Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Guest Post: This Fetus (isn’t yet) a Feminist: Questioning Public Ownership of Pregnant Women’s Bodies

Today's guest post is from Kristen Hurst and it touches upon a topic that is very close to me. She talks about how her treatment during pregnancy re-ignited some dormant feminist principles. Pregnancy is a time when the treatment of a woman's body highlights inequities we might otherwise be able to ignore, and it was a similar experience that led me to my own feminist reawakening. Did pregnancy or motherhood impact your personal understanding of feminism?


Yes, that may be your nephew growing rapidly inside of me, but that bellybutton is still mine! During my first pregnancy, I failed to say this out loud, though the thought passed through my mind on a daily basis. I felt frequently overwhelmed and upset and it seemed easy for those around me to blame my hormones for my feelings. The fact that my body was changing also seemed to be acceptable conversation fodder for my co-workers and family members.  On some level I knew that allowing a fetus to take up residence in my body meant that my body also belonged to my future son, but just as I didn’t want to expose my future son to beer, cigarettes, or cat urine, I didn’t want to expose him to his future loved ones reconceiving his mother as a public monument—

Though to some degree, my industry—fashion—condones the practice of women adorning their bodies in a way that makes them more desirable to consume. Fashion may also give individuals the power to subvert the dominant gaze (whether that is the gaze of leering men or the judgmental gaze of our peers), but ultimately, fashion wants you to want what’s “trendy.” I found early on that if I could be just beautiful enough, I could blend in rather than deal with people looking at me as though I were a magazine cover on a checkout stand. With a baby bump far larger than Jessica Simpson’s, I found myself in unfamiliar territory. I didn’t want to have to manage unsolicited advice and hands from strangers. At the time, I didn’t have the concepts to tell strangers or my coworkers or my family this. As a result, I alternated between wearing sweats and the most glamorous “your-bump-is-an-accessory” maternity clothes to work. 

This flux in how I presented myself made me look crazy, which my friends felt free to comment on.  I was so happy to give birth and frantically return back to my pre-pregnancy weight that I’m certain I paid more attention to my running schedule than the infant with whom I was charged to stay at home. I felt like I was “taking my body back,” away from the baby and everyone who touched me over the previous nine months without my permission. Things went similarly with my second pregnancy, though I started to question whether reading articles about how much weight such-and-such celebrity gained was wise for my mental stability. Whatever shreds of feminism I held onto through college barely had a fighting chance as I squeezed into maternity jeggings and heels to parade the dog around my subdivision. My new attitude? Fine, if you’re going to own my body, then I might as well give you a pleasing show.

This seemed to be the celebrity attitude (or coping mechanism?) If anecdotes from myriad mothers aren’t enough, the mainstream media provides more than enough evidence for a case study of how the public takes ownership of pregnant women’s bodies. We chronicle every pound of baby weight, any phantom stretch mark. We speculate about names, about the mother’s age. The photograph of the celebrity is not the celebrity herself, but when in the realm of celebrity gossip do we consider how our relationships with famous women are not with the woman herself, but with our idea of her as presented by blogs, magazines, and television? Celebrity maternity speculation falls clearly in the realm of fantasy. It took my until my third pregnancy to realize this, and to encounter our attitudes towards women’s bodies with a healthy dose of skepticism—

Because it’s not only pregnant women’s bodies that are open for public comment. Celebrity bodies in general, fat bodies, skinny bodies—any kind of non-normative body, really, that receives this kind of attention. I mean, look at how often we speculate whether Jennifer Aniston is pregnant:

Yet, yet again, she’s not! We project evidence onto photographs of her body, just as we project evidence onto the actual bodies of our friends, and onto ourselves. Through my third pregnancy, I realized that the way I talked about my body mattered, and that if I didn’t find witty retorts to people’s comments about my body, I was affirming that these kinds of comments were okay. I had to find the strength to change the conversation around my pregnancy, and that was tough.
To this day, I try not to comment on bodies that are not my own—I don’t know their stories. I do know that recognizing how we interact with pregnant women’s bodies brought me back to the feminism that I accidentally abandoned after college. I hate to end posts without a call to action, but like many others, I’m still learning about what we can do to counter this beyond finding the strength and inner peace to change the conversation about what my weight or sleeping habits or wardrobe are doing to your nephew. He doesn’t belong to you—nor do I own him—and we are not here for your entertainment. 

Kristen Hurst is a stay at home mother of three who enjoys blogging.  She received her bachelor's degree in fashion marketing, and writes often about maternity swimsuits .  When she's not trying to juggle the lives of Casey, Austin and Ben, she enjoys painting and catching up with a great Jane Austen novel.   

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I've made a conscious effort to stay away from celebrity gossip over the years but i still can't help but be disturbed by how women's post-baby bodies are considered "news" and something that needs to be reported to the public.