I’m Not Pregnant, Just Fat

November 27, 2007

For a long time when I was younger, my weight would fluctuate fairly regularly, sometimes quite a lot in a relatively short time. My basic pattern seemed to be this:  I’d feel some kind of impetus to stay on a diet, get charged up to lose weight, and would begin eating to accomplish that goal (ah, such fond memories of An Entire Box of Weight Watchers Chocolate Mousse For Dinner; or One Compressed Cube of Dried Ramen Noodles for dinner; or Three Boiled Artichokes for Dinner; or A Raisin-Bran Muffin and Peanut Butter For Dinner).  Eventually, after semi-starving myself for several months, taking up weights and power walks, I’d manage to get into shape and lose anywhere between 20 and 35 pounds.  I’d revert to a size I could be happy with (usually a 10), and regain some sort of confidence and the sense that I could actually be attractive to the opposite sex.

This shift in mental state would, inevitably, precipitate a change in the energy I projected, and–bingo!–like magic, I’d seem to meet men.  I’d find another boyfriend, get serious, start dating, and after four to eight months, gain back all my weight.  Believe it or not, it wasn’t the stereotypical reason (ie, being so comfortable that now I felt I could eat whatever I wanted) that caused me to gain; it was sheer stress from being in a relationship (I’m still trying to work on that one with my H.H.).

In any case, as a college teacher at the time, I was forced to get dressed every day and head onto campus to teach.  My increased weight and blooming midsection were on display for all to see. 

Now, I wonder, how many overweight, 30-something women in the prime of their childbearing years haven’t had this experience:

[passing you in the hallway] “Hi, Miss.  Wow, congratulations!”

[Blank stare.  Congratulations?  Did they just announce a promotion and I missed it?  Did I win the lottery and not realize it?]. “Congratulations?  On what?”

[Blank stare, followed by uncomfortable silence]. “Uh, congratulations on your, you know, upcoming addition.”

[Truly stumped]. “Addition? To what?”

[Longer silence. Visibly uncomfortable now]. “To your, your family.  You know, um, er, uh. . . because you’re expecting.”

[Blood draining from face.  Light-headed silence.  Following the thread to its inevitable conclusion]. “Expecting?  Expecting what?”

[Desperately glancing around for a loose floorboard, garbage chute, natural disaster, abducting alien, or any other exit strategy] “Um, a baby? I mean, aren’t you–?”. . . . .

It makes sense, really.  When students see a 30-something woman gaining weight at such an accelerated pace, and especially when said 30-something tends to carry most of her weight in her abdomen (I’m a pear-shaped person, and it all settles on that expanse between waist–such as it is–and upper thigh, though at least that means I’m less prone to sudden heart attacks), well, when they see that kind of weight gain, they most naturally assume that the 30-something is pregnant.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Oh, when are you due?”  To which I’d reply, in a voice shrinking with humiliation, “I’m not pregnant.”  After the 27th incident or thereabouts, I’d gotten over being mortified, and it basically just started to piss me off. 

Now, seriously, what kind of person asks someone else if she’s pregnant without already knowing the answer? I would never dare to pose such a question unless the last words the woman had uttered were something like, “Oh, by the way, I’m pregnant, I mean with child; you know, expecting a baby, in the family way, with a bun in the oven, and and I’m going to be giving birth to a human infant in a week or so.” 

After years of awkward conversations concerning my faux fecundity, I decided I had to combat this pattern somehow.  So I came up with a battle plan:

  • The next time someone asked if I was pregnant, I would smile sweetly and respond, “Why?  Do I look pregnant?”
  • If someone asked me when I was due, I planned to say, “In —-,” and name the previous month. In other words, if the inquiry came in January, I’d say I was due in December.  Let the questioner do the math and figure out I couldn’t possibly be pregnant yet. Either that, or I was the next miracle to be profiled on Unsolved Mysteries.
  • If anyone asked whether I was pregnant, I’d answer, “No, I was pregnant until a couple of days ago, though.”  Hah!  Now let’s see what kind of quip s/he could come up with! 
  • My favorite:  I intended to have a custom T-shirt made, to wear whenever I gained uncomely amounts of weight in a short span, emblazoned with the words, “I’m Not Pregnant, Just Fat.” That way, I could avoid the whole uncomfortable exchange entirely. 

This embarrassing question hasn’t been directed at me in recent years, thankfully, mostly because I’m now too old for people to think I’m pregnant any more.  Or maybe my weight has redistributed, and now I’m just fat all over instead of only in my belly.  Either way, I am grateful I haven’t had to deal with it.  Of course, just because I’m not asked that question any more doesn’t solve the real problem of my freqently erratic weight gain–but that’s another issue entirely.  


6 Responses to “I’m Not Pregnant, Just Fat”

  1. dancingdolphin Says:

    I had this same experience years ago when I was in my twenties- it was so humiliating and I can still feel the emotions – and it was so very many years ago. Thanks for writing about it
    Hidden Away

  2. Ricki Says:

    Hi Dancingdolphin,

    Yes, those emotions do tend to stay with us, don’t they? I do feel that writing about it helps. Still working on the forgiveness part.

  3. Jenny Says:

    I am in my 30’s and have gained a considerable amount of weight over the last 4 years- all in my belly. Have been through several major “life-events” that resulted in depression, which resulted in eating more, drinking more wine, and working out less, hence the weight gain. I have been asked about my “pregnancy” 8 times in the last 6 months, and my husband (who works with me at a local hospital) has been congratulated 3 times.

    The last incident was yesterday, when my doorman asked how my recent visit with my parents had gone (no privacy in NYC, by the way.) I told him it had been nice, and he responded that they’d obviously fed me well. I nodded, and he said, “You’ve put on quite a few pounds…”

    To make matters worse, I got pregnant and had a miscarriage a couple of years ago, and I haven’t been able to conceive since.

    I can’t even get angry at the people who are asking this question, because I clearly MUST look very pregnant in order for people to ask (I am generally thin but put carry all my extra weight on my belly, which is confusing to people).

    I do have to say, though, that I fell really rotten and self-conscious. I literally flush with shame every time I have to leave my apartment at this point. Am trying to work out, and I know I’ll be thin again when my life gets better, but it is, nevertheless, a difficult situation to manage.

    My heart goes out to you.

  4. conley417 Says:

    I had this happen to me recently at a very busy expo. “Is this your first” the women ask sweetly. I responded I’m not pregnant just chubby. I was so upset by this I cried all the way home. My husband as sweet as he is tried to comfort me saying “I have a belly to honey”. Yes that’s true however men aren’t publicly humilated by people asking them rude questions. Really as if I didn’t have a big enough self esteem issues these bright talkative people come along to help.

  5. Vitelloni Says:

    This happened to me today. I went to get a massage because my boyfriend has essentially broken up with me yesterday and the massage therapist – a nice older lady – asked whether I was ‘with a baby’ after seeing me naked!

  6. Bohemiancredo Says:

    Hi – your post was both funny and cathartic. Thank you for writing about this. Our society has an obsession with flat stomachs, when in fact its not necessarily the healthiest of states. I live in Los Angeles and one day at yoga class we were in a pose that where our teacher wanted us to breath from our bellies and exaggerate the protrusion. Nobody wanted to do it! He literally had to go to each person (mainly women – sadly) and put his hand on their belly and tell them “stick the belly out”. It was like a nightmare for them. I, on the other hand, permanently have my belly sticking out and today, even though I’ve been proud of myself for losing a few pounds in a 3 week cleanse I just finished, was reminded by a coworker of how indelicate people can be. She looked at my belly and said “when are you do?”. I of course responded with the usual “I’m not pregnant”, she recoiled and tried to mumble something about other coworkers telling her that I was, and I tried to make the situation better by telling her that my husband and I are trying to get pregnant so maybe this might be a good sign (even though I had a miscarriage and haven’t been able to conceive in the last 7 months). I felt awful, angry at myself for thinking I looked cool in my dress and jacket today and all round embarrassed and angry at myself for not being able to lose this weight for over 9 years now. I found you posting just now after doing a search for “asked if I was pregnant” trying to find consolation. Thank you again for raising awareness and giving me a chance to vent! All the best 🙂

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