You may have gone through the experience of having a stranger or acquaintance comment on your non-existent pregnancy. Depending on the context and your own views, the situation may have been uncomfortable, confusing, hilarious, humiliating, or awkward.
There are some specific social views of what pregnancy should look like, including the body’s physical expression, a woman’s demeanor or behavior, her marital status, and right down to her fashion choices.
A combination of factors may have pushed someone into the conclusion that you’re pregnant, except… you’re not.
Something very interesting happens when a woman becomes pregnant: it’s almost as if, communally, we reckon her body has become public property.
Suddenly strangers feel compelled to touch her belly, or comment on her food choices, or offer unsolicited advice. Why? Theories abound but they are not as important as the central point: pregnant bodies are not public bodies. They are not there for our commenting, dictating, judging, or suggesting — no woman’s body is.
Let’s get one thing very clear: even when a woman is notoriously, evidently, undoubtedly pregnant, it is still no one’s business to comment on her body.
All of this may come as a shock to those who simply want to partake in the woman’s joy in carrying a child. But consider this: what if, to this woman, this pregnancy is not a joyous occasion?
Many just want to be nice, of course. Fortunately, there are many other topics and ways in which we can be nice to a woman. Bonding, connecting, being social, being friendly, finding common ground, you name it — it can all be done without ever commenting on a woman’s body.
The scenario of having someone comment on your “pregnancy” can leave a number of thoughts and feelings lingering. Many factors will impact how each woman feels about and reacts to this situation. Some days you may find it funny and have a witty comeback on hand, while other times it may feel hurtful or elicit anger.
There is no “right” way to feel, and there is no “right” way to react.
As a complex human with a complex spectrum of beliefs, experiences and emotions, you’re allowed to perceive and react as appropriate for you in that particular moment.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of questions about a non-pregnancy, you may want to take the opportunity to use the circumstances to garner more insight into your own thoughts and worldviews.
Curious, afflicted, heartbroken, alarmed, upset, annoyed, delighted, unhappy, amused, neutral, enraged, anxious, offended, fascinated, worked up, appalled, frustrated, calm, insulted, depressed, clever, uneasy, confident, worried, ashamed, bitter, witty, embarrassed, hopeful, understanding, serene, indifferent…
A barrage of emotions may surge as a result of being assumed pregnant and these emotions can shift and transform as time passes. What you feel initially when a comment is directed at you may be very different from what you feel two hours or two weeks later.
How would you describe the experience? What emotions arise for you as a consequence of it? What conversations is your inner voice sparking as a result?
A shared experience for many women who are mistakenly labeled as pregnant is the surge of predominantly negative emotions, and a sense of shame. The origins of this shame can be as diverse as the women who experience it.
Shame may arise if:
For different reasons the above explanations could trigger shame at being assumed pregnant. Spending some time understanding what is the underlying cause for shame could be helpful in choosing how to react, were this to happen again.
There is great power in noticing an emotion and calling it by name. There is liberation in identifying a source of shame and speaking it openly. Your internal dialogue in this process may look something like this:
“When my boss asked me if I was pregnant it really threw me into a spin. I wonder why?”
“I think it’s because I’m embarrassed of how my body looks right now.”
“Why am I embarrassed of being [bigger/heavier/fatter/rounder/different] though?”
“I think it’s because I relate being [bigger/heavier/fatter/rounder/different] with being [old/lazy/unappealing/gross/unworthy, etc]”
You can explore the sources of deeply-rooted beliefs and — the best part — you also get to challenge them. By recognizing them and putting them into words you are now empowered to take a hard look at them and identify if they’re serving you or not.
“Is this belief truly mine, or where did it come from?”
“Does it match who I am, who I want to be, what I stand for?”
“How does this belief impact my life? Is it empowering? Or is it limiting?”
“Do I choose to keep it, or do I choose to let it go?”
The most common reason why a woman in today’s society feels ashamed of being called pregnant is the insinuation that her body is larger than it “should” be.
Pregnancy is directly attached to expanding bodies — it is synonym of bigger, wider, growing, oversized, and round. Those same words are extensively undesired in terms of women’s aesthetics pushed by culture and media.
Socially, culturally, and by repetition, women have been trained to aspire to labels like small, petite, lean, tiny, slender, toned, and thin. When we are assumed to be something associated with the exact opposite of these desired labels, it creates internal conflict and shame arises.
Regardless of the scenario and your immediate feelings, it sure can be baffling when a comment about our body is thrown our way. Knowing how to answer in the moment can be super tricky!
In their book The Power of Moments, authors Dan and Chip Heath talk about the importance of preloading — that is, having a template answer or behavior ready and practiced so it becomes familiar. If X happens, then I will do Y.
This way, when the time comes, you can respond to the given situation in a manner that feels correct and satisfying to you. Courage is difficult, but it becomes easier when it’s practiced and rehearsed to the point of becoming second nature.
Depending on the time, the place, the person, and the context, you may respond entirely differently to questioning about your pregnant status.
With this in mind, you can use the following as inspiration, either by using these responses or by creating your own. There are different approaches available to you.
“Oh, I’m wondering why you think it’s appropriate to ask a woman if she’s pregnant?”
“I’m not pregnant and I’m curious how you would feel if I asked you about the state of your reproductive organs?”
“I’m wondering how awkward will this be for you when I tell you I’m not pregnant?”
“That’s a completely inappropriate question.”
“I’m not. I’m just [shaped this way/bloated/fat]”
“It’s not OK to ask that.”
“You know, some women would find this question deeply hurtful or troubling. Please don’t ask anyone this again.”
“[Looking/dressing/acting] this way doesn’t have to equate pregnancy.”
“Pregnancy can look very differently from woman to woman, and not all bodies that look like they may be pregnant are pregnant.”
“Thank you, [patting belly] it’s a pizza!”
“Oh, we are so proud of our Primrose Porsche Bellatrix Zeppelin the Third.”
“What I really wanted was a puppy…”
Remember you are free to feel into the emotions that arise, you are free to choose your reactions to each situation, and you are free to do the work of sifting through thoughts and feelings if you wish to do so.
Being asked if you’re pregnant when you’re not can open the door for some conflicting emotions to arise, and their origins are varied and complex.
Just as with other situations where difficult feelings show up, there can be an opportunity for self-discovery and growth if you choose to lean in.
In the end we hope to have illustrated some helpful ways to bring your own power into the experience and assert yourself in a positive way that builds you up.
If these sound familiar to you, you are not alone.
Based on our years of experience working with and talking to women — and going through our own body image struggles — we designed this free course to help you start improving your body image immediately and give you the tools you need to finally feel good in your own skin.
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