Pregnancy and Body Image

10 years ago

When I engage in cardio workouts at my gym, there is nothing I like more than a mindless magazine. (Unless I run. Then I can't consume junk food for the brain because it's too hard to focus on a page while on a treadmill. If I run, I love me some mindless television, like America's Next Top Model or I Love New York.) Fortunately, my gym often offers issues of Us Weekly, InTouch, and/or People to its sweaty members for their guilty workout pleasures.

I recognize that irony is at work here: almost every single issue of these magazines features photos of celebrities that are criticized for their bodies' sizes. So while I'm hustling to keep my weight within a healthy range, there's nothing like seeing a picture of thin Eva Langoria in Us telling people that she's not pregnant, "just fat," now that she has a barely detectable belly bulge. In that same issue, Us blasted the exceptionally thin female stars of the new 90210 show for being dangerously thin. What seems to be acceptable these days is a fine line - I think women are permitted to be a designer size 2 or 4 (which runs smaller than the size 2 or 4 you or I might find in a place like Ann Taylor or Wal-Mart), but certainly not below that and absolutely, under no circumstances, should they dare be above it. Is it any wonder that women and girls of all ages have severe body issues?

The one group of women I always hope are extra-exempt from these ridiculous expectations are pregnant women. It's bad enough that "mainstream" society expects women to be belly-less, hip-less, butt-less, and thigh-less (with standards of beauty varying among different cultures, but often no more attainable for the average woman), but no one would hold a pregnant woman to these standards, right? Wrong. In August, several media outlets ran headlines about the widespread phenomena about women who refuse to gain weight during pregnancy.

Tracey Clark-Forey, at Salon.com's Broadsheet questions whether the "pregorexia" epidemic is really something to worry about, or another media attack on women that obscures real issues:

The... news outlets were surely too busy hyperventilating into paper bags at this "news" to note that it runs contrary to a larger, already established trend that has doctors seriously worried: Growing numbers of obese and overweight women, and mothers who gain more weight during pregnancy than is recommended. In fact, some say the guidelines need to be reworked since a recent study found that women who "gained the recommended amount of weight ran four times the risk of having a child who was overweight at age 3, compared to women who gained less than the advised amount," according to the Associated Press. Ah, but if it bleeds has a buzzword, it leads!

This one's getting filed away with "drunkorexia" and "manorexia" under: "Buzzwords That Make a Serious, Deadly Illness Sound Totally Trendy."

Giving Birth with Confidence, a blog written by the authors of The Official Lamaze Guide, offers a nuanced look at "pregorexia:"

For years I have told my undergraduate nursing students in the maternity course that I teach to applaud pregnant women’s weight gain. “You look wonderful”, not “You hardly look pregnant”.

Pregorexia isn’t just because of celebrities staying thin during pregnancy and fitting back into their size 2 within a few weeks of their babies’ births. Pregorexia is a disease health care providers and society in general are fostering.

Women deserve to know that weight gain is normal and needed in pregnancy. Eating well and regular exercise are healthy but skimping and too much exercise endanger growing babies.

Confused by the competing trends? So am I. The good news is that Clare Mysko and Magali Amadei are conducting research for a new book on pregnancy, new motherhood, and body image. They are seeking input from women from around the blogosphere to answer their online surveys:

We know that pregnant women and new moms face more appearance-related pressures than ever before. Our book will explore those pressures, dispel some myths, and provide practical advice to help women cope with all the "lose the baby weight" messages without losing their minds.

That's where you come in. We are calling on our network of friends, colleagues, and readers to help us by sharing your experiences and opinions. Would you take a few minutes to fill out one of our surveys? You can give us your real name, a pseudonym, or you can be completely anonymous if you prefer.

Amadei and Mysko are also conducting longer interviews, so if this is something that you'd weigh in on (pun absolutely intended), give them a shout through the link on their blog, 5 Resolutions.

Pregnant or not, millions of women and girls struggle with body image and self-esteem. I don't usually make new year's resolutions for the Jewish New Year (which starts tonight - l'shanah tova!), but this year, I promise myself that I will not beat myself up over all the goodies that I will inhale at my mother-in-law's house tomorrow night. Instead, I plan to write it off as one night of family and fun, and maybe workout for a few extra minutes while reading tabloids at the gym on Wednesday. Life is about more than the size on the label of my jeans.

Suzanne also blogs about life at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants. Her first book, Off the Beaten (Subway) Track is about unusual things to see and do in New York City, and includes many delicious places to stop for a bite while exploring the City.

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