the belly, the body and aren’t you huge

I’ve been trying for a little while to get my thoughts organized on the matter of growing larger, particularly in light of being told every day I’m huge (no shit – I’m 6 months pregnant and 5 feet tall, exactly where does the weight go?) and the ensuing media storm around Jessica Simpson’s pregnancy weight gain with such vile descriptions as “fat”. Getting bigger I can handle, when one is a Turducken it is to be expected as the baby needs somewhere to go. With my kids, it is straight out in front of me, at least by a foot and that is where all the weight I gain throughout this pregnancy will stay. From behind, I do not look like a turducken. At the market a couple of weeks ago, a wine seller came to ply his wares to me … until I turned around and nearly knocked him over because he was standing too close. What I cannot stand is being told constantly that I’m “just soooo big”, accompanied by gestures usually reserved for describing the girth of Santa Claus. The incessant comments about My Body. The words can be couched around “the belly”, making it more of an inanimate thing, rather than a significant part of my body. The fact remains that when you are pregnant, you are public domain and ought to accept the comments with more tact than the person giving them.

At no other time in a woman’s life is it appropriate to comment so intimately on a woman’s body than when she is pregnant (obviously, I mean to her face – we can all be a catty bunch). There is a certain degree of decorum surrounding our public interactions and one of those is that it is rude to point at someone’s body and give your opinion, unless you are a medical professional, and even then a doctor has tact.

My thoughts have been a jumble lately around why it bothers me so much to have someone, from across a room or other public space, point and exclaim, “The belly! IT’S SO BIG! LOOK AT YOU!” or actually call others to come and look at me as if I were a damn sideshow freak. I take care of my lady ‘stache, thank you very much. Oh, maybe because IT’S MY BODY YOU ARE STARING AT, so thanks.

Women’s bodies are constantly under scrutiny, for being too thin, too fat, too beautiful, simple, mousy, flabby, pasty, too dark, too light… anything and everything (check out this post). I do not know why it changes from passive aggressive talking around the woman where she may or may not hear to when you are pregnant and it is said to your face, perhaps because people have this concept that a pregnant body belongs to the community because it is not just the woman but also a future generation in there. This has as much to do with norms as our own beauty insecurities. By pointing out that I do not have the body I used to have, and will likely never have again (only a proximate guess at it), the commenter and myself are fitting ourselves snugly into established beauty rules that are archaic, crappy and ought to go, but that also dictate that there is a standard and neither one of us is fitting into them, so we might as well be miserable about it.

There is a beauty standard and not one of us really knows what it is, but we sure as hell can tell you what it is not. Everyone.

breasts! babies!: breastfeeding in public…

… Is not a terrifying thing. In fact, if you’ve ever had the opportunity to be breast to the wind you’ll know that they are not really that revealed. Babe’s face is mooshed in there and you can gently pull the top of your shirt down for coverage. Or, you don’t have to. Because you are a feeding a human and that’s not terribly offensive, but do you know what is offensive? Chewing with your mouth open and babies don’t actually do that. Anatomy lesson: The nipple stretches quite far into your  baby’s mouth and if you’ve ever seen a cross-section, you might be surprised to know that your nipple is actually down babe’s throat.

Today is International Women’s Day and I thought it pertinent to touch on what is a very contentious issue for many in North America. Breastfeeding in public is another way of saying, “feeding a baby” but since the breast is a highly sexualized body part on a woman there are certain people who find it offensive that a breast is shown in public with a small, bald human attached to it. Breastfeeding is an acknowledgement that breasts have a function beyond the bullshit way they are used to judge a woman’s worth, instead of being used to titillate (yes, I did that), a woman’s breast is actively engaged in its most natural state. I would even go so far to state that breastfeeding achieves what women all over the world are trying to do each day: Remove the shame associated with our body and reclaim.

Many of the anti-breastfeeding in public arguments are predicated on the fact that breasts should not be shown in public and yet we only have to go as far as Facebook or the corner store to see multitudes of breasts on display in various states of uncovering, in both print and on women. The difference is that these breasts are fulfilling societal desires and expectations, they are pretty and not doing much other than that and while we may not want to admit it, a woman’s worth is still measured in how pretty and useless she is (case in point, a successful woman is described in typical “male” adjectives or stripped of her dignity – heartless, steely and of course BITCH). A breast engaged in breastfeeding ignores that “rule”, it is as beautiful as it is functional and ownership of the breast reverts back to the woman. Further, a woman who merges the home life with the public is somehow seen as suspect because she cannot possibly understand boundaries and that ever-present shame associated in women’s lives is revealed to be nothing of the sort and a figment of control.

When we, as women, state that another woman should not be breastfeeding in public because it is unnatural (really?), offensive and wrong we are actually stating the breastfeeding woman has no right to use her body as she sees fit.We are giving in to the sentiment that a woman’s body is a sexualized object, making us complicit with patriarchal mores that state the same. Breastfeeding, particularly in public, is as natural as spooning mashed carrots into a baby’s mouth but there is little sexualization encased in the spoon (we won’t touch on the carrot), the breast though is a totem to desire and breastfeeding denies that sexualization.

Your right to breastfeed in public is protected by law in Canada in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms under section 15 as all in Canada are protected from discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, SEX, age, or mental or physical disability. If you are discriminated against because you are breastfeeding, you are entitled to bring a complaint to the Human Rights Commission of your province (this deals with complaints between individual).

On a personal note, I have breastfed everywhere from a university classroom to the mall food court to the farmers’ market. I’ve received a lot of support in doing so but the most surprising was from an older gentleman who stopped by my stall at the Halifax market when I had Boy nuzzled in, this gent had been a sociology professor in a former life and  he told me, “I wish we would see more women breastfeeding. It’s natural and those breasts are yours, women are breastfeeding all over the world right now and only here with do we get hung up on it”. Right on, sir.