Stand in any grocery checkout lane, you'll see one face—or rather, body—plastered across nearly every magazine: Kim Kardashian. Whether you love her, hate her, or couldn't care less, the media commentary and "fat-shaming" over her pregnant shape affects us all.
There have been all kinds of wild accusations. Apparently, poor Kim is gorging herself. No wait, she's on an extreme diet. Star magazine clams she's gained 65 pounds and "binges on pasta, cake, and ice cream." In Touch countered with claims that she is nearing 200 pounds and actually prefers "waffle cones and fries." One cover said, "With 4 months to go, she already 'hates' her body… Plus: her meltdown over a busted zipper." Then there's the "who wore it best" comparison of a black and white clad Kim Kardashian next to a killer whale.
As Isabel Wilkinson of The Daily Beast points out, the coverage of pregnant celebs like Kim is "raising questions about how we have begun talking about pregnancy and women's bodies." The harsh headlines normalize critiquing any pregnant woman's appearance, famous or not. They put our baby bumps and broadening rumps on display. They prompt us to think of pregnancy in terms of shape and appearance, and base our worth and contentment on these external traits.
What does this brutal reaction to a buxom pregnant body say about our cultural obsession with always being thin, even during pregnancy? "Having a female body that is anything other than thin – whether it be average, overweight, or simply pregnant – is being cast as both a crime and a punishment," said an article on Huffington Post Women.
Of course, being pregnant is neither a crime nor a punishment… as long as you are "skinny" pregnant or "cute" pregnant. Many stars have been lauded for their perfect pregnant frames, from Katie Holmes to Kristen Bell, and even Kim's sister, Kourtney Kardashian. The goal is to only gain weight in the belly region, but a little extra in the bust ain't bad.
As one blogger described it, "Your hips should not widen. Your butt should not expand. Your arms must remain perfectly defined. And your [face], while [it] should 'glow,' should not be round." Even Khloe Kardashian once aspired to this ideal (though she has recently spoken out in support of Kim, as well): "I want to be a skinny pregnant person, like how my sister Kourtney looks so cute pregnant. I can't be a house…."
The message is plain. "Skinny" or "cute" pregnant women should be proud, flaunt their baby bumps. All other poor, unfortunate pregnant souls who fill out and fall short should be ashamed.
Even if we write off these stories as mere tabloid trash, they influence each of us, whether we know it or not. They seep into our society's perception of beauty, our own expectations for the female body. "It's about portraying weight gain as a central tragedy in a woman's life, … – even while she's pregnant," wrote Emma Gray on HuffPo. "These headlines affect how women see themselves and other women and how much time and thought and energy women put into fixing bodies that aren't broken."
These unrealistic expectations have invaded our conversations, taken hold even in the Christian community. "Look at how cute you are! You're all tummy!" "How adorable! You can barely tell you're pregnant at all." "What a perfect little basketball belly!" Comments like these reflect the ideal of the "skinny" or "cute" pregnant body, making all other pregnant body types inferior.
It's not much of a leap for the average, even Christian, woman to say to herself, "I really hope I'm 'cute' pregnant when I have kids." The expectation is planted. We place primary importance on a woman's appearance even during a time when her principal responsibility is to grow and nuture a child.
Celebrities from Gwyneth Paltrow to Gloria Steinem have spoken out against the media's treatment of Kim Kardashian. As Christians, we shouldn't stand for bullying and fat-shaming of anyone, whether she's sitting next to us in church or has a reality show on E! We should care because we are all created in His image, but also, because how our culture discusses and defines beauty impacts us, too. Slowly and subtly, it can influence what we believe, what we say, and how we behave. "Experts say humiliating pregnant women for their weight gain hurts all of us in the long run," according to a Today Show piece. "They perpetuate a society in which we judge people for their body mass index and fat-shame 'real people' we see on a regular basis."
I wonder how we might take action and change the conversation. Maybe encouraging and complimenting all pregnant women, not just the "cute" pregnant ones? Maybe supporting and speaking up for celebrities, Christian or not, who are being mistreated by the media, embracing beauty of all shapes and sizes?
We may also look to the most famous pregnant woman of all, Mary the mother of Jesus. As we picture a woman greatly favored by God for her character, we see that she was still probably swollen, softened, stretched, not necessarily "skinny" pregnant, as she carried Christ. She remains highly regarded for her faith regardless of what her size and shape might have been.
Pregnant Christian women, like me, might even challenge themselves and one another to be less preoccupied with the expansion of our hips and thighs and more concerned with the condition of our souls. To be less interested in how our external maternal growth is perceived by others, and more engrossed with how our internal spiritual growth might prepare us for our God-given role as mom.
Marie Osborne is a wife, mama, and blogger who loves Jesus & large non-fat lattes. You can find Marie at mrsmarieosborne.blogspot.com encouraging, challenging, and laughing… under a pile of diapers.