We need to talk about body image. I am currently 38 weeks pregnant. I have chosen not to make my pregnancy the focus of blog posts, however I have had some interesting experiences over the last 30 or so weeks that I think apply to most women, whether currently pregnant, trying to become pregnant, pregnant in the past, or none of the above.
One of the things that has been the most jarring to me during my pregnancy, is that everyone has an opinion. Everyone. Not just your friends and family, although they have plenty to say as well, but people you don’t even know. Random folks that feel the need to comment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Wow, you got really big!” or my favorite, “Your hips have really started to spread!” It is bizarre and can often get you down, if you let it. We all know that women’s bodies are subject to intense scrutiny for most of our lives. We’re either too fat, too thin, to masculine, too something. We are told to better ourselves, whether it’s with expensive cosmetics, the latest diet, the newest workout. We need to be better. So, what does this do to a woman’s body image? Well, it’s not good. And it can get even worse during pregnancy.
I made the mistake of signing up for countless pregnancy apps. I had no sooner registered my due date before I was getting notifications about “Pregnancy workouts,” and “How to have a belly-only pregnancy.” What does that even mean? I felt myself starting to panic and had an overwhelming urge to drop into squats and lunges immediately in order to stave off any “excess weight gain” that might hurt my baby. I of course realize that weight guidelines are in place for a reason. Research has shown that when women gain a “reasonable” amount of weight during pregnancy, moms and their babies are typically healthier and at a lower risk for pre-term labor, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and other complications. However, due to societal norms and unrealistic body image ideals, I think we put far too much pressure on ourselves to follow these strict guidelines and often berate ourselves if we don’t meet the criteria exactly. This pressure causes an increase in stress, which affects our mental and emotional health.
So, how do we handle this onslaught of opinions and comments and constant pressure? I’m not going to lie. It can be really hard. Here are some things that have worked for me.
- Positive affirmations- I try to journal a few times a week and focus on writing positive body image messages, focusing on things that I like about my body, or how much I appreciate my body for carrying my child.
- Realize that those who comment are typically coming from a place of caring, but most often the opinions and comments are more about them, than you. Perhaps they struggled with their own weight. Maybe they have been unable to have their own children. Everyone has his or her own battle that we are not aware of. Don’t make their battle yours. Most likely, it has nothing to do with you.
- Become more aware of your body. If you’re concerned about the things you are eating, try some moderation. Don’t skip the ice cream all together; after all, you’re only human! But instead of eating three cups, only eat one. Embrace your body as it is now.
- Be realistic. Most of us aren’t going to walk/waddle through pregnancy following all the guidelines perfectly. There is room for deviation. Everyone is different. This is about you, your body, and your baby. No one else.