I'm eight months pregnant and recently was standing in line alone at a ferry terminal in downtown Manhattan, waiting to catch the boat back to Jersey City, where I live. There was a man, probably in his late 50s, standing next to me, also alone. He kept looking at me anxiously, clearly wanting to say something but was struggling with how to approach me. With a goofy look on his face, he turned to me and exclaimed, "You need to go on a diet!" and laughed boisterously. In shock, I managed to mutter a baffled "uhhh" and then, in between chuckles, the man ended with, "I bet you get that a lot!" "No, I don't," I responded. With another snicker, the man shrugged his shoulder and walked onto the ferry, most likely thinking, Well, she has no sense of humor!
For the next five minutes, as I sat diagonally across from the man on the boat, all I could think about were all the things I wish I had said back to him. I was disappointed in myself for letting him get away with his comments, but the truth is that I was so stunned that someone could be so unaware and insensitive that I could barely process what was happening in that moment.
I was upset that, at my expense, I gave this man even the slightest bit of the satisfaction that he was being funny. But more profoundly, I was upset by the thought that this man may have said this to another woman who wasn’t as secure or confident as I am with my body. Growing up, I feel lucky to have had a mother who never made comments about my weight, only about how smart, talented, or inspirational I was. I constantly yo-yo dieted throughout my early 20s, but it was more an effort to feel my best than to conform to a social norm or fit into a certain size of skinny jeans. I’m grateful that I’ve always loved my body and that I’ve now found a healthy lifestyle that works for me long-term. But I know that many women cannot say the same.
So, perhaps he had used this "joke" with other pregnant women who struggle with body image, self-confidence, and other personal insecurities. And for that, I was—and am—furious. I put the story on my @inspiralized Instagram account,and then this post on my lifestyle account @alissandrab:
I wanted other women to know that if they've been spoken to this way during their pregnancy, they're not alone, it's unacceptable, and they should not let it affect their feelings of self-worth or confidence, or question their pregnant beauty.
Almost immediately, women started sending me similar stories, each one more horrific than the next. One of my Instagram followers shared this anecdote: "When I told my at the time boss that I was pregnant with my first he said to me and I quote —'keep pictures from your wedding around. Don't forget what you looked like the day your husband married you and don't stray too far from that.' I wish I was kidding. I was speechless."
Another follower told me in a private DM that a man at a coffee shop, while she was buying a slice of banana bread, told her that she should "lay off on the sugar" if she wanted to "snap back" into shape after birth.
What the man didn't know is that this poor woman struggled with binge eating disorder for most of her young adulthood and ended up going into work and throwing up in the bathroom that morning.
This type of hurtful commentary happens on the internet too. One follower of mine shared, "I recently posted a picture on [Facebook] of my husband and me to show off my bump and his cousin wrote, 'it looks like you gained a couple of pounds,'" with a laughing face emoji.
Often, women were the offenders. One woman's female nail technician asked her what sex the baby was, because she could tell, based on how she'd gained weight "all over" that she was probably having a girl. Women were told how "big" they were or asked if they were having twins, because of how much their bellies were protruding. In most instances, the women were offended, their self-confidence was bruised, and their days were ruined.
It breaks my heart that even a minute of a woman's pregnancy can be ruined by someone else's selfish, inconsiderate comment. I want to gather all of my fellow pregnant ladies and hug them and tell them how gorgeous, strong, and amazing they are. You're literally growing a human being! It's OK to be a bit more lenient with your diet and have a little extra pudge on your arms or width in your thighs, as long as you're listening to and nourishing your body.
In the early second trimester of my pregnancy, I craved carbs (and not the complex ones) and sugar. As someone who prides herself on eating a mostly clean diet, I struggled with these cravings at first. Pre-pregnancy, I was able to easily pass on dessert or the bread basket at dinner, because I knew that those foods wouldn't make me feel good afterward and it wasn't worth the inner turmoil. But, for whatever reason, this baby wanted ice cream, cookies, and all kinds of chips and bread. So I gave in, within reason. It didn't kill me—actually, having that ice cream relaxed me, reduced my stress levels, and allowed me to have a little fun, going on walks to the local ice cream spot on a Sunday for a treat.
And whether or not it caused me to gain weight is nobody else's business.
The body-shaming that happens every single day online and in real life creates an unrealistic expectation that when you’re pregnant, you shouldn't gain a pound more than necessary. While eating healthful foods is crucial during pregnancy, feeling shameful about food or restricting your diet in an effort to look like the "all belly" celebrities or Instagram stars is not healthy—and not good for you or your baby. Every woman's body reacts differently to pregnancy; some women don't gain a pound over the minimum required weight gain, some women gain 15 extra.
I look at my pregnant body—and the pregnant bodies of the women around me—with absolute admiration and awe. Every day, I'm amazed by what my body can do. Whether it's an early morning 45-minute spin class at 35 weeks pregnant or a full eight-hour day on my feet cooking for my food blog, Inspiralized, I'm doing it while growing a human life inside of me. Never before have I felt more grateful than I do now. After having friends who have experienced miscarriages and issues with fertility, I take every single day of this pregnancy as a blessing and no rude man on the ferry is going to take that away from me.
Our growing bodies are not subject for commentary. My body is exactly that: mine. And now that I've had the time to think about exactly what I would have liked to say to that man on the ferry, here it is:
Dear Man From the Ferry Line,
I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt (because unlike yourself, I'm a respectful, kind person), and presume that you knew I was pregnant and were trying to be funny the other day when you told me I "need to go on a diet."
Well, let me tell you—you weren't funny, at all. In fact, you were the exact opposite of funny—you were offensive, inconsiderate, and arrogant. You shouted at me as we waited in line for the ferry and laughed loudly at my expense. While you didn't damage my self-confidence, because I know how beautiful and strong I am, and you don't hold that kind of power over anyone, you made me feel extremely uncomfortable in front of the people waiting in line alongside us.
Perhaps your mother didn't teach you that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all, so let me be the one to teach you that lesson today. Never, ever speak to another human being in this way ever again—it's disgraceful, inappropriate, and certainly not funny.
And let me speak on behalf of all pregnant women when I say that we're tired of you telling us how big we look or that we should modify our lifestyles to fit your shallow expectations. We're not here to serve your fantasies or look a certain way for your visual enjoyment. We're walking around building an actual human life, something you'll never have the chance in your life to do.
And no, I don't need to lose weight, I am eight months pregnant. Losing weight is the last thing I need, not that's that any of your business.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.