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Can We Please Stop Critiquing Pregnant Women's Bodies?

04/03/2015 10:49 am ET | Updated Jun 03, 2015

A few weeks ago, pregnant model Sarah Stage made headlines because of her Instagram selfies that showed what some people saw as an unhealthy lack of pregnancy weight gain. Comments on her photos included phrases like "she looks gross" and "that is child abuse."

Then, this past week, pregnant TV meteorologist Kristi Gordon talked on air and on her station's blog about how she got comments regarding her on-air appearance that began with "polite" requests that she wear looser, less-fitted maternity clothing and escalated to comparing her body to the Hindenburg.

In recent years, other celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Jessica Simpson and Kate Middleton have all been publicly criticized for gaining either too much or too little weight while pregnant.

The takeaway is this: If you don't gain a lot of weight while pregnant, people are going to have rude things to say. If you do gain a lot of weight while pregnant, people are going to have rude things to say. And if you gain a healthy amount of weight while pregnant... people are still going to have rude things to say.

Before anyone suggests that celebrities open themselves up to this kind of criticism by taking careers in the public eye, let me assure you that this happens to pregnant women who aren't famous, too. Here's a brief sampling of the comments I heard from acquaintances and complete strangers while I was pregnant:

"You're getting fat."

"You're not fat enough."

"Only seven months pregnant? Dang, girl, are you having twins or something?"

"Are you really pregnant? Your belly looks fake because you're skinny all over and have no butt." (Yes, a complete stranger stopped me in the store to say this.)

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Good friends of mine who didn't gain a lot during pregnancy had their health and the health of their babies called into question by complete strangers. Another friend was told that at six months pregnant, that she looked like most women do at nine months pregnant.

Pregnancy does a lot of weird things to a woman's body, and weight gain is just the beginning. Body parts swell, skin changes color, stretch marks appear (I'd show you a picture of my post-baby stomach, but I don't want to scare you away). It can be rough for a pregnant woman's self-esteem, especially because the body changes are all at least partially outside of a woman's control. Yes, good diet and exercise can help weight gain not to be too excessive, but they're certainly not the only factor. (When I was pregnant with my son, eating carbs every hour was the only thing that helped keep my nausea at bay, yet somehow, I lost a pound during my first trimester, even while eating hourly. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had trouble keeping food down and had to force myself to eat three meals a day, yet I gained five pounds in my first trimester.) So the last thing a woman needs while she's going through such rapid and drastic changes is someone telling her she looks bad or is endangering her baby's health in some way.

Good health during pregnancy is important. It's so important, in fact, that there are multiple professional occupations dedicated solely to helping pregnant women stay healthy. So if someone needs to tell a pregnant woman that her weight gain -- or lack of weight gain -- has the potential to endanger the health of her baby or her own body, the person to do that is the person whose job it is to help her stay healthy: her doctor, her midwife or her nurse. Because they have access to a lot more information than just what she looks like (blood work, weight, fundal height, ultrasounds, etc.) they're in a much better position to determine if a woman is healthy than someone who's basing their entire opinion on physical appearance is. In some cases, a close friend or family member might be in the position to express concern if they have a legitimate reason to worry for a loved one's health. But there is never a legitimate reason for strangers to criticize the way a pregnant woman looks.

If you still feel the need to comment on the appearance of a pregnant woman, here's a helpful list of things that you can try instead:

"You look beautiful."

"You definitely don't look like you've been throwing up all morning!" (This only really makes sense if she has been throwing up all morning. Otherwise, it's weird.)

"Wow, pregnancy makes your hair look even more amazing than it usually does! Have you considered a career in hair modeling?"

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate." (I stole that one from Shakespeare.)

"No, seriously. So beautiful."

Between the morning sickness, the heartburn, the aches and pains, and the constant need to pee, pregnancy can be rough. Can we please all agree not to make it any more difficult for women we don't even know?

Connect with Bethany on Facebook or visit her blog, I was promised more naps.

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