We all inherently know pregnancy comes in all shapes and sizes, yet when a picture of a model who is nine months pregnant and barely has a baby bump (and abs to boot!) surfaces on the Internet, we all leap out in judgment and turned up noses.
Perhaps it’s because we’re remembering our own nine-month belly shots, which made us wonder if we ever had abs to start with. We immediately jump to the conclusion that this woman is putting vanity and body image before the health of the baby.
My first thought after seeing this photo was simply, “No way, that’s not possible.”
But then I stopped for a moment and remembered that just because this mom-to-be has pictures all across the Internet showing off this barely-there bump, it doesn’t mean she’s not a real person going through a real pregnancy. Mostly I wanted to not believe the picture, or at least believe that something was wrong, because I most certainly didn’t have ab muscles when I was pregnant. It’s easier to say something is wrong than to admit she probably did a lot better job taking care of herself and making fitness a priority than I did. Then I realize that, too, is ridiculous.
In the grand scheme of things, I had a fairly small bump, even at the end — and I did make fitness and health during pregnancy a priority. I certainly didn’t sport the physique of a swimsuit model at any point during my pregnancy, but I didn’t beforehand either.
When I think back to the reactions I got during my pregnant workouts, I wonder if our harsh reactions are instead a lack of comfort with fitness and exercise during pregnancy. Though it’s been years since the “dangers” of exercising while pregnant have not only been taken off the table but completely reversed, in general we still don’t seem to acknowledge that it’s perfectly okay to exercise when you’re pregnant. I wish I was kidding when I tell you that a woman once took weights from me at the gym, telling me I “didn’t deserve to use them” because I was pregnant.
Obviously I don’t know the woman, Sarah Stage, in the picture and I’m clearly not her (or anyone’s) doctor, but if you look beyond the photo itself, you can learn a little more about the big picture. She’s reportedly gained 20 pounds and the baby weighed five pounds at eight and a half months. None of this is our business, but those are pretty good numbers in a standard pregnancy. I don’t know her weight, but if she was at a “normal” weight (BMI 18.5-24.9), the recommended weight gain during pregnancy is 25-35 pounds. With a few weeks left to go, she’s not off track.
We’re so used to seeing pregnancy used as an excuse to gain weight, or at the least not a problem if you do gain weight, that we forget it’s not a free for all. It’s certainly easier to eat whatever you want and gain weight, and I know it can be hard to motivate yourself to eat healthy meals (or even just prepare healthy meals when you’re tired or feeling bad). I’m not surprised to also see pictures of Stage’s fridge full of pre-made purchased meals.
I have no idea the calorie content of each meal or how many or how often she ate them, but I’d rather see a fridge full of those than TV dinners or bags of fast food. (Seriously, all I wanted during pregnancy was waffle fries and lemonade.) So before we keep judging, maybe we should remember we don’t know the details. Her doctor says she’s fine, and I’m inclined to believe it.
It would be nice — and easier — if being pregnant really meant you could sit around eating for two and there would be no ill results, but that’s not really reality. Instead, pregnancy is probably one of the most important times to be eating well and exercising, not only for your own health but the health of your baby. So maybe seeing more mainstream examples of women eating healthy meals while pregnant (instead of the cliché ice cream) and participating in physical activity would help change the overall message. Staying active while pregnant is hard — you feel terrible, you’re tired, your body’s a different shape, and you weigh more. Anything that can encourage and motivate you to keep going helps.
That being said, my fear with pictures so extreme as this particular mom’s, even if it’s normal and healthy for her, is that it will send the opposite message to women: that you’re not doing it good enough because you’re not as small or as in shape as she is. We know we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, but it’s nearly impossible not to. I’d love to look like that model when I’m nine months pregnant, but considering I’d never look like that not pregnant, that’s a pretty unrealistic vision to have for myself.
You never know what pregnancy is going to look like — big, small, round, wide, perky — it truly does come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve seen tiny women sport huge bellies and tall women barely show. I’ve seen women swell up everywhere, and I’ve seen women that change only in the belly. And it can change in the same person from pregnancy to pregnancy. So the attention shouldn’t be on what we look like when we’re pregnant, but how we’re treating ourselves and taking care of ourselves and our growing babes. This means eating right, exercising, and paying attention to our own needs and doctor’s recommendations, not anybody else’s.