My stomach sticks out. It has stuck out for years. I am not pregnant. I gave birth to a creative, healthy, playful girl five years ago. Today I have a tight stitch where a C-section once happened, and there’s a pouf above it that reflects my love of wine, cheese, and life.
Your reassurances that I am not fat do not help.
I have noticed that friends feel compelled to insist I’m not fat. Just because you say that I don’t look pregnant does not mean I don’t get asked this question, on average, a few times a month. Just because you say I’m so skinny doesn’t mean I won’t get asked about the baby I’m not expecting sometime real soon.
I have created a new rule:
Every time I’m asked about my pregnancy, I post a selfie to Instagram.
I love it.
It puts me back in the driver’s seat of my life.
No matter what I’m wearing, how I’m made up, or what I’m doing, I take a picture of myself and share it with people who know me, mostly in real life. I admit forthrightly what just happened. And then I move on.
When I do this, I no longer remain the person whose body is being reviewed and assessed by others. I become the person who has this body right now, and is living her life anyway.
If you get asked if you’re pregnant a lot, my recommendation is to find something to do immediately that feels good to you. Then keep doing it. Having something to draw upon that does not require thought can be helpful when hurt slaps you in the face, as it did in the comfort of my own home (indeed, no place is sacred) twelve days ago.
I did a cheesecake photo shoot. I was a pinup girl. If you think that means I don’t get to be a feminist or work for women’s equality or reproductive rights, come and get me.
The freedom to have fun, be sexy on your own terms, and take up space in public discourse is worth fighting for.
My relationship with my appearance is complicated. I’ve had an eating disorder. I’ve had a baby and felt my body change. Generally, I don’t wear makeup and you’ll see me wearing heels just a few times a year. When I had a makeover earlier in my feminist career for the purpose of making people listen to me about feminism (no shit!), I cried.
But there are select awesome things that have long made me happily toss off my sneakers and glam it up. Those select awesome things are deco or noir or early sixties. (Let’s talk about hats!) I am picky, but every now and again I strike vintage gold.
There is one magical boucle coat I own; it’s teal with three-quarter sleeves. When I wear it to work, which invariably involves pushing for gender equality beyond the boundaries of what is considered polite, I have several times muttered to myself that I’m “taking it back for Grandma.”
Because, simply, Grandma looked great. And she deserved gender equality, too.
But wait. Isn’t fighting against the objectification of women what feminists are supposed to do? Don’t I have a responsibility not to play into that objectification by always looking as all-business as possible? There are some feminists who would say yes. But frankly, I think no.
Somewhere along the way the fight led by feminists to not be valued on the basis of your appearance in a world of impossible, sexualized standards — something that is toxic and fascist and deadly — became confused with a rigid idea that feminist women must not care about their appearance or (gasp) be sexy.
It is hateful when women are expected to be pretty or sexual, to be sure. But just as no woman is a threat to womanhood because she doesn’t care about her appearance (me on most days), so too she is harmless to the status of other women if she puts great effort into it.
Whether expressed around beauty, fashion, or enjoying supposedly “light” (read: feminine) forms of entertainment, the bald truth is that the alleged stupidity of one woman is not what holds other women back.
Systemic discrimination on the basis of not just sex, but also race, class, ability, sexuality and gender identity, and other immoral hierarchies of dominance and privilege is what holds women back. Denying these oppressions exist does not allow you to escape them.
Change happens not because the arc of history wants it to, but because individuals have acknowledged uncomfortable truths and insisted on breaking convention.
I insist upon being able to wear a fucking swimsuit and heels, and then continue to speak credibly about politics and in particular feminist politics. I know, some of you are cringing — Erin, don’t do this to yourself.
Actually, I’ve thought long and hard about whether to share these. And where I land is that if you think a woman showing her body is shameful, you are saying that her body is shameful. Excuse you!
My body is just fine, I’m not wearing anything particularly outrageous or showy in these photos, and, my gosh, I have legs. Please explain how hiding my legs means that my life will be perfect and women will be equal.
We know that sexism is at play in these assumptions because they simply aren’t there for men. Scott Brown posed nude for Cosmopolitan, and you know what he went on to do? Run for Senate. Not in one state, but two! But it’s not the same for women. Things will change, however, when women insist on taking up space even though we are not “perfect” – a purposefully impossible standard.
Krystal Ball, an MSNBC host who previously ran for Congress, is a hero for fighting back after right-wingers released racy photos of her in an attempt to tank her campaign in 2010 (emphasis mine):
The tactic of making female politicians into whores is nothing new. In fact, it happened to Meg Whitman, one of the world’s most accomplished business women, just last week. It’s part of this whole idea that female sexuality and serious work are incompatible. But I realized that photos like the ones of me, and ones much racier, would end up coming into the public sphere when women of my generation run for office. And I knew that there could be no other answer to the question than this: Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are going to leak into the public sphere. Sooner or later, this is a reality that has to be faced, or many young women in my generation will not be able to run for office.
I am sharing these photos because I love them. I am not ashamed of them. I refuse to let a fear of someone else finding them and ridiculing me — a fact of life when photos are digital and hacking exists — hold me back from participating in public life.
I am sharing these photos because there are lots of young women in a generation beneath me sexting. We should not judge them; sexting seems to be a fairly routine part of sexual exploration for many young people, these days. It is also a fact that many of the young women who are sexting will find photos leaked or shared with others against their will later.
If we want a world with equality, we must insist that those young women who have sexted are not then told that their futures are foreclosed because their body has been made accessible to the Internet. We don’t do that to young men. Nor should we.
I work on incredibly important issues, and I am incredibly serious about them. I am also allowed to have fun.
Tearing through the finish line is something you’re supposed to do with triumphant arms in the air, running as fast as you can, but this is me nearing the end of my pregnancy so I’ll take this this brief respite from waddling to the bathroom to blog about the pressure to post photographs of one’s baby online.
Previously, I made a wildly unpopular decision to not post pregnancy photos to Facebook, and to opt out of baby bump and pregnancy mania digital voyeurism in general. Now I anticipate virtually everyone who knows me and wants to see BABY PICTURES SO MANY BABY PICTURES OF A BABY IN A HAT AS SOON AS I GIVE BIRTH AND THEN ALL THE TIME FOREVER is going to look at the screen and scream once more, because I have some pretty negative feelings about the pressure to post baby photographs online.
Here are the issues, as I see them:
Encouraging and respecting individuality, individual expression and free will are some of my highest values, and this extends to my initial thoughts about parenting. As I see it, my baby is going to be her own person and it’s one of my jobs to create as much space as I can to encourage her to be herself. This is especially poignant to me as a feminist expecting a daughter in a world that objectifies women and girls. My contention is not her participation in digital culture itself: I understand that as she gets older she may pose for and post photographs online. However, I tend to feel that in a digital space those are choices for her to make on her own, not choices for me to make for her.
Social networking photographs are forever. It seems we are in an unprecedented time for digital representations of childhood. When I was growing up, there was no permanent search engine trail of photographs in the tub waiting to someday be discovered by a recruiter looking you up before a job interview, or someone trying to hurt you. This doesn’t mean people should hide from having their photos put online, but as a future parent I am concerned about making permanent digital mistakes on behalf of a child I want to be her own person. On a separate, but related note, political hero Krystal Ball famously said the following when racy photographs from Facebook were leaked online during her 2010 run for Congress:
But I realized that photos like the ones of me, and ones much racier, would end up coming into the public sphere when women of my generation run for office. And I knew that there could be no other answer to the question than this: Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are going to leak into the public sphere. Sooner or later, this is a reality that has to be faced, or many young women in my generation will not be able to run for office.
Granted, baby photos are not sexual, and I don’t plan on trying to restrict my daughter from using social networking sites when she is of age to do so. In fact I agree with Krystal: People have to face up to our pictures and our social lives online, especially women of my age and lower, and a societal inability to do so will lead to negative political consequences. But I draw a strong distinction between someone posting photographs of herself and having a digital trail created for you by someone else without your consent.
And how many people who look at your digital presence online would you invite into your home? During the early days of life, beyond the Internet, new babies are seen by the people closest to you. People you invite in your home. People you make an effort to go see. Social networking has changed this equation, and I’m not sure for the better, especially for someone like me who maintains an Internet presence for political purposes.
This is concern that intrusions upon my privacy, which I have experienced by the barge load during the process of pregnancy, will soon extend to a baby I want to protect. I know this thinking is very unpopular, and it is probably impossible to have a completely non-digital baby, especially when good people I care about are already begging. In any case others will probably take and tag their own pictures whether I like it or not. And for all I know, perhaps the process of having a baby and parenting will make me want to share photographs online all the time. If there’s one thing I know right now it’s that I don’t know how I am about to experience parenting. I believe preferences and viewpoints can change and that ability is a sign of strength, not weakness. But at this moment as I waddle to the finish line, I can say:
It makes me sad that so much of pregnancy and caring for a newborn — incredibly private moments — seems to have turned into visual digital performance for other people, one that can easily be objectified and made permanent without consent.
I am a pregnant woman. Never in my adult life have I had fewer rights under the law, more intrusive comments and questions from people in the public space. I don’t need to be objectified any more than I already am. This is not a body for you to glance at, scroll down, expand the window, draw your own conclusions about and “Like.”
That is why I am not posting pregnancy photos to Facebook.
We, as a culture, live in public. I, as a human being, made a strategic decision to live in public several years ago. I believe that a woman telling her story has the power to change society.
Because I want to share my pregnancy in the way I experience it and choose to share it, not in a way for others to see it and choose to interpret it.
Because carrying a wanted pregnancy is an act of immense love and sacrifice that is, at its core, an astonishing and sacred experience of beauty. For me. This time.
Others’ experiences are, I’m sure, different.
I am fortunate to have, to be able to have, a loving spouse with whom to share doubts, fears, glee, joy and stomach troubles during these most private of times.
I am offended to imagine breaking the spell of our intimacy as a couple and family, and my integrity to sense of self as seen fit to share by posing, anticipating others looking at me and calling it “cute.”
A number of friends have begged for photos. I know you mean well. I know you want to share this time with me. I am happy to “Like” your pregnancy photos if you choose to share them with me. I encourage you to be happy that I am sharing this time in my life on my level.
If you are itching to honor me during this time, or do something quick online to lift my spirits because I’m pregnant and my back hurts, I will point you directly to the Meet the Press website where you can, in solidarity, share your alarm that recently they had one token woman against reproductive rights and four men discussing the new six-week abortion ban in North Dakota, the most restrictive abortion law on the books. By presenting reproductive rights as a matter of public morality, mainly as judged by men, rather than the lived and incredibly visceral experiences of individual women, the mainstream media is colluding in the massive infringement of my civil and human rights.
When the silencing of people like me in mainstream media and public policy is so extreme, it is hard for me to get excited about the voyeurism of cutesy pregnancy mania on social media. It is hard for me to believe the pressure to perform for the camera and the pressure to keep my mouth shut about my human rights are not interconnected.
Maybe if we all get together socially and “Like” one other’s pregnancies it will be okay. But it’s not. One of us might find ourselves pregnant and in the wrong place at the wrong time. And then, in the name of someone else’s abstract notions of morality enforced by the state, one of us might die. Or have a forced C-section. Or be incarcerated or detained because we were pregnant.
I refuse to be a smiling snapshot of this awful era for pregnant women. Opting out is my act of difference. Speaking out is my act of defiance.