Why we need to stop commenting on women’s bodies in pregnancy and postpartum

It’s become the social norm in our culture to comment on one another’s bodies especially when we believe that we are giving someone a “compliment”.  We as a culture associate weight loss with praise when in many cases it may actually be sign of disordered eating. We may be unaware that we are unintentionally reinforcing behaviors that might actually be damaging to someone’s mental health and well being. When a woman is pregnant the number of comments she receives about her body multiplies. The pregnant body becomes a public body, one that everyone believes that they have the right to comment on and touch.

Comments such as: “You don’t look pregnant from behind.” “You’re still so tiny.” “It doesn’t look like you had a baby” and even more seemingly innocuous comments like “Your bump is so cute and round. “ are all problematic.

I understand that often these comments are to compliment the other person and that they don’t necessarily come from a bad place.  But we as a culture need to stop commenting on the appearance of women’s pregnancy and postpartum bodies.

Here is a few reasons why:

It reinforces diet culture and body shame

These comments often have the opposite effect of making a woman feel good. The subtly send the message that there is only type of acceptable pregnant body, that women have control over the shape of their pregnant body, and that they better keep maintaining that perfect bump and then make sure that they lose the baby weight as quickly as possible. It reinforces the cultural message that women need to be focused on “bouncing back” and should look like they never even grew and birthed a human being. Its kind of crazy when you think about it, right?

It feels intrusive

The size or shape of a woman’s pregnant body or how it “compares” to her pre pregnancy body is nobody’s business. Maybe a woman is struggling with body changes and/or the changing identity of becoming a mother and they are having a moment when they really don’t want to think about the way that their body looks.

It can be very triggering

For women who have a history of disordered eating, people commenting on their changing bodies can be very triggering. They may have spent years trying to make peace with their bodies and attracting attention public attention can trigger old thoughts and emotions. They may feel intense pressure to maintain a certain pregnant body throughout their pregnancy by controlling their eating or exercise or they may feel like a failure if they gain weight. Disordered eating is incredibly common in our culture and you don’t have to be extrmely thin to struggle with disordered eating.  As well, there is a lot of shame around these behaviors and many people stay silent about their relationship with food. Don’t assume that you would know if someone has struggled with disordered eating or body image.

The size or shape of a pregnant body doesn’t tell you anything about their health

In our culture we often assume that smaller equals healthier. This is simply not true and is also not true about pregnancy. The way out bodies change throughout pregnancy is predominantly determined by our genetics and body shape. Don’t assume that just because someone is in a smaller pregnant body that they are healthier or more fit. As a side note, someone’e health or fitness levels during pregnancy is also not really your business!

If you find yourself wanting to comment on a pregnant or postpartum woman’s body, notice the urge and, stop yourself. Instead, take the opportunity to talk about and connect over things that are so much more meaningful or give the woman a compliment that has nothing to do with how she looks. Try to change the way that you think about pregnant bodies. Noticed how you’ve been conditioned to think about women’s bodies. Instead of being so focused on appearance, think about the incredible ability that women have to grown, birth, and care for an infant.  It’s pretty phenomenal and something that we don’t give nearly enough attention to in our culture.

I’m a Registered Clinical Counsellor , Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor, and certifying Birth and Postpartum Doula in Vancouver, BC . I specialize in women’s health including reproductive and perinatal mental health and disordered eating and body image..

Lorilee Keller