Twice in my life, I've lost a large amount of weight. The first time was in middle school, when my 5'9" self went from approximately 180 to 130 pounds, cultivating a serious eating disorder in the process. The second was junior year of college, during my first semester studying abroad. From about 210 pounds to 160 I went, mostly as a result of lots of late nights with little food intake in the process. But the crucial similarity both of these times was the celebration I encountered: The pats on the back, the "you go girl" accolades, and the recurring belief that I was ultimately bettering myself (regardless of how healthy or unhealthy the methods of weight loss actually were). It's precisely for this reason that I find myself talking openly about my pregnancy weight gain as I approach the 31-week mark.
In many Western cultures — the United States by no means excluded — we are largely taught that weight loss is always favorable. Whether a person is visibly fat, just a little bit "overweight" by medical standards, or even kind of thin to begin with and then drops some of their ~excess~ pounds, our socially-constructed instinct is usually to congratulate them. We tell them how wonderful they look. We tell them how brave they are for undertaking such hard work and dedication. And we place smiley emoji after smiley emoji on their before-and-after pictures — their former fat selves often appearing sad and dejected, while their new thin selves seem full of newfound excitement.
Achieving a small waist measurement is a sign of success in the States, particularly as it applies to women and feminine people. The notion that we are judged heavily and harshly on our appearances is nothing new (just have a read through our current Republican presidential nominee's stance on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, whom he believes does not have "the look" to be president). So if we are taught that a low weight is synonymous with being beautiful, healthy, strong, capable, and successful, it's not especially surprising that we so regularly greet weight loss (be it our own or those of others) with encouragement and weight gain (be it our own or those of others) with condemnation.
I don't doubt that the reason many mothers-to-be struggle with their pregnancy weight gain is down to these ingrained cultural beliefs. If weight gain is always bad, always ugly, always something to "fix," then how does one reconcile those notions with the whole growing-a-human thing?
I regained all the pounds I lost during my junior year of university, plus an additional 40 pounds pre-pregnancy. And I've never felt better. I've never felt more beautiful, or more myself than when I learned to see the beauty in my fat body, and the joy that it could bring me if I only allowed it to.
I've seen and heard of women breaking down in dressing rooms — the sight of their baby bumps signaling to them that they have somehow failed. I watched a close friend barely eat during her third trimester — the idea of gaining even more weight seeming far scarier to her than the potential risks to her baby. I've heard more folks than I like to think of mourning the loss of their pre-baby bodies, fixating on those 10 or 15 pounds they can't seem to drop as though the new weight was a legitimate illness. And I hate that this is what our culture does to people. It makes us fear weight gain more than we fear cancer. It makes us dread it more than we might dread a post-apocalyptic future. It turns fat — and fat individuals — into subjects of ridicule worthy of marginalization.
That said, I'm not about telling people what they should or shouldn't do with their bodies, even if I advocate for critical thinking regarding the reasons and motivations behind our choices (weight loss included). Thus, I once told a co-worker that the idea of celebrating a person's weight loss wouldn't necessarily rub me the wrong way if we were equally allowed to celebrate a person's weight gain. If, upon noticing that a friend or relative or otherwise loved one had grown fatter, we could get over the idea that fatness and beauty never go hand in hand and tell them how wonderful we think they look.
For a while now, my body has been the cautionary tale of sorts: The kind of image shown to people as a warning of what might happen if they "let themselves go."
In my adult life, I've put on a substantial amount of weight. I regained all the pounds I lost during my junior year of university, plus an additional 40 pounds pre-pregnancy. And I've never felt better. I've never felt more beautiful, or more myself than when I learned to see the beauty in my fat body, and the joy that it could bring me if I only allowed it to.
I was happier than I had ever been, and I wished others could sense that. I yearned for the celebration I encountered when I lost weight in the past because I knew deep down that this body was the right one for me. The celebration never came, though. Quite the opposite, in fact. The concerns about my health starting ringing in (concerns based on BMI and nothing more), the grievances towards the many shops I could no longer frequent were uttered, and the jokes about the width of my ass or softness of my stomach lingered. Few people have been able to accept that there's not a thin person inside me waiting to be freed. They have not been able to see that, all along, it was the fat person outside me who needed to be freed, and that now she finally is.
So far in my pregnancy, I have gained an additional 25 pounds or so. My stomach pokes out more than it ever has before, I have stretch marks in places I didn't even know one could have stretch marks, and it's safe to say that the cellulite on my butt has near doubled. For a while now, my body has been the cautionary tale of sorts: The kind of image shown to people as a warning of what might happen if they "let themselves go." Pregnancy has only added to my fatness, even if this particular weight gain is the kind that few rational humans would ever deem "unnatural."
But even though many of us can conceptualize that pregnancy weight gain is a perfectly normal part of the process, that doesn't stop a lot of us from greeting it with the same contempt we would any other kind of weight gain. Whether a person carries their baby weight in the belly alone, whether the weight gain looks like an already-fat person getting just a little bit fatter, or like a very slender person "feeling fatter" than they ever have (but still being pretty petite), it's the F-word that causes so much malaise among us. And it's the F-word that I feel is important to reclaim during pregnancy, and existence in general.
The reality is that most pregnant people will probably gain some fat throughout the whole process. Cultivation of the "natural oily substance" we're so taught to detest is kind of an inescapable part of the formation of new life. Like you, your new baby needs it to survive. This is not to say that all pregnant people become fat. Nor is it to say that looking visibly fat is the same thing as looking visibly pregnant. It's simply to say that gaining some fat deposits in your body is bound to happen in those intense 40-plus weeks, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
When I finally started reevaluating my beliefs about "acceptable bodies," I began to see my own fatness for what it was: Something capable of making me feel beautiful, something capable of giving me pleasure, something I could look at and feel genuinely good about. As a result, I've been able to appreciate every bit of my pregnancy weight gain — every new roll, every new soft spot, and every reminder of what it all means.
But more importantly, perhaps, there's never anything morally, aesthetically, or otherwise wrong with gaining said fat deposits. Even if the new pounds weren't coming from an expanding womb, a whole lot of placenta, and a new human being, weight gain is not a thing to mock or chastise or ridicule or hate. Sometimes it's a result of diet, sometimes it's a result of puberty, sometimes it's a thing that happens as we age, sometimes it's perfectly intentional. And every time, it's OK.
Your weight gain needn't be ugly, or deplorable, or unsightly. Those might be the connotations a society hellbent on proclaiming its fatantagonism has tried to assign weight gain and fatness, as a whole, but society very often gets things wrong.
When I finally started reevaluating my beliefs about "acceptable bodies," I began to see my own fatness for what it was: Something capable of making me feel beautiful, something capable of giving me pleasure, something I could look at and feel genuinely good about. As a result, I've been able to appreciate every bit of my pregnancy weight gain — every new roll, every new soft spot, and every reminder of what it all means. It's a feeling I wish more people would allow themselves to have, but one that I think is perfectly achievable if sociocultural dogma is thrown out the window just a little bit, and exchanged for the belief that your body is never broken.