Stop Assuming I'm Pregnant!

Photo: Courtesy of Zoë Ligon.
Here’s a thing that happened the other day: I was waiting for the A train. Out of the blue, a girl who looked about my age and was seated a few yards away caught my attention and simply said, “Congratulations." 

Now, she said this one word in the most neutral, even-toned voice, and with no exclamations of any sort, but since this wasn’t the first time someone had said "congratulations” to me out of nowhere, I knew what was coming.

She thought I was pregnant.
I looked back at her for a moment and in a surprisingly calm voice, I replied, “You shouldn’t assume people are pregnant and comment on it, unless you are literally 100% sure that the person is pregnant, and they have told you so personally. Because, if they’re not pregnant — like me — you run the risk of really hurting their feelings.”

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She mumbled, “Oh. Sorry.” I walked away a bit upset, but very proud of myself for directly addressing the issue in a mature and (hopefully) educational way. I suppose I was also assuming that’s what she was congratulating me on, but for my own emotional security I had to dive in before I could find out one way or the other. It was safer for me to assume she was assuming.

That was definitely not the way I reacted the first time someone said that to me. The first time I was "congratulated" on my "pregnancy," I decided to take the bait. In response to the two men's "Congratulations," I replied, “Wait…congratulations on what?” to which they replied, “On your baby, you fat bitch." 

Obviously, this was a different scenario. They knew I wasn’t pregnant, yet had wanted to grab my attention by insulting me. And, this is how it's played out generally: Young women who genuinely think I'm pregnant offer their congrats while rude men who probably don't really think I am say "congratulations" in an effort to get my attention.

Now, I fancy myself a pretty foxy lady. I have a full belly and an equally full behind, and I love both. I am 40 pounds heavier than I was a few years ago, and guess what? That belly is proudly out there. I shouldn’t have to justify or explain my body type in order to get my point across here, but I am simply acknowledging that, yes, depending on what I am wearing or how my body is feeling, I can see how I would appear pregnant to someone. 

But, guess what else? That is absolutely no reason to ever congratulate someone on a baby that you’re not sure they’re having. Furthermore, why don’t you stop analyzing and staring at my body altogether? Furthermore, where did you learn that it was okay to talk to strangers about ANYTHING besides the time, how to get somewhere, or other obviously non-invasive topics? 

People think it’s okay to publicly discuss female bodies. It is not okay, just like it isn’t okay to publicly discuss male bodies or ANY bodies. But, it's women who are subject to the most scrutiny. Do you know how many pot-bellied men I see on a regular basis who look large enough to house a full-term baby? A lot. Does anyone ever congratulate them on their "pregnancies"? Probably not. A lot of folks carry their weight around their thighs, abdomens, or asses. Other people carry their weight around other parts of their body. And, that’s all perfectly normal, because that’s the way the body works. It just fucking works like that.

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So, you see me, a woman — and you see my stomach, which isn't flat and protrudes a bit — and then, all of a sudden, you’re like, OH! She's a woman with a stomach; therefore, she must be pregnant. NO! You do not do that! That is just as ridiculous as assuming I have a vagina. I could have a penis. I could have intersex genitals. You wouldn’t know that unless I had explicitly told you I have a vagina (which, yes, I have said in previous posts). 

Honestly, assuming a woman is pregnant is just as ridiculous as assuming a man with a large belly has a baby in there. He could have a baby in there; he could also have a vagina, no matter how masculine he presents himself. See where I'm going here? Deductions based on assumptions are ridiculous. On a personal level, I am amazed by my own reactions. I have had way more offensive and personal things said about my body on a much larger scale.

I think everyone needs to keep their mouths shut about other people’s bodies unless those people have given you their consent to praise/insult/comment on them. Why am I so much more offended by this pregnancy nonsense than insults that have hit home a bit more (like the time an ex-boyfriend said my vagina was "occasionally dry")?  I wish this was one of those things I could turn off and suppress and file under “Impossible Patriarchal Issues,” but it happens with such frequency that I cannot ignore it.

Has this happened to any of you? How do you respond to street harassment and non-consensual critiques of your body? 

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