“How much weight have you gained?” If I gained a pound for every time someone has asked me that question during the course of my pregnancy, I would beat everyone at see-saw for the rest of my life. Instead, I generally answer with, “I’m not going to answer that question,” because I believe in granting anyone listening permission to rethink the appropriateness of this common routine. It’s okay to refuse to answer a personal question you didn’t invite. It’s okay to not ask women to recount statistics about their bodies in lieu of asking how to support their experiences within them. It’s okay to opt-out of fat talk, including pregnancy-specific strains of fat talk. Fat talk is a profane part of the lives of women and girls.
Defined simply, fat talk is a negative “my body sucks” conversation that takes place between women. It is a game of one-downwomanship that often goes like this:
- “I can’t believe I ate that.”
- “No, look at me, I had [this bad food] and [that bad food] last night.”
- “No, no, no, I’m so bad, I haven’t been to the gym in [a certain length of time].”
- “Yeah, well look at my ass in these jeans. I am so fat. No wonder I’m single.”
- And on, and on, and on, women saying horrible things about themselves that most would not say openly to their worst enemy’s face.
As someone who is pregnant and has a history of an eating disorder that nearly killed me, and someone who is thinking very deliberately about the kind of behavior I want to model for my future daughter and her friends, I experience pregnancy fat-talk as a one-two ladle full of bullshit punch:
In a social context, how much weight I have gained is irrelevant to my experience of pregnancy. If it were truly relevant, a doctor would have pointed it out to me, and if I wanted help from others in gaining weight at either a slower or faster clip, believe me, I would ask. Just like I would ask for your help if I thought you were the right person to help me avoid a urinary tract infection, a yeast infection or any other issue related to my reproductive health.
In a statistical context, how much weight I have gained is neither an accomplishment nor a tragedy. I am having a baby. My body is, amazingly, doing what it needs to do to pull off this particular pregnancy. My pre-pregnancy weight, my post-pregnancy weight and the so-called time it takes to “get my body back” — one of the most offensive of all fat talk frames placed around pregnant women, for I’m certain this is my body now and will remain mine in any and all shapes it takes — these are like toxic body culture baseball card statistics for women. Except unlike baseball cards, the statistics don’t revolve around our accomplishments as pregnant women (not throwing up during the meeting! continuing to experience physical strength! dodging bigoted lawmakers who want to regulate our every move!), but disembodied numbers that encourage judgement from others and worse, ourselves.
Like lots of women on the brink of having a daughter, there is so much I want to give her a chance to experience. Near the top of that list is comfort in her own skin, in spite of what I have experienced painfully and personally as a toxic body culture that is especially awful for young women. In a study recently covered by The New York Times, 93 percent of college women said they engage in fat talk. I hope that all little girls will grow up not feeling the pressure to trash themselves on the basis of food behaviors and body measurements that say nothing meaningful about their experiences and worth as human beings. I hope that instead all little girls will grow up proud to share their accomplishments and experiences with one another, seeing this practice as a source for joy and collective strength, rather than bragging or an attack on the status of others. We have so much power that can not be pinned to a number, or a shape, or whatever the latest ridiculous comments are about Kim Kardashian’s appearance as a pregnant woman.
It is for the little girl who will soon be mine that I am refusing to participate in pregnancy fat talk. It is for the friends she will someday have. Also, proudly, it is for me.