It isn’t easy being pregnant, and it sure isn’t easy being a pregnant Kate Middleton.
As the Duchess of Cambridge leaves the hospital after being treated for extreme nausea, a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum, the inevitable scrutiny on her expectant and expanding waistline is just beginning.
For expectant mothers who are pregnant along with the princess, the vicarious thrill of “sharing” their pregnancy with the most watched pregnant woman in the world is kicked up a notch; call this the “twinning” syndrome, suggests Susan Shapiro Barash, a professor of gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. “If you’re as sick as she is, you will feel soothed knowing she felt like that too,” says Barash. “However she looks, however she dresses, however much weight she gains, women will want to do that.”
This won’t be the first time Middleton’s weight has taken center stage. Three months before her pregnancy became public, Katie Couric was quoted as saying the princess “needs to eat more because she’s too thin.” Last year, she was heralded on pro-anorexia websites for her slight frame, a dubious honor that undoubtedly unsettled the royal family, which had to contend with Princess Diana’s bulimia.
With the emphasis on weight in our culture, some pregnant women recoil as they gain weight instead of marveling at the wonders of the female anatomy. Pregorexia is the term coined to describe women who battle eating disorders while pregnant. According to a statement from the National Eating Disorders Association, “some women with disordered eating are able to more easily cope with weight gain during pregnancy because they see it as a sacrifice for an important cause. But others may plunge into deep depression as they struggle with the tension between the idea of weight gain and their body image issues.”
The answer, according to Dr. George Macones, who chairs the committee on obstetric practice for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), is no. A woman who is malnourished or a competitive athlete who has stopped ovulating can have trouble getting pregnant. Likewise, a malnourished pregnant women can be at increased risk of delivering early. But Middleton is neither malnourished nor an Ironwoman competitor. “For the most part, people who are thin do very well during pregnancy,” says Macones, who is also chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University in St Louis.
They have similar pregnancy outcomes as women of normal weight, and they have better outcomes than very overweight women, who are at higher risk of diabetes, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure and C-sections.
It remains to be seen whether Middleton will pack on the 25 to 35 pounds recommended for a healthy pregnancy. What’s certain is that women who are pregnant — and those who are not — will be paying close attention to every inch of her expanding belly. Nor is she the only pregnant celebrity who has been the subject of Internet chatter about weight. E! News host Giuliana Rancic endured speculation that she was too thin to carry a child. And actress and singer Jessica Simpson was called an “absolute porker” by an obstetrician who was not caring for her as she gained weight while expecting. Earlier this year, Healthland wrote:
If there’s a single truth in the glut of commentary that Jezebel is referring to as “the hunger shames,” it’s that Simpson’s weight is her business. “Nine months on, nine months off” is the slogan pregnant women often hear about how long it will take them to slough the baby weight. In truth, Simpson will likely drop her excess pounds much quicker — if she cares to.
The snide judgments about appearances — be they about Simpson’s ample curves or Middleton’s stick figure — is hardly unexpected, says Barash. “Women have been raised to constantly compare and contrast ourselves to other women,” says Barash. “Whatever Kate does will be imitated and valued. She will become a gold standard.”
Pregnant onlookers can take solace in Macones’ assurance that pregnant woman can rely on healthy eating and regular exercise to reclaim their pre-pregnancy body after delivering — assuming, of course, that new moms have the time to whip up wholesome meals and resume their gym rat ways. Research shows that moms’ dissatisfaction with their bodies increases with every month post-partum, but it’s possible, with hard work, to “get back to the same shape essentially that you were in before conception,” says Macones.