A few weeks ago, I was standing outside in the warmth of the early spring sun with my daughter. We were outside on the front lawn of a neighbor’s house. Their house is on a fairly busy 2-lane street. Cars usually speed by, but in this moment a car slowed down and the driver yelled at me out the window, “she’s having twins! Look at that big belly! There are 2 babies in there.” As he sped off, I yelled back at him, “that’s not a very nice thing to say,” but had my daughter and the other mama not been there with me, I might have flipped him off and yelled something far less G-Rated.
I cannot for the life of me understand why people feel entirely justified in making commentary about women’s bodies. Pregnant or not, my body has been the subject of comments and opinions for as long as I can remember.
I do not exist purely so other people can have something to talk about.
When I was in ballet as a young girl, my teacher made comments about the “rounder” girls who weren’t natural ballerinas. The girls who had a thigh gap were praised. The girls whose thighs touched were criticized. Yes, the thigh gap existed decades ago. Instagram can’t take ownership of that one.
When I was in middle school, my transforming body was ogled, groped, laughed at, shamed, and sexualized. By now, I had already fallen victim to body-abusing behaviors stemming from low self-esteem and a realization that no matter what I looked like, my body was a problem that needed to be solved.
When I was in high school and college, I let the eating disorders take over. I tortured my body. I tortured myself. I got in the business of cultivating my demons and letting them run wild. I raged against the machine, but also supported it by allowing culture and my own pain to dictate my actions. I made poor choices that sacrificed my body and my soul. I made unhealthy choices that harmed my body. I figured that if I was the one doing it, I was in control. I was untouchable. My body, scars and all, belonged to me.
I was so wrong.
I got into and out of relationships with men who disrespected my body. Who wanted me to look and act a certain way. Who treated my body and my heart as carelessly as I did. I was in so deep that I didn’t notice what was happening until many, many years later. I said NO. I was ignored. I picked myself up and dragged myself forward.
Many years later after slowly rebuilding the trust with my body through yoga and healthier relationships, I found myself pregnant. I was amazed that after all the years of damage, drama, and hostility, my body was able to support life. My body grew softer, rounder, larger. I was proud, but also slightly alarmed. This was new territory for my body. I was afraid of what would happen on the other side.
What happened is that I became stronger than ever before.
But once again, my body became the subject of opinions and comments.
I was too small.
I was getting big.
I was carrying low.
I was definitely having a girl.
I was certainly having a boy.
After Milly was born, it took awhile for my body to become my own again. I had a little pouch, like a kangaroo, that had never been there before. My boobs were huge and then lopsided. My hips were wider. My thighs thicker.
I got stronger than ever before. My arms, my core, my shoulders all developed new muscle. I lost a little of the natural flexibility I’ve always had but the strength helped me lengthen my muscles more safely.
Still, I’d occasionally have well-meaning people congratulate me out of the blue. They’d tell me they were thrilled for me! Asked me when I was due. Applauded how great I looked.
I wasn’t pregnant each of these times.
The comments nearly threw me into a self-destructive spiral. I’d been working out harder than ever. I was stronger than ever. I felt better than ever. And yet…
This time around in my pregnancy, I have also heard some well-meaning comments about my body.
“Oh my goodness, you’re so much bigger than last week.”
“You’ve really grown!”
“When are you due? Oh, really? I thought you were due so much sooner.”
“Are you sure you’re having a single birth?”
“You look exhausted.”
I have also received some much more thoughtful comments, which I truly appreciate.
“You look wonderful.”
“You are glowing.”
“Your belly is exactly the size it should be.”
Here’s the thing.
I know people will always have opinions about other people’s bodies. I do, too. I try to keep them to myself, for the most part. I also try to catch myself when I am leaning more towards judgment and consider why I am having those thoughts, as well as adjust my thoughts to be more supportive.
Here are some helpful tips:
*If you wouldn’t want it said to you (or said to someone you love), don’t say it to someone else.
*Commenting on someone’s physical appearance can be a trigger. Even when meant with the best of intentions, be sensitive to how what you’ve said might be heard.
*Never assume that someone is pregnant. Until they tell you personally or announce it, keep your assumptions to yourself.
I could go on and on, but those 3 are a good place to start.
Women’s bodies are not a part of public domain. Until we shift the narrative, we will continue to make well-meaning comments, as well as offensive comments, about bodies that are not ours.
Until we choose to celebrate all bodies as miraculous, we will consider some as more ideal than others.
So let’s shift the narrative. Let’s help one another rise up.