“Help! Other people’s comments about my weight are really upsetting me”

Dear Sarah,

Last May, I got married to a wonderful man.  It was a fantastic day, filled with love, laughter, memories and family.  I wouldn’t change a thing, except to maybe tell my younger self to slow down and  enjoy it more.

In the 15 months since, I’ve gained 50-plus pounds (for a variety of reasons). It was a gradual process—a few pounds every few weeks.  My pants size doubled, I went from a small to a large in shirts, and my humble 36B “improved” (according to a male coworker’s unsolicited opinion) to a 40D. All that in itself was enough of a mental challenge, and I think I’ve done a good job of being positive.  I don’t look like I used to, but I’m still healthy. The majority of my clothes no longer fit, but I am loved. My body is different, but I’m still me.

Here’s my real problem:

People started asking me about my “baby.”  I’m not pregnant.  Never have been. The first time, a colleague asked me flat out if I was pregnant.  I said no, responding as nicely as I could, and she was apologetic and embarrassed. When I told my mother about it later, she reached over, patted my belly and said “Well, you have gained some weight.”  Not helpful. She said she was sorry, suggested exercise, and changed the subject. That was around a year ago, when I’d only gained about 20 pounds.

I’m writing now because in the past week, seven different people have inquired about my “pregnancy.” One of them was a doctor ordering x-rays, which, in my opinion, was the only legitimate reason. 

My gripe is, since when do we live in a society where it’s acceptable to ask a woman who’s gained weight about her uterus? The people who’ve been asking range from ladies who’ve known me my whole life to new customers at my receptionist job.  Maybe they’re asking because they want to celebrate with me. But every person who asks just reminds me that my hips, thighs, and stomach are several inches rounder than they used to be, and that I can’t afford a new wardrobe to accommodate them. How am I supposed to respond to that?

I know this is a first-world problem, that there are literally millions of others who have more serious issues.  But it’s been surprisingly hurtful,  especially compounded over time. I want to shout from the rooftops that this is not OK, but at the same time I’m struggling to pretend it doesn’t bother me.  I feel extremely uncomfortable revealing myself to strangers, but I really need some reassurance.

—Over It in Minnesota

Dear Over it,

What’s happening to you is so rude and inappropriate! It’s incredible how people feel they can comment on or even touch women’s bodies as if we were public property. When I was  pregnant complete strangers felt at liberty to feel my stomach. (Not to mention street harassment, insults, subway groping, and that ever charming, “What’s a matter, honey, how about a smile?”) I think your first defense is to come up with a regular comeback even its as brief as “nope, not pregnant, never have been” so you don’t feel you are having to explain yourself all over again every time you hear this.

As angering as this situation is,  it sounds like both you and your husband are taking your weight gain in stride and despite the invasive questioning, you have a healthy body image and sense of self. I think that’s very impressive and inspiring given all the cultural messaging there is to conform to a certain body type. 

The bad news is that you can’t stop people from asking stupid questions. The good news is there are ways to feel empowered and be part of a beautiful, brave, and outspoken tribe who reject all sorts of biases about body image and other related issues. There are so many inspiring, provocative projects other women (and men) have done in the arts, on Tumblr, in blogs, and other social media about harassment, body size, and so on. Check out Body Image Love, Body Positivity!, and Dances With Fat for just a hint of the hundreds of cool, intelligent, and even revolutionary resources and communities there are out there for you to tap into. Maybe you’ll even be moved to do your own project or blog or simply journal in order to vent. 

I know this doesn’t solve the problem, but I think you can find support and grow even stronger out of this. 

Love, Sarah

Have an issue that could use a mom’s-eye-view? Our advice column features a real live mother of three who is ready to discuss any of your burning questions judgment—and baggage—free. Email [email protected] with the subject line “Dear Mom.” Please include your first name or nickname and where you are from. Questions may be edited for clarity and length.

(Image via iStock)

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