Imagine it. You’re early on in your third pregnancy and you’re unlucky enough to have hyperemesis gravidarum again. This means that your morning sickness is so severe that you’re vomiting almost as often as you’re exhaling; you keep having to be rehydrated in hospital; and your days mostly consist of blinking as gently as possible to try and stop the room from spinning. But, as you near the end of your first trimester, something changes – perhaps it’s the right combination of medicines; perhaps the stars align – and you find yourself able to go to work. At least, for a bit. So, it takes some effort, but you gussy yourself up in a nice dress and show your face in support of a cause you believe in, and all anyone can talk about is your body.
This is what’s happened to Kate Middleton, whose appearance – and, specifically, bump – has been criticised on social media after she appeared at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday to celebrate World Mental Health Day. At first, people praised her blue dress, wondered if it was a subtle message about the baby’s gender (although would you know at 12 weeks?) and congratulated the couple for celebrating the contribution of UK mental-health workers.
Then the comments rolled into Kensington Palace’s official Instagram feed. Comments like: "I thought she was pregnant!?", "I look more pregnant than Kate Middleton but ok”, “she is an emaciated severely malnourished anorexic” and “it is physically impossible to grow a healthy baby and be as malnourished as she is".
It is not currently clear whether these last two comments are from actual doctors.
There’s so much ignorance to unpack here. First of all, dum-dums, Kate’s not going to look like she carried a watermelon at 12 weeks, is she? The baby is the size of a lime. Secondly, do shut up. It’s not OK to go around judging people on the size of their bumps, just the way it’s not acceptable to go “Aroogah! Aroogah!” and popping your eyes out on stalks when you meet someone with a larger-than-average bosom.
I don’t know a single person who went through pregnancy without being judged on their physicality – whether it’s the bump, the weight, what they’re drinking
Kate Middleton is a public figure with a higher-visibility bump than the rest of us, but the truth is anyone who’s been pregnant is Kate Middleton. I don’t know a single person who went through pregnancy without being judged on their physicality – whether it’s the bump, the weight, what they’re drinking or if they might look like they could sign up for something other than the much-hallowed “natural birth”.
Personally, I got so tired of people joking “Are you sure there’s only one in there?” from as early as my second trimester that I started responding with, “No, I was fat to begin with.” This backfired when those people would then drop their voices and ask, “Are you sure that’s good for the baby?” (to which I was always tempted to reply, “Oh no, you’re right! Should I abort it, go on a diet and start again?” but felt that was going a bit too dark).
Then there’s the touching. People – often strangers – just coming up and groping your bump, then holding forth with their Unsolicited But Hugely Important Pregnancy Opinion. Just before I gave birth to my new son, a woman I had never exchanged words with before cradled my bump in her hands, looked at my toddler, and said, “WELL. You didn’t think THIS through, did you?” And I very admirably did not punch her.
Partly to blame for this gross overstepping of boundaries, of course, is the media. Because celebrities never just have a bump, after all – they “flaunt” it. Certain outlets have even described the Duchess as “showing off her growing belly” at the event, even though all she was doing was walking around, not pointing an arrow at her uterus and requesting marks out of 10.
Also, there’s the sad fact that women’s bodies are considered public property -- whether they are pregnant, weren’t born a woman or just look a bit different. I have people coming up to me and loudly music about my ethnic heritage all the time, and I read about a woman with a face tattoo who, when asked “Did you think about the effect this would have on the rest of your life?”, simply shot the question back to the woman in regards to her children. Which is more than fair.
This summer, I came home in tears because a woman at playgroup simply wouldn’t stop going on about how big my pregnant belly was. A friend advised me, if it ever happened again, to simply ask: “Did you mean to be so rude?”
Because rudeness is what this is. And we shouldn’t tolerate it – not from random people on the street, from social-media trolls or from the media itself.