stranger’s body – so why do it when a woman is pregnant and at her most vulnerable?
“Pregnant mums need nurturing and support, not slurs and criticism. While bump shamers may not realise the impact of their actions, we’ve seen mums-to-be in tears and left devastated by their cruel comments.”
I can understand this. With every comment I received I turned to Dr Google, worried that I was somehow doing pregnancy wrong, and each time I got the response “every pregnant body is different and you are as big as you need to be” it somehow didn’t ring true in the face of all this criticism.
The thing is, all pregnant bodies are different. I know mums who’ve remained a size 10 throughout their pregnancy, and others like me who walked around looking like they were trying to steal fully inflated beach balls. And you know what? Now our kids are all toddlers, you wouldn’t be able to tell whose bump was the biggest, the smallest, the lumpiest or the most lopsided.
And I get it – before I had my own baby I had no idea what to say to pregnant women. Sometimes I would panic and let go an unforgivable clanger like “was it planned?” But – please – can we agree a basic etiquette for commenting on bump size? To make it simple, let’s just make it the same as commenting on boob size: don’t. Don’t comment unless you know someone really, really well, and even then just say they’re nice. Everyone likes to have nice boobs – and all pregnant women like to have nice bumps.
Don’t mention the bump other than to say how nice it is
“Pregnancy should be about the mum and baby staying healthy – not stick thin,” says Freegard. “It’s time to consider the impact of what you say and realise what you may see as a funny dig can actually cause immense upset. As your own mum probably said, this time if you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all.”
So, practice with me. Imagine you’re faced with a pregnant woman and you have all sorts of thoughts about how big she is or isn’t, and you really have no idea how far along she is in her pregnancy. At this point you should ask yourself two questions: 1) is it really imperative that you know the ins and outs of this woman’s pregnancy? 2) do you want to make this pregnant woman cry?
If the answers are both no, then just compliment her. Just compliment her and/or offer her some food. Don’t mention the bump other than to say how nice it is. This will make her feel all glowy inside, rather than a giant walking hillock.
No one wants to feel like a giant walking hillock, believe me.
Robyn Wilder on Twitter: @orbyn