The case of Maggie Baumann and the problem with “pregorexia”
Maggie Baumann was brutally honest when she came forward and admitted that she had suffered with eating disorders through both of her pregnancies. In an essay for MomLogic, she described what it felt like to be horrified by the changes to her body during those months. After working hard on her own recovery, she shared her experience in the hopes that it would help other mothers and mothers-to-be feel less alone. She didn’t expect that women would be her harshest judges.
The story set off a steady stream of angry comments on MomLogic. “You selfish (bleep)!” wrote one commenter. “They need to throw her skinny butt in jail,” echoed another. “You should be sterilized so you are unable to harm more children!” I wrote about the piece for Shine when it first appeared, and the comments there weren’t much different:
“Get off your high horse and start valuing what really matters in life–and it’s not your looks!”
“Wow these shallow snotty little brats with no concept of reality or any sort of decency…”
Since her blog post was published in June, Baumann has had nightmares and finds herself crying more often, reports The Orange County Register. She stops short of saying that she regrets the decision to be so open, but she does acknowledge that going public resulted in personal attacks she had not anticipated. “I never imagined the depth of hatred I would receive…I’ve learned in my own recovery to get over your shame, you have to share it,” she said. “Maybe you don’t have to share it with the world like I did, but with people that are safe.”
My co-author Magali Amadei and I surveyed more than 400 women for our forthcoming book Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? I find Baumann’s ordeal particularly heartbreaking because we talked to so many other women who are facing the same anxieties and insecurities she faced during her pregnancies. They often keep those struggles from their friends, partners, and even their doctors because they fear judgment. Sadly, the backlash to Baumann’s story proves that their fears are not always unwarranted.
Why were women so quick to demonize Baumann? The short answer is that sensationalism separates. “Pregorexia” (a media-invented term, not a medical diagnosis) headlines, numbers marking how much she weighed and ate, and a gallery of photos showing her too-thin pregnant body created distance between Baumann and readers. People could easily reassure themselves—“Well, I would never let myself get THAT thin or eat THAT little. I don’t have ‘pregorexia.’ I’m not THAT sick.” When eating disorders are presented in extremes, the complex truths are inevitably overshadowed by the clear-cut shock value. Gory details and buzz words don’t bridge gaps or build understanding. They reinforce stereotypes and put up walls.
The truth is that millions of women suffer from eating disorders and the majority of American women struggle with some form of disordered eating–from chronic dieting to compulsive exercise to secret eating. Most of us know firsthand what it means to have food and weight issues. Why should we expect that those issues will just magically disappear during the most body and life transforming (not to mention stressful) times in our lives, aka pregnancy and new motherhood? There are mothers who have full-blown eating disorders and pregnant women who shed tears over their changing lives and changing bodies. There are women who look at pictures of celebrity new moms in their bikinis and feel desperately unhappy in their own skin and women who are terrified of passing their poor body image on to their children. These are all vulnerabilities that have the potential to unite us. But when stories like Maggie’s are packaged to stir up controversy and generate page views, indignation tragically trumps empathy.
This guest post was submitted by Claire Mysko