Last night, I met up with a bunch of very dear friends who I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like, because #life. We had lots to talk about, but since most of them had been to Monday night’s British Fashion Awards, one of the things we talked about was Meghan Markle. How she looked in her Givenchy gown. How she kept touching her bump. How some onlookers had apparently objected to her touching her bump. How her bump looked. How she looked. And then the tapas came.
I’m not saying social media is blameless when it comes to analysing people’s appearance, but I do think it’s demonised far more than it should be. We are right to be worried about its impact on our mental health. We are right to feel concerned at the competitive, comparative nature of Instagram and the extreme pressure it engenders to present the best possible version of ourselves. But when it comes to pointing the finger of blame, traditional media is as culpable as new media. And so, to be honest, are we.
Not all of us: some of us are worse – by which I mean “more prone to it” – than others. It took having two daughters of my own to realise how stringently girls form an impression of themselves by comparing themselves with their friends. They judge each other constantly, then judge themselves. Where does it start, this damaging process of attrition? They do need saving, these girls, these women: from themselves, from each other, and from an era in which, more than at any other point in history, the pressure to be perfect is both extreme and endless.
Never is this pressure more apparent or more acute than during pregnancy, that most vulnerable of times when women should be easiest on themselves, and on each other. But do we all tacitly agree to keep our opinions to themselves? Hell, no. Not when there’s a new body part to be discussed. And no bump is more eagerly scrutinised than a royal bump. On Monday night, Meghan Markle became the latest in a line of what The Times describes as VIPs, aka “the visibly and impressively pregnant women who increasingly people public life as though gestating another human being is just another thing on their to-do list”. Apparently, Meghan’s one-shouldered black Givenchy dress “represents the absolute pinnacle of VIP dressing: an outfit that offers nowhere to hide should you happen to have non-Michelle Obama arms (a prerequisite among celebs and the 1 per cent) or the wobbly bum and puffy ankles that are biologically inescapable when growing a person from scratch.”
Surely all pregnant women are impressive, whether they puke every day, spend nine months in sweatpants or rock out in a figure-hugging Givenchy gown
God help you if you are a royal, an actor or a model and don’t look like a VIP: you may as well go into confinement like in the olden days, so swift and cruel will the public backlash be. And where the celebrity world leads, the lumpen normals follow. “Get the look” now extends far past wanting so-and-so’s eyebrows to wanting her perfect, all-bump-no-lumps body as well. Never mind that these celebrities have personal trainers, nutritionists, chefs and stylists to ensure that they look this good: in their pursuit, all common sense and logic is abandoned. How did we get here? How did we get to such a stupid, dangerous place?
Only one thing will have you looking like Meghan Markle when you’re pregnant: your genes. Sure, the right exercise regime and diet can help you make the best of yourself if you can be arsed to, but the rest is a happy confluence of genes, heredity and luck. Throughout both my pregnancies, I remained slim with a giant bump: a classic VIP before the heinous term was even invented. Women would come up to me at parties and ask, “How do you dooooo it?”, like I deserved an award or something. There I was, mainlining brioche (#cravings) and being praised like a show pony while one of my work colleagues was posting, “I’m not fat – I’m pregnant” on a then-nascent Instagram, as though in apology for having gained a perfectly natural amount of weight. Life truly isn’t fair. Some pregnant women look great. Some pregnant women look shit. Some women want to be pregnant and can’t be.
So thank God for pregnant Amy Schumer, queen of TMI, who calls Meghan Markle her “pregnancy nemesis” and posts videos of herself casually vomming in a public toilet – an epic over-share, for sure, but at least it’s an antidote to the “visibly impressive pregnant woman”. For surely all pregnant women are impressive, whether they puke every day, spend nine months in sweatpants or rock out in a figure-hugging Givenchy gown. After all, they’re growing a life, while their critics merely need to get one.