Mother and Baby

Why do we treat pregnant women’s bodies like public property?

Section: Pregnancy
Pregnant woman

Picture the scene. You’re at work in your open-plan office, and one of your colleagues arrives for the day. You’ve been working in the next department for about six months, and you don’t know each other THAT well – enough to pass the time of day, but you’ve not had a coffee or lunch together ever. Your colleague is overweight.

As she passes your desk, you stand, and loudly proclaim (loudly enough for nearby teams consisting of about 60 people to hear): “Oh my god! Look at you – look how big you are!” Just imagine that.

Another scene; same office, different overweight colleague. As your colleague passes, you say: “Gosh, you’re enormous. You’re a really big girl for 34 aren’t you!”

If you dared to shout such body-shaming abuse at colleagues across the office due to their weight, you’d surely be hauled into HR. However, if you revisit those scenes and instead of an overweight colleague, say those things to your pregnant colleague, suddenly such comments become commonplace, acceptable, expected, and perhaps just ‘banter’.

Why do we treat pregnant women’s bodies like public property?

When a woman falls pregnant, it’s one of the most special times of her life. But it’s also a period of time that sees a lot – A LOT - of physical changes – ones which amaze and delight us, but also which scare us a bit, surprise us, and make us look at our bodies in completely different ways.

One day you’ll catch sight of yourself naked in a full-length mirror (hopefully at home, not at work) and you’ll have to take a second look as you won’t believe it’s you.

Up to this point in life we’ve probably spent a significant amount of time thinking about our shape and physique – we are conditioned to try to look our best at all times, getting our hair and nails done, wearing the right clothes, maintaining a healthy weight – and for some women this isn’t easy, and leaves us riddled with body issues.

So when pregnancy occurs, those million bodily changes can be difficult to accept. Your confidence might fall through the floor; you become very conscious of every tiny way in which your body looks different.

And while it’s amazing to think that your thighs are expanding because your hips have relaxed in order to accommodate your baby, and your belly resembles a watermelon because, oh yes I remember, you’re growing a human in there, you really don’t need people shouting critical analysis of your shape across the office.

Your comments might make her disappear to the loo for half an hour to have a cry.

But during pregnancy it seems we become public property – anyone and everyone can comment and have an opinion on your size and shape. People you barely speak to on a regular basis suddenly consider it A-OK to tell you you’re looking mahoossive.

When I fell pregnant, I thought I’d have to contend with people trying to touch my bump uninvited, but in fact the physical contact has been minimal – it’s been the constant commentary that’s been hardest to take.

Be supportive of that big baby bump

I wonder what people think they’re achieving when they say to a pregnant woman, “aren’t you massive, are you sure you haven’t got twins in there?”.

I don’t understand how the commentator thinks this is a positive, supportive comment. How about, “Oh, you look smashing today, is that a new lipstick?” Or, “How are you feeling?”

There are a million more constructive and helpful comments you can say to a pregnant woman rather than a daily critique of how big she’s getting.

You could offer to get her a cold drink. You could give her an apple, or a chocolate bar (who am I kidding – go for the latter). You could ask if you can write up the notes from that meeting for her. Or, offer her a perineal massage. OK, the last one might be slightly inappropriate, but it might make her laugh (and seriously, it would help, we can’t reach down there any more).

Men vs women

All of the critical comments I’ve received have been from women, and all of them mothers themselves. I haven’t had one comment during my pregnancy from a man that wasn’t cheerful and supportive – mainly passing on congratulations and just saying “you look lovely!”

And even if you aren’t feeling lovely, you’re actually sweating, out of breath, and wearing the only dress you can fit in any more, it’s still good to hear.

So why the lack of support from fellow mums?

Unsupportive comments between women are of course not related only to pregnancy. We go through life bitching and moaning about other women, putting each other down, and generally lacking any sense of positivity when speaking to each other. This is a generational trait that needs to change, throughout all aspects of our lives.

Be nice to one another! Say something that will cheer a colleague up. Offer support and help, so that we can all be successful, rather than pull each other down.

And when you see your pregnant colleague, don’t tell her she’s looking massive. Don’t ask if she’s carrying triplets when she’s at 26 weeks with just the one. Don’t tell her she’s waddling. Just tell her she’s amazing, because she’s growing a human. What have you achieved today, after all?

  • Author: Sophie Knight Sophie Knight
  • Job Title: Contributing Editor

Sophie is a journalist and mum of one, and previously edited before moving on to write about family cars for - now Sophie is Commercial Content Editor for M&B, Closer, Heat, Empire, Yours, Garden News, and 

She is passionate about raising awareness around postnatal depression and is a Mental Health First Aider.

Sophie studied History at the University of Sheffield and has been in journalism for 16 years. 

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