As a woman who has spent the majority of her life trying to fight against body image issues, I knew what a challenge my body image during pregnancy might be for me. I think this is the case for a lot of women. After all, for most women, there will be no other time in their lives when the size and weight difference that they experience between month one and month ten in a given year be any larger.
So I walked into pregnancy assuring myself that I would eat well, that I would exercise, and that I would love my body. The miracle that I was creating was worth all the challenges, right? I would indulge the occasional craving, but try my best to stick to my goals. I wouldn’t push myself too hard when exercising, but I would keep at it. And then I would lose the baby weight more quickly after giving birth.
Man, I had goals like crazy. Let me tell you well all of that worked out.
I felt guilty, I felt justified, I felt tired, I felt so damn hungry all the time, unless I felt like I was going to throw up. I craved healthy foods like seaweed salad and citrus fruit...but I also craved burgers and cupcakes. And through it all, I questioned how fast I was gaining weight, how much, and why I saw some women who were able to pull on their normal jeans at 8 months pregnant and just not do up the zipper, when I couldn't get them over my (seemingly) gigantic ass.
So despite best-laid plans, my brain, emotions, and body were at war throughout my pregnancy, because there's no getting around the blunt truth about your relationship with your body during pregnancy: it’s just hard. If you’re having a difficult time as well, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, if I had to guess, I'd bet that even those women for whom "body changes" meant just not zipping up their jeans have many moments of questioning, doubting, and fearing everything going on with their bodies. Here are a few thoughts about why body image issues might hit so many pregnant women so hard:
Having To Regularly Report Your Weight Gain To Your Doctor
A huge part of this might have to do with the fact that, for most women, at no other time in your life is your weight being monitored, measured, and evaluated as regularly and carefully (and with such loaded consequence in some cases) as when you're pregnant. And if you are someone whose weight has been a cause for your doctor's concern before you were pregnant, chances are it's doubly loaded with pressure. In the beginning, this doesn’t feel too bad, but when you see your scale at 30 (or more) pounds heavier than your normal weight, it just feels wrong. I remember feeling happy when I noticed I’d stopped gaining, and even lost weight, in the last few weeks of my pregnancy.
You Worry About Gaining Too Much Weight For Some Reasons, And Too Little Weight For Other Reasons
We supposedly have this 10 pound window of “ideal” weight gain. What happens if we gain too much? We feel guilty. What happens if we don’t gain enough? Well, we probably don’t feel quite as guilty as if we’d gained too much, but still, there may be some judgement from external sources. And is gaining 36 pounds, instead of 35, too much? It's frustrating and confusing, to say the least.
At least when you're not pregnant, your intentions with your weight are more clear: "I need to gain some weight and I know that," or "I need to lose some weight and I know that," or even "I'm at a great weight and I just need to hold steady." But when you're pregnant, it's so damn vague, aka, seemingly easy to screw up and miss the mark: You know you should mostly likely gain some weight, but not too much, but how much is too much, and what do you need to do to hit that goal, and how impossible is it to even be in control of that when your metabolism is completely different than you're used to?!
Yeah. Stress, guys. So much stress.
Your Body Doesn't Just Change — It Changes So Fast
Most of the time, I loved my pregnant body. Occasionally, though, I would see myself at an angle that just made me feel gigantic. And I would logic my way out of that feeling, because I knew there was a beautiful baby I was growing, but dammit! Sometimes it was just too much for me to handle so quickly. I didn't even have time to digest one change in my body's appearance or functionality before I would suddenly notice three more things that were totally different. Even if you have the best intentions of being totally accepting and loving of pregnancy's affect on your body, sometimes the sheer momentum of the change is too much.
Everyone You Encounter Will Comment On Your Body
Pregnancy is pretty much the only time that people feel like they have carte blanche to talk about how big you are (or aren’t). It sucks. It's like, women in general have to live under this assumed microscope of evaluation and judgment based on how their bodies look, but at least most people keep that judgment silent. When you're pregnant, it's suddenly like everyone is all, "Oh hey, let me aggressively make a comment about every single thing that's happening with your body, which I will assume that you are both comfortable with, and happy to talk to me about!" Why would people assume that? I'm just in line for my decaf latte, can I live?
In the beginning, I was always told that I looked so small and I couldn’t possibly be six months pregnant. Then by the time I hit 8.5 months, I was "obviously carrying twins" (I wasn’t). Because you know what? People have no idea what a pregnant woman actually looks like, at varying stages of pregnancy, which is a million different ways because hi! We’re all different.
There Are So Many Mixed Messages
We’re told to indulge our cravings because hey, we’re pregnant! YOLO! And then we’re told not to indulge too many cravings because hey, it’s bad for the baby! YBOLIOYO! (Your baby only lives inside of you once, obviously.) Yes, you want to gain weight and not spend time watching what you eat too much, but also, you don’t want to eat too much crap because gestational diabetes! It’s disorienting, to say the least.
The Notion Of "Post-Baby Bodies" In General
And of course, women are inundated with images of models and celebrities who have perfect postpartum bodies, to the point where some have admittedly been photoshopped to make them look smaller. As if we didn’t already have enough pressure what with being new mothers? I remember being thoroughly shocked at how big my belly still was, the day after giving birth. I had no idea that I actually looked completely normal.