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Why do people insist on body-shaming pregnant women?

July 14, 2018

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi Carolyn:

What’s the appropriate response when people -- some I know, some I don’t -- express surprise that I’m “only” X weeks pregnant and feel the need to tell me I look bigger than that? I think sometimes it’s meant as a compliment, sometimes it’s meant subversively, and sometimes it’s literally just word vomit. It definitely doesn’t make me feel good, and it’s certainly not new information!

-- “Carrying heavy”

It just doesn’t matter. It’s all word vomit. Repeat this as a mantra in your head: It’s all word vomit. It’s all word vomit. It’s all word vomit. Keep repeating it when your public pregnancy becomes public parenting and the forehead-smackery hits a whole new level.

The not feeling good, by the way, is also the result of a really nasty little side hustle by the body-shaming culture. You are incubating a human! Who cares about the size and shape of the vessel? Who thinks the vessel has full control of its size and shape? I mean really -- to be pregnant is to feel hijacked by alien forces. You crave foods you don’t normally even like? What is that?! So please recognize the nefarious invitation to feel shame for exactly what it is and say no.

You can also take self-contradictory, could-be-worse solace in the moment I enjoyed when pregnant with my third child, when a well-meaning salesperson asked me if I was having twins because I was appeared to be smuggling a beach ball versus the average basketball -- my words since I can’t recall hers exactly. “Ah, no -- I’m just still twin-size from the last two.”

Mazel tov, by the way.

Re: Pregnant:

Why in the name of mittens doesn’t Carrying Heavy simply refuse to tell strangers how many weeks pregnant she is?

-- Anonymous

There’s that, too, thanks. To each his own mittens.

Hi, Carolyn:

I am an identical twin myself so when I meet parents of twins, to me it’s just natural to inquire as to whether they are identical or fraternal. I have no interest in how they were conceived but merely like making twin-related small talk. Do I need to stop asking? It seems people are far more sensitive to these sorts of questions than when I was growing up.

-- Twin

I don’t think people are more sensitive, necessarily, but instead they have more platforms for communication, which means people get any question in higher volume now. Being asked something once is lovely and a chance to connect; being asked the same thing hundreds of times is stressful.

I don’t want to advise you not to ask, though, or else a chance for connection is lost before the other person ever knows it was there. I suggest, not just for twin small talk but for attempts at connection of all kinds: “May I pry, or do you have question fatigue?” You can also add upfront the reason for your interest -- in this case, that you’re a twin yourself -- so you can disarm people before their defenses go up.

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