39 weeks pregnant: pregnancy and body image

We interrupt your regularly schedule gorilla pregnancy ramblings to inform you that Click Clack Gorilla is being featured on one of her favorite parenting websites today, Offbeat Mama.  *Waves at anyone visiting from over there.*  You’ll recognize the article they’ve posted there from this post but if you go over and check it out you can join in the conversation about aliens and pooping during labor over there.  In celebration of that, I’m posting another prego update post today instead of later in the week as I had originally planned.  Besides, Peanut could be here by the end of the week. (!!!!)  (I hope.)  (!!!!!!!)  For any of you just joining up from Offbeat Mama, scroll down to the end of the post for an index of more prego-related posts, from my decision to do a “house” birth in our trailer to prego acupuncturing to how we found our awesome midwife.

The pressure has always been there, ever since I was old enough to notice bodies or to read Teen magazine (who is that younger version of myself who actually had a subscription to that magazine? 2012 Nikki can barely recognize her).  It was the pressure to be a certain kind of pretty, to wear make-up, to do my hair a certain way, to have certain clothes, and to be skinny like all the models whose bones played the role of hanger to each month’s trends.

I studied those magazines like they were bibles, and I went to insane lengths to meet their standards.  I showered every single morning.  Every morning I straightened my naturally wavy hair before caking on a layer of foundation/eyeliner/eye shadow/et al.  I felt wrong leaving the house without straight hair, wouldn’t have dreamt of going out without make up.  But the biggest pressure of all was always the pressure to be skinny, horrifyingly, “perfectly” skinny.  Like the hanger women in the magazines.

And yet I’ve always been skinny myself.  As luck would have it, I happen to be genetically programed for the kind of skinny-ness that has been popular in my lifetime; I come from a long line of paperclip-shaped women.  Yet there has still always been the pressure: to be skinnier, to stay skinny.  What if I gained weight?  What if I wasn’t skinny enough?  People would comment on my skinny-ness all the time: they wanted to know how I stayed so thin, they wished they could be so thin, they were worried that maybe I wasn’t eating enough.  (While I was busy envying them their curves and their cup sizes and eating like a I had hollow legs.  The grass, greener, etc.)  Through the constant mention, my skinny-ness started to become a part of my identity.  Which only made the pressure worse because it felt like gaining weight would mean losing a part of who I was.

Even though I have long given up the values that used to compel me to put on make up every morning or wear deodorant or straighten my hair, I’ve never been able to think myself out of the skinny pressure.  Even with a partner who loves me no matter what I look like or how round my belly becomes, I’d never found a way to accept my belly no matter how round it became because I’d never found a way to stop the skinny voices.  Even though I no longer read beauty magazines or watch television or expose myself to the media pressure to look a certain way, it remains, it refuses to leave me in peace.

I’m largely ok with my body these days, and I’m not looking for any sort of pity in mentioning this.  This is not a serious problem, but I think it is a pretty common one.  Thing is, the voices telling me that I need a flatter stomach or less thigh, no matter how often I intellectualize them away, regardless of the fact that I have at least managed to stop letting them influence how I live my life, just wouldn’t shut the fuck up.  And I think a majority of women—though with the dawning of so many men’s beauty magazines, probably most men at this point too—hear the skinny voices too.

That is, until I got pregnant.

Once I was pregnant the pressure disappeared.  Instantly.  There was a big echoing space where it had been, and I was stunned.  I hadn’t believed that it was possible.  I had thought I would have to deal with the skinny voices for the rest of my life, futilely trying to talk myself out of hearing them in some sort of body image purgatory and never finding a gag big enough to stuff their big traps.

But suddenly nobody expected anything from my body anymore, most of all me.  I didn’t need to work to be conventionally sexy, I just was.  Everything my body did was perfect.  Every pound I gained was part of the life of the little sea worm swimming in my stomach.  Every pound I gained made me even sexier because being pregnant is as sexy as it gets, is the embodiment of sex itself.  I began to understand how miraculous and powerful my body was.  It could build a human with a complex nervous system and a brain!  It could create the milk needed to feed another human!  It could adapt to having all its organs pushed out of their usual places!  My body could do no wrong, and the pressure was gone!  The pressure was gone!

There are a lot of ladies who don’t feel like this during pregnancy.  There are ladies that feel ugly and fat and terrible.  (I wish they didn’t because I think they look great.  Contrary to my weird-o expectations for myself, I think women with lots of curves are fucking gorgeous.)  But for them the pressure to look a certain way doesn’t stop; the magic doesn’t work for everyone.  I don’t want to make those women feel bad for feeling that way, during pregnancy or ever.  But I want them and every other woman who has ever heard the skinny voices telling her she looks all wrong every time she looks in the mirror to know it is possible.  It is possible to turn off the skinny voices!  And if they can be silenced during pregnancy, then maybe they can be silenced outside of it.  Maybe there is a gag big enough to shut them up after all.

How did you feel about your body during your pregnancy? And for those who have never been pregnant, how do you deal with the skinny voices?  (If you hear them at all.  And if you don’t hear them, I want to know how you managed that too.)


Want to read more about my gorilla pregnancy?  Check out these posts…  (Or check out the entire gorilla prego category here.)

singing during pregnancy (wherein I lament having to vomit onstage at 37 weeks)

38 weeks pregnant: acupuncture and the labor dance

diy pregnancy: the fold-down changing table

birth, pregnancy, and everyday magic

what i read while i was pregnant

why disney women suck

midwives and home births in germany


12 Comments on “39 weeks pregnant: pregnancy and body image

  1. Great to read your thoughts on this from time to time. I actually wish (as a male) more women thought like that because in my opinion there would be a more natural, interesting-looking, diverse and probably more beautiful female population to look at.
    BTW, it would be REALLY interesting to see a picture of your former self some time, if you have one and are willing to share it here, to see what you are talking about.

  2. I actually lost eight kilos during my pregnancy – I was sick every frigging morning from third months to, oh, the day I gave birth. I just couldn’t keep a lot of food down. 🙂
    Due to that, thoughts about the way my body looked just didn’t enter my mind. They had to queue up after thoughts like “If I eat this, I’ll just be sick.”, “Wonder what this is going to look when I’m throwing it up.” and “Oh, great, cocoa…wait…on second thoughts…nah, I’ll just stick to eating nothing, thanks.” and never even reached my brain.

  3. I loved being pregnant -& this part of it was wonderful. No one judging my weight- at least not out loud- That & being expected to take breaks & rest & get tired instead of being some idiotic version of wonder worker!

  4. Hi, I found my way over from Offbeat Mama. I’ve never been pregnant, but your post definitely struck a chord with me. I’ve always been skinny, and have always dealt with comments about it. Now the comments are of the “you’d better enjoy it, it doesn’t last forever” variety. This is opposed to the “you need to eat” “do you eat?” kind. The thing is, I’d be more than happy to have some curves come my way. When it comes to body type skinier isn’t necessarily easier or better. I’m not underweight, just thin. I’m a few years away from trying to have a baby, and I sometimes worry that I don’t weigh enough to grow a human.

  5. Yay for you on Offbeat Mama!

    My story pretty much exactly mirrors yours – born with skinny genes, subscribed to Seventeen in high school, started to obsess over my weight and hair (don’t mess up my bangs!! wow, how 90’s, huh?). Negative voices quieted as I got older and especially when I was pregnant.

    Can’t say they are always completely gone now (1 yr. after baby) but I keep them quiet by never getting on a scale and not feeling guilty eating good unprocessed foods.

  6. Jan: Sometime I’ll have to do that (with the picture). Unfortunately those pictures are mostly from back in the day when I used film, which mean that they all live in a shoebox that is still in another country.

    Susann: Oh god I feel for you! I only had the pukes in the first four months, and only lost one kilo because of it. Wow. Have a chant to yourself that somehow got you through all that?

    Dee: The whole change of expectations thing is really awesome. Though I have trouble letting go of them for myself. I want to go out and do more and keep getting all frustrated that I can’t. But, almost done, almost done, almost done…

    Stacie: It would be nice if we as a culture could just take the focus off of weight completely, accepting everybody no matter what their body looks like, curvy or thin or round or flat or whatever. Good luck with the future baby!

    Frugal Vegan Mom: If I had to guess, I would have guessed you might have had a similar past life too…I am intrigued to see what happens to the voices once I’m not pregnant anymore. I have a sad feeling that they will be back immediately. Particularly because society, through tv, seems to have pretty unrealistic expectations about how fast mamas should/can lose weight afterwards. The last couple of pregnant ladies I’ve seen on tv who have given birth looked exactly the fucking same (aka exactly as skinny as before) in the next episode and it made me so fucking mad. Seems to be the kind of thing that ends up putting unrealistic pressure/expectations on the rest of us.

  7. I hated my pregnancy body, unfortunately. I’ve always wrestled with my weight, and have been overweight since I was about 12. In the year prior to becoming pregnant I finally managed to lose about 2 stone and for the first time in years actually liked the way I looked. Then I got pregnant and heaped on all the weight I’d worked so hard to lose! I was gutted. Add to that swollen ankles and feet, greasy hair, spots that causes by hormones that are still plaguing me due to the extended breastfeeding, and overall I really hated the way I looked!
    These days I don’t fret over it too much. I wish I was slimmer, and am making a conscious effort to try to lose a little weight, but I don’t think about it that often really. Maybe just when I see a photograph of myself and think ‘oh gosh I’m so fat!’ Like you say, it’s hard to turn that particular nagging voice off.

  8. Oh man, the skinny voices. I definitely know what those are, and have heard them since the first time I picked up my first issue of Teen magazine back in the 80’s. I do my best to fight them off with the desire to be strong and healthy, and drive my demons in that direction instead. It mostly works, because I’d rather kick some ass than be a toothpick. Although I’ve never been pregnant, I’m pretty sure I would be someone who would have issues with my changing body shape. It makes me so angry that I’ve been conditioned to think this way, and if I ever do have children, I’ve definitely got to figure out a way to raise them with healthy body images.

  9. Pingback: Sunday Surf: Sex, Society and Pregnancy | an unschooling adventure

  10. yeah. what a beautiful, positive post about how you feel about your body, even though it’s talking about negative things.

    I’m getting it too. In addition to having a saggy stomach from having gained and lost so much weight over the years (basically I have no children but my stomach looks as if I should); I’ve now got a 7 inch scar running up the centre of it.
    I’m feeling pretty sad about how my body looks; but at least I’m intellectualising it away. Imagine if we couldn’t even do that and we were just held in thrall to these nasty thoughts. Small mercies and all that.

    I just try not to relate food to guilt and remember that I have a lovely personality. 😉

  11. Pingback: Sunday Surf: Sex, Society and Pregnancy | Radical Ramblings

  12. When I first found out I was pregnant in Germany I remember falling on your wonderful posts about pregnancy like a lifeline and was just reminded to check them out again. Now at 8 months, I am devouring your advice and so appreciate you sharing your insight.

    I know for some woman pregnancy is beyond difficult and filled with obstacles, but I feel really thankful that everything has transpired so smoothly for me – so far. I feel like I can echo your appreciation of a body that suddenly isn’t too fat or jiggly or anything but the perfect vessel for another living being. It really is amazing.

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