So today I was part of a virtual discussion for HuffPost Live about fat-shaming during pregnancy and the recent hateful headlines about the pregnant Kim Kardashian. Whenever I have live interviews whether via the Internet or on the radio, I worry a child might interrupt, but my dad distracted the kids and enjoyed their company. Too bad my needy dog started going crazy because I put her in the backyard after hearing her bark at every passing pedestrian or squirrel outside of our window. She’s still hyperventilating, and she’s on Prozac. Really. Then my Internet went down not once but three times. I tried to join the conversation when I could, but I missed parts of it, and it all felt a little disjointed. It was yet another humbling experience where I find myself frustrated that I can’t do more, and I have to just let things go.
From what I was able to hear, the conversation focused largely on the fact that pregnancy is something to be celebrated and that women should not feel shame or see it as a time for body-bashing. Some people don’t care that Kim Kardashian is being scrutinized. I don’t know all that much about her and don’t follow reality television, but I don’t care whether you’re a public figure or not. No one deserves that kind of vitriol. In an Internet meme, Kim is shown in a black and white dressed juxtaposed with an orca whale. That’s just wrong.
But seeing that kind of “news” story, while it makes me sick, isn’t likely to force me to collapse into a heap of self-doubt (or turn down that chocolate egg my daughter just offered me). I’m a big girl. I’ve recovered from an eating disorder. I have tough days, body image blues, but for the most part I’ve arrived at a healthy place. I’ve also carried four babies to full-term. I’ve dealt with all the “joys” of pregnancy – the hemorrhoids, the weight gain, the varicose veins. I’ve had my share of struggles given my past eating disorders, but pregnancy and especially labor have also helped me like nothing else to see my body more as an instrument than an object that needs to be tweaked and fixed.
So I can handle the media’s hate and fat-shaming of pregnant women. I don’t like it, and I still feel sorry for the women whose pregnant forms are constantly examined and talked about. I know it’s part of the deal as a public figure, but it seems women celebrities can’t win. If Kim wasn’t gaining enough weight, they’d be attacking her for jeopardizing her baby’s health and being more concerned with her status as a sex symbol.
Still, what bothers me more than how these kinds of headlines impact me personally or the celebrities they showcase is what kind of messages are being delivered to my daughters and all young girls (and young boys, too). We can monitor our children’s media diets, but we can’t keep their wandering eyes from noticing the word “FAT” next to a pregnant woman who still looks lovely while we’re checking out at the grocery store.
We can tell pregnant women to focus on health during pregnancy and to celebrate those miraculous nine months, and many will. Some won’t though. Some will struggle with their changing body and their postpartum mushiness. We’ll see those headlines either of the supermodel who lost her baby weight a mere eight weeks after giving birth or the ones pointing fingers at the “fat” preggo celeb. Yes, big girls like me sometimes find it difficult to resist the siren song of beauty and thinness frequently portrayed in media. How can we expect our young children, then, to not turn to the mirror for affirmation?
“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” they ask, and they’re not playing pretend. Our children are exposed to air-brushed and sexualized images of beautiful people everywhere—from billboards to magazines in the pediatrician’s office. And now they’re being exposed to pregnant women being called whales.
“Diet Secrets of the Stars,” “Lose Ten Pounds in a Week,” “Miracle Wrinkle Cream Erases Crow’s-Feet.” The headlines rotate, but the theme remains the same: If you lose those last five, ten, fifteen, or twenty-plus pounds, embrace a starlet’s measurements and beauty routine, stop aging in its tracks, and don’t gain much weight during pregnancy, you’ll be happier. You’ll be better.
And so the brainwashing begins young. The mirror becomes distorted. By the time we reach adulthood and often much earlier, we no longer see our bodies for what they can do but only for how they look.
That’s the problem here. It’s not about your opinion of Kim or how you personally feel during pregnancy or how much weight you gain. It’s about the young girls in our lives equating their worth with how sexy they are or how much they weigh.
The young, impressionable girls in our lives don’t know Kim snaked her way into the spotlight with a sex tape (I hope). They won’t read between the lines or connect the imaginary dots that people are just eager to shame Kim for anything. Kim might not be every woman; HuffPost Live was criticized for suggesting this with the title of our discussion. But she does represent something to our daughters. She’s a pretty woman who is being called fat – when she’s pregnant. The young women in our lives, no matter whether they know who the reality star is or not, will likely see a pretty woman who is pregnant and is being lambasted for gaining too much weight. Is her worth only tied to her sex appeal or the number on the scale? Is this how we measure a woman’s value? Is the only path to receiving positive feedback to be beautiful and thin?
The author of the blog post that spurred the HuffPost Live discussion wrote: “When will we acknowledge that all of us, even Kim Kardashian, deserve to spend our lives thinking less about how we look and more about what we can do — and that the former definitely gets in the way of the latter?”
I’d take it a step further. Not only do we need to stop seeing women as a number on a scale or an object, but we need to pay more attention to the person the woman is – not what her figure looks like or her professional accolades. We are human beings – not human bodies or human doings. We are more than the sum of our body parts or our career. There’s an incredible amount of pressure being piled on our girls to do it all – and at the same time, too! – all while maintaining their girlish figures.
The hyper-focus on Kim and other pregnant celebrities’ changing bodies isn’t only denigrating to all women, but it’s also a subtle way of undermining motherhood and suggesting pregnancy and being a mom is more of a burden than a blessing. This is another message our girls are going to pick up on: That being a mother robs you of a lot of things – including your attractiveness and figure.
Being a mom – whether you work outside of the home or not (we all work) – is undervalued in society. Sure, we give motherhood plenty of lip service – how it’s the most important job in the world – yet, the role of mothers is often reduced to a string of tedious, mindless tasks like laundry, diaper changes, chauffeuring children, and serving meals. There’s the whole mommy brain cliche, too. Women, particularly those who stay home to care for young children, don’t partake in stimulating conversations. Their brains turn to mush from all those Barney songs. While everyone else is out in the world making things happen, they’re stuck at home leading dull lives devoid of intellectual stimulation.
Now headlines calling women who were once the media’s delicious eye-candy are suggesting something else: Motherhood and attractiveness are mutually exclusive. As soon as you pee on a stick and get that positive pregnancy test, get ready to say good-bye to your life, identity, and your body as you know it. Motherhood brings little soul-sucking, fat-adding beasties into your life who will hijack your flat abs and change you into a yeti since you’ll never have time to shave or shower anymore.
I say shame on the media. Shame on them for being cruel to a pregnant woman and again, I don’t care what she stands for or who she is; she doesn’t deserve that kind of hateful scrutiny. Shame on them for perpetuating the idea that women only have as much value as the amount of positive attention her body and looks grab for her. And shame on them for distorting motherhood as something that takes more than it gives. This is the message I’d like to send to all young girls: Being sexy is not the same as being beautiful. You may think your worth hinges upon how attractive you are. You’re sexy. Men (and women, too) notice. Therefore, you must be beautiful and valuable. Nope. It’s the other way around. As a woman, you need to believe in your value and your worth. When you do embrace your femininity and dignity, it’s beautiful, and this beauty can’t help but attract.
As for pregnancy and motherhood, yes, it does change your life and shift things around physically and in other ways, too. But it’s not for the worse. Becoming a mom doesn’t mean you transform into an unattractive, unthinking lump, but anything worth creating bids a price from its creator. There will be sacrifices and changes ahead, but there will be joy, too, and sticky kisses and spontaneous hugs and yes, even power. Motherhood is the ultimate form of girl power. The laborious processes of growing a human and nurturing aren’t always easy to recognize or even to assign value to, but they are what is building the future. There’s nothing quite like raising a child to make you feel strong.
No matter her age, a woman’s worth is tied to whom she is – not how she looks and not even what she does. And if a woman becomes a mother, this is a gift, not a burden. This is the critical message we need to be delivering to our society, to our daughters.