Eating disorder activists Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei's new book, Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?, comes out today. Along with author Esther Kane, they recently spoke to Demo Dirt about pregnant women's dread fear of baby weight.
For their book, Mysko and Amadei (co-founders of Inside Beauty) surveyed more than 400 women about pregnancy and body image. Says Amadei, "I can't say we were surprised to learn that 80% expressed concern about the body changes of pregnancy, but it was startling to learn that less than 50% talk about those concerns with their friends and partners, and even fewer (less than 20%) discuss their body image issues and histories of disordered eating or eating disorder with their health care providers."
Even if they did, the health care providers pregnant women visit most often aren't necessarily trained to recognize and address body image issues and eating disorders — but they are trained to track expectant mothers' weight and instruct them to keep it within a certain range. For women who struggle with disordered eating and body dissatisfaction, that can be problematic. Amadei, a former model who was recovering from bulimia when she got pregnant, says she was unprepared for how triggering the whole experience would be. "I had recovered from my eating disorder and stopped obsessing over the numbers on the scale, but suddenly I found that everyone seemed to be interested in talking about those numbers during pregnancy. OB appointments were about getting weighed, other pregnant women wanted to compare weight gain, and new moms were eager to commiserate about post baby weight loss efforts. The fixation and worry was everywhere."
That's no surprise, says Kane, a clinical counselor and author of It's Not About the Food: A Woman's Guide to Making Peace with Food and Our Bodies . "In North America 80% of women are dissatisfied with the size and shape of their bodies when not pregnant. Since pregnancy adds much more weight to the body, one would expect much higher percentages of body dissatisfaction when women are pregnant." And although all three authors agree that body image issues come from a multitude of sources, what Mysko calls a "huge increase" in media coverage of "celebrity pregnancy, babies, and mommy makeovers" in the last decade hasn't helped.
People like to joke about how pregnancy is the one time women in this culture are allowed to eat with abandon and gain weight without shame, but Mysko and Amadei's research shows that even that's not true. Women are subjected to constant pressure to eat and weigh as little as possible, regardless of how it may affect our self-esteem, our mental health, or our pregnancies. Says Kane, "We are taught that 'thin is in' and since 97% of us aren't naturally thin, we turn against our bodies and are so self-loathing, we often don't want our partners to see us naked. I think that the pregnancy spin by the media is just a continuation of the same thing. The basic message? We're never good enough-our bodies are always in need of improvement."
The Baby Weight [Demo Dirt]