You know in Friends when Tom Selleck describes the divorce head tilt accompanied by the question, “Are you OK?” Well, it turns out there’s a pregnancy equivalent. Whenever I bump into someone I haven’t seen for a couple of weeks, I get the selfsame head tilt accompanied by, “You look well!”
Apparently a nice thing to say to someone, you might think. Mm. Try hearing it in a tone of surprise a few times a week. It turns out people are so astonished when a pregnant person looks well that they have to comment. What is the assumption behind the comment? It can only be that they expect me to look like shit. And I don’t know why.
Could it be that people are aware of the emotional toll pregnancy can take and therefore expect it to be written all over my face? I don’t think that’s it. Read back through my blogs and you’ll see that I could have done with some sympathy and understanding, but not very much has been forthcoming. Of course people can’t guess how I’m feeling, but even close friends haven’t suspected and gently invited me to offload, which might have been welcome. And when I have volunteered information about the bad stuff, it’s been met with horror. I don’t know if I just pick the wrong people to tell, but they never make me feel any better. They look shocked by my honesty and then embarrassed. They try to brush it under the carpet with comments like, “But you’re looking forward to it really, aren’t you?” Or, “It’ll all be worth it!” I even found myself on the point of arguing with one friend, trying to prove to her that I really have felt rubbish.
So why is there a general assumption that pregnant women look rank if it’s not the emotional turmoil? This is particularly paradoxical when paired with the concept of “blooming”, defined by Collins as “being in a healthy, glowing or flourishing condition”, which is yet another truth universally acknowledged about pregnancy that seems to me to be absolute bobbins. I have been told that my hair should be more luscious, my eyes more shiny and my cheeks more rosy. I promise you they aren’t. I look like I always do, except with a cushion stuck up my jumper.
When I push people to explain why they’ve told me I look well, they invariably say something about how my body looks like it always does – thin – just with a bump at the front. Well, why shouldn’t it? The baby is only in my uterus after all. But apparently pregnant women are meant to look fat. Another truism that I don’t think stands up to scrutiny. You can’t go off what pregnant women in films look like, because they’ve been done up to look fab or rough depending on the function the pregnancy has in the plot, so think back to real people you know who have been pregnant. Did any of them honestly look noticeably fatter in the face, arms, bum or legs? And I said fat-TER. If you can think of plump pregnant women who were plump anyway, then they obviously don’t count.
Any woman will tell you that comments about size are illegal. “Have you lost weight?” is social code for either “you used to be a hideous fatso” or “you look ill”. Most of my peer group knows this and wouldn’t dream of saying anything vaguely similar. But apparently there are different rules when it comes to pregnancy. My body and my looks are now available for public comment. Roll up, roll up, reveal your latent assumptions about me. The usual rules of social boundaries don’t apply. Hell, you can even put your hands on my belly without asking first. I’m pregnant and therefore public property.