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On being asked if you are pregnant.

By Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC

This happens to me pretty often.

I have a round, up-front belly. It was round and up front before I was fortunate enough to carry my children in it. It was round and up front after too.

Most recently, at day camp drop off, another mother asked me “if I was carrying another?”

“No”, I said, “This is what my body looks like.”

Another time I was at a retreat center facilitating a workshop. I had just walked up to the dining hall and as I took off my coat, a woman said loudly “Hey, is there a baby in there?”

“No”, I said, “this is all me.”

Sometimes it happens more subtly, like at the grocery store checkout, when the checker asks me if I want help out and, when I say no, they look at me and say, “are you sure?” in a knowing and somewhat protective way.

“Yes, I am really sure.”

There are a lot of things about this nonsense I’ve become sure about.

Being asked if I am pregnant (when I am not) used to send me into a shame spiral that would strip me of my own presence and trust for many, many days. I thought being asked this question presented absolute evidence that my body was definitely a big problem to be solved. I thought to be free from this stigma I had to change something quick. Maybe you too have had years in your life that were dedicated to attempting to eradicate your belly? Precious years. Distracted and difficult years. I first noticed my belly when I saw second grade class picture, and I think that may be my first visceral memory of shame. I really wished there was something I could do to not be seen. For much of my life my belly was my proof that something was really wrong with me.

I’m clear now that is not the case. Now I just see my belly as a part of me, with every right to exist. I’m pretty neutral about the whole thing. No more shame spiral. I’m actually pretty proud of that.

Part of what has helped me heal is that I know that this happens to women all of the time. Way more than you would expect, in fact. This question is asked of women in smaller bodies and women in larger ones—and everywhere in between. These stories come up a lot at Be Nourished—with loads of shame and self-blame permeating the narrative. The teller usually is afraid that they are the only one this has happened to because these stories are rarely shared and normalized.

The other thing that has helped me heal the shame is to understand that these occurrences are the product of a living in a weight biased and diet-normalizing culture. We’ve been taught to equate belly protuberance only with pregnancy and not with body shape. We almost forget bellies exist. They aren’t “bumps” as the celebrity-obsessed media would call them. We accept the grossest of mixed messages, don’t we? Pregnant bellies are beautiful. Fat bellies are not. Nonsense. This is what we have been taught to believe—nonsense.

The healthist gurus know picking on bellies is a particularly advantageous (for them) focal point for instigating widespread body blame that sells things. We have been taught to associate eating wheat with having a belly thanks to the popularity of that Wheat Belly book (this is shaming). I remember a conference session, years ago, rudely titled “It’s better to eat an apple than be an apple”. The dangers associated with waist circumference and visceral belly fat can be recited by the masses, further denouncing and denigrating the rightful and ample existence of bellies.

The size and shape of a person’s body is not a crystal ball for medical professionals and health gurus. Nobody can tell your health future by looking at your shape. Bellies have been around for a long while. They are here to stay. Looking like an apple is not a problem, per se. Not being able to claim one’s body as worthy and whole due to weight bias is.

And frankly, I don’t really look like an apple or a pear. I look like me.

It is essential that we move in the direction of understanding how asking another person about the state of inhabitation in their belly is not really okay. I’m suggesting we draw that boundary.

If we could trust one another to hold a weight inclusive and reverent stance regarding the belonging of all bodies as they are, I think we could ask strangers about their possibly pregnant bellies. But we can’t (yet). So don’t ask.

Don’t ask because it can be shaming. It has a potentially harmful impact.

Don’t ask because pregnancy status is not public domain. People’s bodies and health status are also not public domain.

Last weekend, two speakers were introduced at a conference I attended. When they came out on stage they were greeted with cat calls because they were both pregnant. They ignored this and went on with their talk. It wasn’t a necessary discussion point.

There were a couple of weeks in my life when I sequestered myself to my basement to avoid talking about my belly. I was, in fact, pregnant at the time. I had learned, at 22 weeks along, that the baby I had been carrying in my belly was not going to survive. My pregnancy would be ending soon. For those two weeks I dreaded and grieved so many things—and I did not want to field questions about my due date, corresponding size or baby at the f-ing grocery store.

But, in truth, when would I ever want to?

We don’t live in a 1950s sitcom. Pregnancy is complicated. Not everyone is ecstatic about their pregnancy. They may be struggling. Maybe they lost their previous pregnancy or child. Maybe they are thrilled. Allow others’ lives to be more complex than the quick stories we make up about them. This is one of the most inclusive things we can do. If they want to make small talk about their belly, they will. Otherwise, stay out of it.

We KNOW we live in a time where bodies are regularly stigmatized. This bias is given a pass. Over and over again. If you care about people and want the bodies they occupy to be safe, it’s time to change how we approach them. You lose nothing if you give up talking to people about this. Nothing. Not every round belly is carrying a person. Nor does anyone’s belly (or body) require explanation.

Comments

  1. I love this post and it’s so important. I also have one of those round bellies and within the last few years have been asked if I was pregnant several times by people I barely know. I’ve been more annoyed at the invasiveness of this question by literal strangers more than anything and responded both times, maybe a little sourly, “Nope! I’m just fat!” Because I think, if I wanted you to know if I was pregnant, *you’d know*. I might start responding with a strident “It’s none of your business!” It’s high time we stopped seeing women’s bodies as public property. I’m sharing this post everywhere!

  2. Thank you for this article. I was asked if I was pregnant by a man in a bar during my bachelorette party in front of all of my girlfriends. I had a hate-hate relationship with my body at that point, and even 20 years later, that is the sharpest memory of that evening. And what a shame that is. After doing some soul-searching work, I am happy to say that I have a neutral-love relationship with my body at this point and I hope more women (and men!) will support each other by not asking if a woman is pregnant, if she’s lost weight, or anything to do with her body. We are so much more than our bodies and we must stop tieing our self-worth to the vessel that carries our soul, character, and heart.

  3. I have been asked this numerous times. It was a relief when I lost weight and wasn’t asked but maybe I put a few pounds on…I don’t know but it’s upsetting. I’ve felt varying degrees of shame and anger when strangers have had the nerve to ask me.

  4. Thankyou for this. I googled the topic as at the gym last night in my workout gear kicking gym goals (or so i thought) i got asked if i was pregnant. Im not. I was and still am honestly devastated as i do try and maintain a certain weight and go to the gym more than anyone else i know. I hate that i put so much emphasis on my weight and am trying to make peace with my body. I am very thin but have a bloated looking belly and i think this is just my shape unfortunately. Hearing some one reaffirm this has really put me a little at peace. Thankyou. Why oh why are we always commenting on bodies? I got shamed for being too thin and now i am gaining weight i feel shamed for that too. Bodies are private and i dont think should be so easily questioned. People really need to stop and think sometimes. I find myself now wanting to do a ‘cleanse’ and not eat for the next three days however i know this is not how i want to be and i want to be happy with my healthy body that is well and not sick. Your article has helped and i think this site will too.

    • This exact same thing happened to me last week, from the instructor who had just run my spin class. I was so incredibly upset and am still unable to tell anyone! The most shocking thing was that it was my first time in the class, so she spoke to me a bit beforehand, then after she’d watched me do an incredibly tough one hour workout then chose to ask me if I was pregnant. What on earth is that about!!

  5. Hilary, thank you for this well written article. Thank you for sharing your own story too. For the first time ever today I asked someone if they were having a baby. And I deserved the reaction I got, I realize that now. And I feel just awful, not knowing how to or if I should even try to fix this. I said I was sorry, and I meant it. I never want to contribute to anyone feeling shame, or like they are not ok in the body they have. I myself have struggled a lot of my life with accepting my own body, and have worked hard to be loving toward myself. I do not know the person I asked very well, but have seen her off and on at a small cafe where she works. We have had friendly words before, and recognized each other with friendly conversation today too. Until I screwed up. It had been a while, and she had gained weight, and when I saw her she had an unbuttoned coat on too, so maybe it was misleading. But none of this matters, because she was right when she told me she never asks anyone that, and that it is really offensive. This was after she told me, “no, I am just fat.” What’s so sad about this is that I think she is really beautiful, her roundness is not ugly at all to me. She works somewhere I love to go. Hopefully over time she will forgive me. If not, I will miss her friendly smile.

    • Hi Suzi,

      It sounds like you also received a first-hand experience of how weight stigma shapes and tarnishes our cultural beauty standard. That our society has made a distinction between fatness and beauty is really the tragedy here. Often times it can feel really hard to be called out in a public way, but a good rule of thumb is to refrain from commenting on peoples bodies. Vulnerability can be an ally here, perhaps the next time you run into this person letting them know that the interaction really had an impact on you and that its brought some clarity around the fact that everybody should be allowed to exist without unsolicited comments. I know as a fat woman myself if I was approached with a thoughtful apology about how that moment became a place to learn and grow, rather than having the interaction be discredited as an angry fat person’s opinion, that might feel supportive to me. Just some food for thought!

      Warmly,
      Anna Chapman
      Be Nourished Business Manager

  6. I will celebrate my fourth child’s 1st birthday in one day. Today my neighbor – a larger woman – slowed down her car as she passed my house to ask if I was expecting another – loudly. I’ve been asked if I was pregnant for the last 10 years of my life..2 years after my third child!! I never know what to say. I just feel sad and defeated and lazy and worthless, and it’s hard to love a body that does indeed look pregnant but is not. My belly has been large on my small frame, for years. I am guilty of not really doing much about it, but recently started doing a yoga class twice a week. I hate seeing myself in the mirrors and I think the teacher thinks I’m pregnant bc no one else is but he’ll give us modification forgive we are pregnant. No one ever seems too apologetic….I wish I knew something poignant and not harsh to reply with. I also have struggled for 14 years with people constantly calling my beautiful long-haired boys girls. Even Mr. softee tonight ?. I know people aren’t intentionally cruel but we are so cruel to ourselves. I literally looked up tummy tucks after the incident this morning – something I wouldn’t be able to afford for years – but in my desperation I was thinking of ways to fund it!! Ugh! Thank you so much for all your words of acceptance and support.

    • Hi there Sabrina,

      Congratulations on your child’s birthday. And for all your children. Your body is a testament to their lives. The culture we live in makes it hard to love any body that we live in, when there is always a focus on how our bodies could be somehow better, no matter what state they are currently in We are so glad to hear that you found our words to be supportive. We hope you will seek out more of this kinds of messaging. Perhaps this article could be helpful to you. https://benourished.org/bad-body-day-toolkit/

      Warmly,

      Mikalina
      Be Nourished Community Manager

  7. I recently got married and went off to college. I want to get my degree before I have any children. (At least 4 more years) I went back to visit family a few days ago and went into town with my in laws for groceries. When I was there I saw an old friend from high school with her mother. She called me over and I was excited to talk with her. I had never met her mother before so I asked if that was her. The mother instead of introducing herself patted her stomach dramatically and asked very loudly if I was pregnant. I have gained some weight because of birth control after getting married and was already devastated about how my body was transforming. I have always struggled with my body and I got married at xxx lbs and I’m now xxx lbs. It’s now harder to keep my figure and it was so embarrassing in frount of my in laws. Its been 4 days now and I can’t stop crying. I look in the mirror and I hate what I see. She was so sure when she looked at me. I feel guilty about how I look. I knew I gained weight, but to be called pregnant by someone that took their first glance at me hurt immensely. I can’t stop thinking about it. I have low self-esteem and that took all I had left. How did you ladies start to feel okay about your body again? How did you make that comment stop hurting?
    Thank you.

    • Hi there Shani,
      I’m so sorry to hear that you had this experience. Having someone make comments on our bodies can be so triggering, especially when we live in a fatphobic culture. To answer your question, one of the things that helps so many people come to peace with their bodies, is to name that we live in a culture that is constantly reinforcing fatphobia, and that is always insisting that the only “good” body is a thin body. It’s not our fault that we feel badly about our bodies, and it doesn’t have to be that way. But it’s hard to accept our bodies when we’re constantly surrounded by messages that say we shouldn’t. Another thing that can be incredibly helpful is to work toward recognizing and accepting that our bodies change at different points in our lives. And that is ok. It’s more than ok. It’s life. It’s also helpful to know that you’re not alone in your pain and you’re not alone in wanting things to be different. There is a global community of body positive, size inclusive folks who are working to help people end body shame and move toward body acceptance. We invite you to join us. Working toward this kind of acceptance takes work and practice. You might enjoy this article on Body Trust. https://benourished.org/about-body-trust/. We invite you to investigate the world of “body positivity” and see what resonates with you. We invite you to follow your truth. Healing is possible. You’re already taking first steps.

      Warmly,

      Mikalina
      Be Nourished Community Manager

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