By Andrea Guerrini
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” ― Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth.
You have probably heard the analogy “culture is to people as water is to fish”. We swim in culture without even questioning many of the beliefs, norms, and ideas that underlie our behaviour in society. There are so many cultural attitudes that surround pregnancy and motherhood. And sneaky diet culture steps in with all its toxic messages… of course right? Author Angela Garbes writes: “Our culture makes it [pregnancy] seem like a biological trap, when in fact it’s a superhuman power. To be able to grow someone, birth, and then feed them with just your body? Why don’t we give that worth and value?”
Yes, pregnancy is just amazing! But diet culture steals that power from us by
shaming us on a daily basis. Women are constantly told our bodies are not good enough, we are not thin enough, we are not beautiful enough, we are not young enough…arghhh!!!! We have been told the lie that our worth is correlated with an almost impossible standard of beauty. No wonder why weight gain during pregnancy can be triggering for so many of us, even though a pregnant body is meant to grow! No wonder why body image plays an important role in postpartum depression (Silveira et.al. 2015). No wonder why the risk of postnatal depression is four times higher in women dissatisfied with their appearance (Riquin et.al., 2019). No wonder why the post-baby body is a scary thought. Even though it is hard, you can work towards making peace with your beautiful pregnant body:
- Understand why your body is changing: by learning about the changes your body will go through pregnancy it will help you embrace changes to your body, instead of being scared or judgmental about it. Any weight gain includes the growth of your baby, your placenta, changes in your breasts, and increase of blood and amniotic fluid. It’s a normal, beautiful and healthy thing!
- Be compassionate with yourself: if you are recovering from an eating disorder, the physical changes during pregnancy can be extra triggering for you. It is completely normal if you are feeling extra anxious or nervous. Be kind to yourself, you are doing the best you can. And remember to seek support if you need to.
- Find support through HAES informed care providers: choose a positive birth team that will focus on health promotion rather than on weight management. If this is not possible, ask your team to refrain from weight-related comments and to please focus on real health markers, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, the growth of the baby and your mental health! We can take better care of ourselves when we are free from body shame!
- Ditch the scale: you can choose not to be weighed. If this is not possible, or you find it really hard to ask for, kindly express you rather not know the numbers. Enjoy a pregnancy free from these, more often than not, triggering units!
- Express your feelings: cry, talk, whinge, and cry once again if needed with your family, partner, and friends. It is OK to be scared, nervous, apprehensive, or whatever feeling is coming up for you. And if it becomes extra hard, seek for professional help. Pregnancy and parenthood can be emotional roller coasters!
- Connect with your body: you are carrying a growing human being. I repeat: you are carrying a growing human being! It’s actually kind of supernatural! It only lasts around 40 weeks so make each week count! Get a massage, join a pregnancy yoga class, swim or just float! Listen to your body, enjoy nutritious and delicious food, rest, feel your baby moving, look at your beautiful changing body in the mirror, walk proud, feel your power.
- Follow body positive social media: diet culture infiltrates the pregnancy community and online pregnancy groups. Following groups, people or hashtags that only focus on “post-baby-body-fitness” it’s just unhelpful and rooted in diet culture and fatphobia. Instead follow interesting, inspiring people that will contribute to make the most of this new and exciting motherhood journey.
- If you are a plus-size mamma: being plus-size and pregnant in our culture is extra hard. Most health providers are deep in diet culture, therefore healthy large women are repeatedly monitored at every stage of their pregnancy, only because of their size. Even though diets are not recommended in pregnancy (unless particular cases like with gestational diabetes), some larger women are given this advice, plus tons of other unsolicited nutritional advice. Pregnant women in larger bodies are often scared by hearing their babies will be too big, or that due to their size they have “high risk pregnancies”. They are often recommended unnecessary interventions such as induction or cesarean births. You, and everyone deserves weight neutral care and treatment. Gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, cesarean and so on, can happen at any weight. So this is for you plus-size mamma, trust your body. Remember that day after day, plus women have healthy and safe pregnancies and births.
Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal 10(9). doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-9
Garbes, A. (2018). Like a Mother. New York, NY: Harper Wave.
Riquin, E., Lamas, C., Nicolas, I., Lebigre, D., Curt, F., Cohen, H., Legendre, G., Corcos, M., & Godart, N. (2019). Key for perinatal depression early diagnosis: the body dissatisfaction. Journal of Affective Disorders 245, 340-347. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.11.032
Silveira, M.L., Ertel, K.A., Dole, N., & Chasan-Taber, L. (2015). The role of body image in prenatal and postpartum depression: a critical review of the literature. Archives of Women’s Mental Health 18(3), 409-421. doi: 10.1007/s00737-015-0525-0