After saying congratulations, the second thing my mother-in-law said was, "don't get fat" when we told her I was pregnant with our first child. My first thought was, "did she just say that?" My second thought was, "This is the one time I should be allowed to get fat."
Accepting my pregnant body has already been a challenging and complex psychological notion, so why did she feel the need to add fuel to the fire? As my belly slowly grows into the "correct shape" for pregnancy I am often reassuring friends and strangers alike that that bulge is a baby and not just the burrito I had for lunch. The aesthetic value of a proper pregnant belly has become paramount. I want that primary defining feature of a perfectly pregnant woman. The not "pregnant enough" phase coupled with not really feeling pregnant (I often ask my husband if he thinks the baby is still there, he assures me that a growly belly is a sure sign) is a case for new anxieties and insecurity.
The cultural condemnation of being fat does not disappear even when "fatness" should not be the primary concern. Incubating a human being is no small feat. Getting fat should be the least of a woman's concern when she is growing another person. The incessant sizing up of female bodies extends society's twisted beauty ideals into at time once considered sacred and free of judgment. It seems that there are no boundaries when it comes to what a woman should look like
I know I am not the only woman to negotiate femininity and motherhood. Women have had to reconcile pre-pregnancy curves to suggested societal expectations of pregnant embodiment. Being small and pregnant is prized. Being too large in any stage of womanhood seems to be the kiss of death. Society abhors women who take up too much space, in pregnancy and in life. Pregnancy makes women larger and often into a public spectacle. I cannot tell you how often I have felt eyes on me. Strangers feel the need to assess my body according to how far along I am in my pregnancy.
I've had men and women comment on my body. In fact, just recently one of my husband's employees felt the need to tell me that from behind, I didn't look pregnant. That I should be careful not to... He further explained with air filled cheeks and winged arms floating at his shoulders to signify weight gain. This from a man with two kids. Pregnancy has heightened my awareness of the unwelcome and unrestrained judgment made upon the women and their bodies by others -- and it is all the more peculiar considering the message hails from individuals who are hardly exemplars of physical perfection in their own right.
Which brings me to the ever so prized sign of feminity, bigger breasts. Growing bigger breasts are possibly the only thing that society readily accepts and appreciates. The problem is, society doesn't seem to fully get that my breasts are growing for my baby, not for the pleasure of some twisted beauty ideal. Having big breasts without a too big belly during pregnancy signifies an attractive woman during pregnancy. Seriously? Are you f'kn kidding me?
The sexualization of pregnancy expects women to always look alluring. One search on Instagram will return a slue of sexy photos of half naked pregnant women. If a woman feels empowered to show her bump, I have nothing against it. What I resent is rigid representation of what is deemed attractive. It seems media and the selfie generation is obsessed with a specific body type. Big breasts. Big butt. Tiny waist. Somehow, we have managed to transfer inflated expectations to pregnancy without truly considering the consequence on mind and body.
In case there's any doubt, this body I'm building is for no one other than the little human growing inside of me. I am in absolute awe that my body has the power to create life, to sustain life, and to birth life, regardless of the figure I cut while doing it.