April 18, 2010

I’m Pregnant But I Just Feel Fat

Updated version of this post at Elephant Journal, February 8, 2011.

I felt that way at the beginning of my first trimester and I’ve heard it among too many other pregnant women. Instead of equating the swelling belly and increased adipose tissue (fat) with hormonal changes and additional weight designed to support the pregnancy, too many women just feel fat (and hate it).

I always found the pregnant form immeasurably beautiful. Radiant women with full curves and a new life growing inside. I looked forward to the day I would become pregnant and join this league of life-giving, glowing goddess women. I took the home test, it confirmed my pregnancy and one of the first things that went off in my head was, “uh-oh, what about my body?” I am embarrassed to admit that the fat fear was present almost from conception.

I had moments where I felt beautiful but I didn’t embrace my fecundity and fullness in the same way I had imagined. Those “beautiful” moments were sprinkled in among terror over my ever-expanding body. I remember coming home and crying at the end of the first trimester because I felt ugly and fat. My partner would remind me that I had a long way to go and I was not big (at that time).

Reflecting on those feelings of self-rejection and body hatred makes me sad, sad because my beautiful son was growing inside of me. I’ve written about this subject a lot lately because it is maddening that women seem destined to carry their culturally induced body anxieties into what should be an incredible life experience. The tabloids ridiculous obsession with the baby-bump and the post-baby body has not helped pregnant women feel any better about the changes their body goes through. In fact, it’s just “another way to make a woman feel fat.”

To help women cope with body pressures before and after pregnancy, author Claire Mysko wrote Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby.

If you’re like most expectant women, you’re worried about what pregnancy and motherhood will do to your body, your sexuality, and your self-esteem (even if you don’t want to admit it out loud for fear of the Bad Mommy Police). While the journey to motherhood is truly miraculous and brings forth life, it can also bring forth a myriad of legitimate concerns.

Enter beauty activists Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei, who offer a much-needed forewarning on what to expect from your changing body, as well as a reality check for each stage of your pregnancy, exposing the myths, challenges, and insecurities you’ll face throughout pregnancy and beyond—and what to do about them.

Unfortunately, I did not find this book until well after my son was born and deep into the throes of my body loathing. I hope all pregnant women (or soon-to-be-pregnant) will find this book and that it will assist them.

While I think this information can be incredibly helpful, it’s not enough because we’re in a mediated cultural environment that continues to throw jabs from every angle. We need to employ active tools of media literacy to deconstruct these images as well as create and expose ourselves to new images, realistic images. That’s why I love the website, The Shape of A Mother, a website that demystifies the pregnant and postnatal form with images and stories from real mothers without computer retouching or plastic surgery.

As a first-time mother, I admit that I was clueless and surprised at the physical changes I encountered. I felt alone and disappointed that most of the physical and emotional changes I experienced were not discussed honestly and openly by other mothers. I felt like I was thrown into the jungle without the adequate provisions and tools to emerge successfully. We need less stories about women like Ellen Pompeo (who went up to-gasp-size 26  jeans during pregnancy), Gisele Bundchen (kudos on the home birth, though) or Nicole Richie (“svelte after one week!”)  and more stories about average women who are pregnant but just feel fat. Maybe if we have more people discussing these issues candidly we can avoid more women spending their pregnancy obsessing over their inevitable expansion and being present to the miraculous process they are engaging in.

Now that would be beautiful.

Me during my first trimester, feeling gigantic (not gigantic at all). Me during the last few weeks.


  1. I agree with this piece completely. Think of all the celebs that get the dreaded “bump watch” tag: is she just fat or is she pregnant or get a hard time because they gain baby weight. The get skinny quick stories sell much better.

    Of course celebs with weight gain get heat too but this is about pregnancy.

    I found something on Lisa Marie Presley who had to deny being fat and admitted she was pregnant.

    You are huge during that last few weeks though it looks to be mostly in the belly area– I think where it’s supposed to be. I can’t really comment all that much because I’ve never been nor plan to be pregnant.

    Don’t doctors say that women “should” gain 40 pds. to be healthy.

    Comment by Amy Steele — April 18, 2010 @ 11:17 am

  2. Great article Melanie!! I’ve definitely said the words “I feel fat!!” quite a few times, and I hear back “you’re not fat, you’re pregnant!” Lately, I’ve been trying to enjoy each moment because pregnancy goes by so fast and I don’t want to look back and say I never enjoyed it at all. I read the Ellen Pompeo article too, and was completely shocked hearing she only went up to size 26. I’ve never even fit one leg into a size 26! I felt that she really shouldn’t have mentioned that because most women don’t need to read that and then feel shameful about going up over size 30 in their jeans! It’s pregnancy, and each body is so different! I’m proud of my baby bump and any extra fat anywhere else on my body right now because it’s all there for a reason, to support my growing son!

    Comment by Janine — April 18, 2010 @ 5:21 pm

  3. Thanks for your comments @Amy and @Janine. @Amy, yes, celebs get flak for gaining too much weight or not enough although the thing postnatal mommies get praise. @Janine, so glad you’re enjoying your pregnancy. You should feel wonderful, healthy and not caught up with the fat talk and weight drama. And the size 26 jeans comment…ugh. Like you, that’s ridiculous and make other women feel tremendous guilt.

    Comment by Melanie — April 18, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

  4. The “baby bump” obsession of the tabloid mags started, I’m pretty sure, after the steep commercial devolution of the (already overly commercial) media after the Telecom Act of 1996… I wrote a bit about this in my book, but that section ended up getting cut for space. But I do think a sociology grad student could build a thesis around mapping the impat of Telecom 96 on representations of women’s bodies in corporate media.

    Comment by Jennifer Pozner — April 18, 2010 @ 6:08 pm

  5. Jennifer, you’re brilliant. I wish that had not been cut from your book. That’s interesting stuff. I’d noticed the growing obsession with bumps and postnatal bodies (and now celebrity kids) years ago and found it strange. When I was a teen, I never even knew which celebs had children, if and when they were pregnant. Can you expand on the connection or do you have an article already written on this link? If you do, I’d love to use it in class next semester.

    For everyone else reading these comments, pre-order Jennifer Pozner’s new book Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV! Class, race, consumerism, advertising, media literacy are all covered. http://amzn.to/dzo4R4

    Comment by Melanie — April 18, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

  6. […] interesting because if you read I’m Pregnant But I Just Feel Fat at Feministe Fatale, Melanie discusses the trend toward celebs who don’t exactly […]

    Pingback by Bundchen watch: More kids/ no fear of “body changes” « ENTERTAINMENT REALM — April 19, 2010 @ 3:42 pm

  7. You look exactly like I did pregnant – huge belly, but tiny everywhere else. YOU were not gigantic – you were all belly! But I totally know the feeling. I felt like an absolute whale during my pregnancies. I need to go read that book!

    Comment by TheFeministBreeder — April 19, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

  8. Great comments. Thanks for the dialogue. Actually, I gained 60 pounds and still can not fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes but thanks for the compliment 🙂 I’ll take it.

    Comment by Melanie — April 19, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

  9. As a babysitter for many families in my neighborhood I have see these women go through the same size changes as you did. I actually ran into my two-doors-over neighbor on the hiking trail behind our houses and she said she was due in 4 days and had been hiking that nearly 10 mile hike everyday for the past couple weeks, sometimes twice a day. On April 14th she gave birth at home in 20 minutes! I can only hope I’ll be this active when I decide to have a baby. I could go on about the many stories I have about these powerful new mothers.

    I think that this is more than our perception of our bodies through the media that makes pregnant women feel fat. I believe that as women, we have a good range that we generally stick to with regards to our adulthood weight and shape (as do men). We get used to this shape and it is when that baby bump starts growing and growing that it looks like fat since we are not used to having this large of an area on our stomachs therefore women feel that they are fat rather than feel that they are not actually getting fat, they just have a beautiful baby growing inside of them and they need to expand their stomach and eat more in order for the baby to be born healthy.

    What scares me the most is when pregnant women watch their weight the same as they do when they were not pregnant. They watch every pound and end up not gaining the healthy 40lbs needed for their baby to efficiently grow because they believe they are not supposed to gain that much weight no matter what because they won’t be beautiful anymore.

    I agree with you that the pregnant form is immeasurably beautiful. In the homes of the families I babysit for I find that my favorite pictures are those of the mothers while in their final few days of pregnancy showing off their bellies. There is no makeup that can make a woman glow like they do during this time. The curves of the pregnant body are more beautiful than any curve found on a non-pregnant women on a cover of a magazine.

    Comment by Chantelle — April 19, 2010 @ 11:28 pm

  10. Awesome post!! I’m not going to lie, I sometimes think I don’t want to have a baby simply because I don’t want to f-up my body. It’s sad but true. I think you are beautiful and I admire your honesty. I am passing this post on to a few women I know who need it. xoxo

    Comment by Kristin — April 20, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

  11. @Chantelle First: Wow. 10 miles/day (sometimes twice/day) seems beyond excessive. Your point “I think that this is more than our perception of our bodies through the media that makes pregnant women feel fat. I believe that as women, we have a good range that we generally stick to with regards to our adulthood weight and shape (as do men). We get used to this shape and it is when that baby bump starts growing and growing that it looks like fat since we are not used to having this large of an area on our stomachs therefore women feel that they are fat” is partially responsible, no doubt, BUT that does not explain hiking 20 miles/day 4 days before you’re due. A lot (not all) of the fat fear during pregnancy comes from media pressure via bump watch.

    @Kristin and anyone else who thinks that I reflect on my “truly gigantic” shape with disgust or shame, I felt huge and fat at the time but enjoy looking at my pregnancy photos in retrospect. I just wish I would have appreciated the beauty I see now at the time.

    Comment by Melanie — April 20, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

  12. […] Thou shalt not feel bad for still being influenced by the barrage of unattainable […]

    Pingback by Oh no, someone wants to make a feminist culture manifest(a) | Allison McNeely — May 13, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

  13. Thank you for this post! It was just what I wanted to read today. I’m 20 weeks pregnant with my third child. I know in my mind that I’m pregnant, not fat; that’s the reason I can’t wear my regular clothes; it’s ok, in fact it’s all good, in theory. I also remember that I went back to normal fairly fast after the first two; breastfeeding, and being reasonably active, are both good things (tho’ personally, I’m not going to be hiking 20 miles a day in the third trimester); pregnancy is temporary, and one should try to enjoy it while it lasts. And of course, this is a feminist issue; pregnant women are beautiful; I see other pregnant people, and I think “pregnant”, not “fat”; in theory, all true. BUT, it’s a struggle to feel it sometimes. Last night I had a dream that my boyfriend told me I was fat. It was a bad, bad dream. In real life, he often tells me I’m sexy and beautiful, and has never said such a thing, and wouldn’t. And it was kind of weird, because before I went to sleep, we’d had some great sex; it was as if my unconscious couldn’t believe that he still thinks I”m sexy. But there’s a lot of negative stuff to get over, when you start to be a lot bigger than usual, and a totally different shape. Some days I still feel pretty good about it all, but some days, not so much. It’s hard not to feel anxious, even when it’s all in a good cause…

    Comment by emily wilson — June 16, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  14. What a refreshing article! I was a european size 8 pre pregnancy , and am a size 12 at 21 weeks. I have experienced nothing but negative nasty comments from so called friends (other mums at my sons school) since the first 2 months of pregnancy. It amazes me how they feel the need and desire to tell me daily how “large” i am and the fact that i must be carrying a girl cause I am “rounded” and “hippy” as opposed to being neat and frontal.

    They even compare how slim they feel in comparison to me now!!! Its pathetic and disgusting that women have sunk so low as to get a kick out of feeding on a pregnant womans insecurities and elevate their own egos at our expense.

    My partner laughs and says to let them baste in their tempory moment of smug glory… and that even if i gained another 5 stone i would still be far more attratctive and sexier than they ever could…bless him. At least i get some confidence from someone!

    Comment by lena b — July 12, 2010 @ 11:07 am

  15. Lena,

    Thanks for your great comment!

    Comment by Melanie — July 12, 2010 @ 4:22 pm

  16. I gained 50 pounds during pregnancy and started hearing from my doctor that it was “too much” weight, even though I was eating more healthy and balanced meals than ever before in my life. After breastfeeding for a couple of years, all that “extra” weight was gone, but that doesn’t mean that my body looks the same as it did pre-pregnancy.

    We have a very unrealistic expectation of pregnancy as a controlled short-term change. It’s not, it’s a huge long-term change that impacts what your body looks like from then on. It changes the size and ratio of your breasts, waist and hips, it changes how your stomach looks, it changes how your body functions. But these are only negatives if we buy into the idea that women are suppose to look like teens/20-somethings our whole lives.

    Comment by Elena Perez — August 18, 2010 @ 10:44 am

  17. I’m so pleased I found this. I’ve just hit 6months today and last night I came home crying. The first thing I thought when I got pregnant was ‘what about my body I worked so hard on?’ Even though I was ecstatic about being a mom. I look back at my first trimester photos where I’m showing off my ‘bump’ and I felt massive! I couldn’t fit into my little UK8 jeans anymore and I felt like everyone was judging me for ‘letting myself go’ because no one knew I was pregnant. I felt embarrassed.

    I feel so guilty at times for thinking such sad things about myself when I have my lovely little boy inside me who will love me no matter what.
    I don’t want to wish my due date was here because I know why I’d be wishing for it… And it’s for the wrong reasons, because I want my body back. I know if I think this way I will regret it and want to relive my pregnancy again in a more positive way.

    I also worry that my lovely husband will no longer love me like before, that I’ve lost my sexuality because I’m going to be a mother. I feel when he and I stand next to each other in public that people will wonder what he’s doing with this fat girl. That he can do better.

    I don’t want to feel this way and I try hard not to. I feel better after I go to the gym, because it gives me some sort of normality despite me not being able to do the same exercises as before. So I still try and do something at the gym 3 times a week, things that will help me stay fit but also help me get through the birth and back to ‘normal’ after.
    I have fleeting moments where I feel beautiful, like you, but they are then forgotten. Especially as I work with stick-thin, beautiful, ‘perfect’ looking models. I can’t help compare my 5’2″ expanding body to their 5’10” slender physiques.

    And then…there are times like now, when I can feel my little man kicking inside me and it makes me love him more and I forget my worries.

    My goal, for the next 3 months, is to not worry, eat healthy and if I want a cake then I will have one and not punish myself for it, and try and embrace my final months before they are gone forever.

    Thanks for posting this. I’m going to buy the book you recommended.



    Comment by Ashley — August 26, 2010 @ 1:07 am

  18. Omg thank u. I don’t even feel pregnant just fat. Its been so hard since i haven’t told many people yet either. Its so bad to the point where i don’t know if im eating enough or if im eating too much. I want to be excited but right now im just sad which makes me feel guilty becuz i am really excited and thankful for this child. My husband and i have been trying for over a year. It’s just hard.

    Comment by kumeno — October 1, 2010 @ 5:36 am

  19. […] I combined starvation, purging, and over exercising; and well into adulthood, including during my pregnancy and postpartum […]

    Pingback by (Self)Love is a Battlefield : Ms Magazine Blog — October 21, 2010 @ 11:26 am

  20. […] posted at Feminist Fatale, April  2010. Updated for Elephant […]

    Pingback by I’m Pregnant But I Just Feel Fat | elephant journal — February 8, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

  21. […] I combined starvation, purging, and over exercising; and well into adulthood, including during my pregnancy and postpartum […]

    Pingback by Generations of Body Battles: How I’m Learning to Be a Peacemaker. | elephant journal — November 11, 2011 @ 3:55 pm

  22. I’m thankful for this article!! The second I knew I was pregnant, I was so ashamed that the first thought was about my body and ‘ruining’ what I had worked so hard for. I had recently lost 75 pounds (about 2 years back), and it was so hard to think about getting up there again. Anytime I went to eat something, anything, people would tell me “You know, yeah you’re eating for two but becareful…”. It’s been really difficult. I’m in the home stretch now, only 1 month left to go, and I’m glad to have read this. I still have anxiety over the silly things, but it’s comforting in a way to know that I’m not alone. It’s 2012 and your article is still helping!

    Comment by Teresa — February 28, 2012 @ 11:21 am

  23. […] posted at Feminist Fatale. Updated for Elephant Journal and Adios […]

    Pingback by Pregnancy, Body Image and the Age of ‘Bump Watch’ | Adios Barbie — March 9, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

  24. I am not a mother so I have never been pregnant, but I just sat by my best friends side through her pregnancy. She was that pregnant women that only looked pregnant from the font and side. If you saw her walking down the street you would have known she was pregnant at all. Anyways she was the same way. I remember her looking at me saying “I am just so tired of feeling bloated and fat all day everyday” she would say “I just want to lay in bed all day and not go outside.” I thought it was crazy because I have always thought that finally if and when I get pregnant I will actually have an excuse as to why I feel fat and bloated. I guess we will see how I feel when the time comes. But back to my best friend she was tiny before the baby only gained like tops 25 pounds and as soon as she had her beautiful daughter its like she dropped all the weight she gained. She says that she still feels fat and sometimes she gets depressed. I really wish as Melanie you stated that we see more real women stories about pregnancy. The truth as to what women go through! No one should feel all alone because guaranteed someone else feels the exact same way!

    Comment by Candice G. — May 1, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

  25. I think that women should stop thinking about their weight during pregnancy. Because its just natural and human to gain weight during the process of giving life to our son’s. And it would just be absolutely wrong and selfish to starve yourselves to feel and look skinnier. Im sure your baby would come out unhealthy and with some sort of defect in the process. So i would suggest all women to eat as healthy as possible during pregnancy and stop worring about how much they wieght and what they look like. And should diet and work out and lose some weight after giving birth for the best of results for you and your child.

    Comment by Danny S — November 25, 2012 @ 6:06 pm

  26. Thank you so much for posting your first trimester photo! That’s exactly how I look right now too. I think some of my worry on being “fat” is me trying to have if I’m eating healthy–it’s never good to start “eating for two” and over dose on calories, fat, and carbs. For me, I’ve always gaged my eating habits by what I weigh and how I look. Being pregnant completely throws all that off! Thanks for reassuring me that I look normal for a first trimester pregnant lady. 🙂

    Comment by Marcie — February 2, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

  27. It’s saddening to know that yet again the media has turned something beautiful into something frustrating. Pregnancy should be a time in a woman’s life where they feel as comfortable as possible. It is already hard enough to deal with the hormonal changes, to on the top of that be worried about one’s body; especially because the weight gain that a woman experiences during pregnancy is for the most part out of her control. If it weren’t for the media, women would not be so worried about their pregnant body, but all the tabloids we see about celebrities gaining “too much” weight during pregnancy and how fast they lose the weight after giving birth have instilled this preoccupation with weight gain during pregnancy. The most frustrating thing in this situation is that the women that we do see on the tabloids are photo shopped to the point the their bodies are extremely unrealistic. So how will a regular women ever obtain that image of beauty if it is not real to begin with.

    Comment by Leslie S — November 20, 2013 @ 8:47 am

  28. To me, the attitude that society and the media has toward pregnancy and women’s bodies durin the process is wrong and cruel. It is fat shaming taken to an entirely knew level. It is just one more example of how women’s bodies are seen as sexual objects, constantly judged and criticized by the media. One recent example of this was the harsh scrutiny surrounding Kim Kardashian during her pregnancy when countless blogs and tabloid called her a whale, pig, fat, huge, and much more. It is so derogatory to criticize any woman for her weight let alone do it when she has a baby growing inside of her. Another aspect of our media culture surrounding pregnancy is the before and after shots we see of celebrities pre and post baby bump. These images are unrealistic, photoshopped and one in a million. The average woman does not go on to lose all the baby weight within one month because it takes too much money, time, and energy all of which should rather be going toward the mother and the baby’s well being. These magazine covers eventually leave women believeing there is something wrong with them, when in fact, there is something wrong with society. Rather than focusing on the beauty of the development and birth of the baby we are constantly focused on body image of the woman before and after which is unhealthy for both the mother and the baby.

    Comment by Chloe M. — December 1, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

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  30. I have to agree that pregnant women are beautiful. The fact that it seems to be an issue is quite sad. It is a process of life that all women go through, and the body can be put back the way it was after pregnancy. There is nothing permanent about a pregnancy, but the media does not help this situation whatsoever. With tabloids exposing pregnant stars, and grand lettering that reads “I’M FAT” that is a supposed quote from that star is absolutely ridiculous. The fact that a society can’t fathom a pregnant female meander the streets without being judged or thought of as disgusting is a shame. I have come across family friends whose wives are pregnant, and many of them cannot accept the fact, they believe it makes them less attractive. They even abstain from sexual intercourse because of the pregnancy. When I heard about this I wondered why they were married in the first place, especially if you can’t accept your partner for who they are, no matter what condition.

    Comment by Zachary L — December 4, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

  31. While I am only 21 years old, personally very far away from becoming a mother, this article and personal account resonated with me and I have recently been thinking about what it will be like in the future to give birth and carry a child inside me. I am less concerned about gaining weight because I figure being pregnant is the best time in my life to gain weight and not feel ashamed—I’ll have no control over it! What concerns me more is my fear of stretching my vagina to a new shape that is loose and less pleasurable. This may be a very vain fear, but I have heard from my mother that vaginal tearing while giving birth is very common and this fear has brought me to thoughts of Caesarean section.
    From a feminist perspective, I know that this fear is influenced by my partner and his desire as well, but I cannot accept that fact that I am so concerned with the reality that my vagina will not be as “tight” as before and therefore less desirable. I am also concerned that it will interfere with sensitivity for me as well.
    With all these thoughts going on in my head, it was good to read about this personal experience and how Melanie worked through it. Unfortunately, though I am still ashamed that I have these vain concerns going through my head that put the desires of my male partner before loving my body the way it is no matter what.

    Comment by Mary R. — May 8, 2014 @ 9:36 am

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