I’m Pregnant, I’m Fat – and I’m Okay
This week I got smacked around by an article. And I’m talking back.
In Kim Brooks’ article “I’m pregnant, I’m fat and I hate it” on Salon.com, Ms. Brooks takes aim at fat over and over again. I can usually let one ignorant comment or statement slide (although I probably shouldn’t) but this article enraged me. Rarely have I read something that caused such emotions to boil up. I became more infuriated with each paragraph, until the end when the anger and irritation faded and melded with pity.
Ms. Brooks became pregnant with her second child while still carrying an “excess 15 pounds” from her first pregnancy. She discusses the all-too-common occurrence of women gaining weight during pregnancy – which, you know, you generally have to do. I was told by my GYN/OB that he has had patients of my size not gain any weight while pregnant, but in no way did he recommend I restrict eating or make any changes to my diet. In fact, his exact words were, “Eat as you have been eating – just be smart and careful about it.”
Sounds pretty smart to me. Basically, his advice is to follow intuitive eating. Advice as simple as that would counteract much of what Ms. Brooks addresses. She writes:
“It’s because of women like me, or women in far worse health predicaments — women entering pregnancies with a lot more than 15 excess pounds — that many healthcare providers are beginning to focus more on nutritional counseling programs as an integral part of prenatal care.”
“A lot more than 15 excess pounds” is a “far worse health predicament”?? How many American women aren’t carrying fifteen or more excess pounds (excess, of course, being used as an imperfect term)? The issue is weight, weight, weight. What about health – both physical and mental? What about nutrition? Why isn’t nutritional counseling a standard part of prenatal care already? Ms. Brooks speaks to Alan Peaceman, the director of a prenatal nutritional counseling program, who laughs when she inquires about women possibly taking the healthy eating message too far and “falling prey to the body-hating, ‘pregorexic’ mentality.” He laughs and says:
“That’s just not the major issue that affects the population in this country. The much bigger problem is the women who gain too much and then can’t lose it. A lot of women who’ve fought weight issues their whole life look to pregnancy as a time when the rules are off, when they don’t have to engage in the struggle. We need to get the word out that this is not the case.”
I found this statement to be remarkably offensive. Because I’ve struggled with weight my whole life, I’m going to see pregnancy as a sneaky way to finally eat whatever I want? Perhaps I, oh I don’t know, read too much but I’ve never been under the impression that pregnancy was a time for a food free-for-all. Yes, I recognize that I’m coming at this from a privileged, middle class, well-funded public school education point of view. I learned the basics about pregnancy nutrition in sex ed from wonderful teachers who were frank about the issues with over- or under-eating during pregnancy. I recognize that not all women have access to that kind of education, but then don’t we next count on our physicians? If Dr. Peaceman recognizes that there are “a lot” of women who have struggled with weight (and food) issues throughout their lives, then shouldn’t other doctors realize the same? Shouldn’t this be a conversation we’re having?
Instead, we’re having the same conversation we’ve had a million times over. Another woman left feeling depressed and miserable about herself because her body is not conforming to what she thinks it should. Ms. Brooks states near the end of her article, “I wouldn’t say I’ve been on a diet during this pregnancy, but I haven’t been throwing caution to the wind, either.” I don’t intend to be mean, but I read that and thought, “Well, duh. Why would you have thrown caution to the wind in the first place?”
But we all know why. We’re told our bodies are temples and, as such, they are to be made into images worth worship. We’re to watch and calculate every morsel of food that enters our mouths and ensure we get so many hours of exercise a week. So when we enter a phase in life where we’re actually supposed to gain weight, it feels like a free pass. I get that – and that’s why, at the end of this fat-bashing, hateful article, I felt sorry for Ms. Brooks. She’d been duped. She closes her article by writing:
“I could say that I’m doing it for my health, and this would be partially true. But frankly, I’m doing it because however short my pre-pregnancy body might have fallen from the celebrity ideal, it was mine, and even with two babies in tow, I want it back.” (emphasis mine)
But most women can’t get that body back. It’s birthed a child and been forever changed – something that should be accepted as the truth that it is. In reality, you had a pre-baby body and now you have a post-baby body. By definition alone, they cannot be the same. When, pre-baby, did your uterus grow to 1,000x its size and your breasts engorge with the goal to nourish another being? One can’t expect to appear as though nothing has happened.
It made me wonder if those of us who have struggled with fat our whole lives don’t have some kind of advantage sometimes. I’m not about to freak out if I’ve gained five pounds this month because it won’t be the first time I’ve seen the scale go up five pounds. I’m not about to consider this period of time a food free-for-all because I’ve been there, done that (when not pregnant) and most certainly do not want to deal with the fallout again.
It also made me wonder why there isn’t more sympathy for non-pregnant women who struggle with eating and food issues if so many women experience something similar in pregnancy. But it seems like the inability to manage eating in a healthful way during pregnancy or to quickly lose weight post-pregnancy is so shamed that there isn’t any room allowed for sympathy, understanding, or personal growth. And that is the true shame.