Social Media and Pregnancy: How the Digital Age Drives Weight Stigma

SBM: social-media-and-pregnancy-how-the-digital-age-drives-weight-stigma

Molly Waring, PhD, University of Connecticut; Natalie Papini, PhD, Northern Arizona University; Dani Arigo, PhD, Rowan University


Pregnancy is an exciting time for many people. Many choose to share their pregnancy journey with their family and friends or connect with and learn from other pregnant persons on social media. However, not all interactions on social media related to pregnancy are positive, especially for those in larger bodies.

Feeling Depressed or Anxious About Weight Gain During Pregnancy

Social media may promote weight stigma during pregnancy by promoting ideal (read: thin) pregnant bodies, setting the expectation that people’s bodies will “bounce back” quickly after birth, and celebrating celebrities and influencers who achieve these ideals. This can be especially problematic as it’s very common to compare ourselves online to others with similar life circumstances or experiences (such as another pregnant person).

For example, when we see a pregnant person share about how little weight they have gained or having a “belly-only” pregnancy, we may compare our pregnancy to theirs. We may see ourselves as worse-off than they are and have a range of negative reactions, such as feeling depressed, discouraged, envious, unattractive, or inadequate. Just telling yourself to “stop comparing” doesn’t work. These social comparisons are natural and happen automatically.

Concern Trolling

Additionally, some pregnant people may experience stigmatizing comments related to their weight or body size. While some comments are clearly negative, other comments may seem caring but are actually stigmatizing.

“Concern trolling” describes comments that are expressions of weight stigma masked as concern about someone’s health. For example, someone might comment on an image of a pregnant person in a larger body: “Love her body confidence – but what about her heart?”

When the “health concern” is lifted, these comments are still judgmental and hurtful. Further, concern trolling implies that it’s possible to know someone’s health status by their appearance, weight, or size.

Navigating Social Media and Pregnancy

If you see content on social media about others’ pregnancies that make you feel bad, or people make stigmatizing comments about your pregnancy, what can you do?

  1. Manage comparisons to others. If you find yourself comparing your pregnancy to pregnant people you see on social media, remember that social media posts tend to be highly curated, and not everyone feels comfortable sharing challenges or down moments. Also, every pregnancy is different, and some people just seem to have easier pregnancies. Many influencers receive money to promote their post-pregnancy bodies, even though those bodies are not the norm for most people. Try to recognize any negative thoughts you have (like “ugh, I’m so big compared to them”) and take these for what they are: just thoughts, which don’t make them true or valuable. If it helps, temporarily mute people who you find yourself comparing to. Out of sight, out of mind.
  2. Speak up and be an ally. As with in-person interactions, sometimes people say things that are well-intentioned but hurtful. Especially if a negative comment was posted by someone you have a personal relationship with, consider talking to them about how their comment made you feel, either in a reply to their comment, in a private message, or in person. Messages that start with “I feel...” are helpful in that they communicate your perspective rather than signal blame.If you see others concern trolling or making stigmatizing comments, consider speaking up (for example, “we can’t know about someone’s health just by their appearance” or “it’s not OK to comment on other people’s bodies”).
  3. Show others – and yourself – some love. If you see someone else making negative or stigmatizing comments towards a pregnant person, consider adding a positive comment. One way to reduce the impact of negative comments is to make these comments just one voice in a sea of positivity. Similarly, practicing self-compassion when faced with hurtful comments online can help you better regulate your emotions and remind you that you are worthy of the same compassion and care you give to others.
  4. Adjust your feeds. To make your experiences on social media more positive and supportive, consider unfollowing accounts that post pregnancy-related content that makes you feel bad or unfollowing people who make hurtful comments on your posts.If the person making negative comments is someone who you feel you can’t unfollow (for example, a family member), consider muting them or sharing some posts with a limited group of friends.
  5. Get support. It can be helpful to talk about painful experiences and negative feelings with a mental health professional or trusted friend or family member. Sharing your experience with someone who cares about you can help you cope with negative feelings and provide support.

While social media can be a great place to go for support, information, and inspiration during pregnancy, there is also plenty of stigmatizing content that can make us feel bad about our pregnancies or bodies. We encourage you to curate online (and offline!) communities that support and celebrate you.

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