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(I’m Not Pregnant -or- YES, I’m SURE I’m Not Pregnant -or- The Thing I Most Want to Punch in the Face (After Jennifer Worick))

This post is a long time coming. I just have to let this out.

I went to karaoke this past weekend at a local bar. I love singing and karaoke is one of my favorite ways to socialize and express myself.

After a couple of drinks, I had to go to the bathroom. When I came back into the bar, this woman motioned me over to her table. I am a friendly Midwestern gal at heart, so I happily obliged.

She immediately put her hand on my stomach. She told me how talented I was, and how brave. I had no response, but to say a curt thank you and return to my seat.

Lady, I don’t know if you were drunk, or confused, or rude, or any combination of the three. But don’t put your hand on a stranger’s stomach. It’s not okay. And I am NOT PREGNANT.

I’m assuming that’s why she put her hand on my stomach, right?! That, paired with the combination of her telling me that I was so “brave.” After I sang my next song, she came over to my seat, teary-eyed and pointing to my stomach. I stared at her blankly, just daring her to ask how far along I was. I was ready to let her have it.

Possibly sensing my hostility, she backed off and instead made a comment about how much she loved my skirt. I smiled and gave another curt “thank you.”

I am sad to say that this isn’t the first time that this has happened.

Three years ago, I was at a local recycling center, dropping off trash and recyclables. One of the employees there started a conversation with me.

“How far along are you?” she asked, looking at my stomach.

“Um, I’m not pregnant.”

She slowly scanned my body from head to toe, pausing grandly at my stomach.

“Are you sure?” she continued.

WAS I SURE?!??!?!!??!

Yes, I was sure I wasn’t pregnant.

Later that same year, as I was walking in Capitol Hill, a man passing me on the sidewalk looked at me, stopped, and said:

“You’re pregnant, right?”

“Um….nope,” I said softly and quickly, never slowing my stride or meeting his gaze.

Here’s the thing: It is NEVER okay to assume a woman is pregnant. This is not a conversation starter. I don’t care if a woman has a shirt on with an arrow pointing to her belly and fondly caressing onesies at Walmart. Nope. Still not okay.

And it’s also NOT OKAY to touch or point to a stranger’s stomach. It’s rude.

Dear reader, if you have ever experienced a similar situation, I am so sorry. Please do not let it depress you or lower your self-esteem. Your body is perfectly fine, just the way it is. Your body, and, more specifically, your stomach, is not a public landmark for strangers to explore or comment on.

I would encourage you to reframe the experience as a reflection on the other person’s narrow expectations of what a woman’s silhouette should look like. And how sad for them to have such a limited view of what feminine beauty “should” look like.

I experience this all the time. I recently auditioned for MFA programs in Acting. I have a ritual of buying a new dress for each important audition I attend.

On a brisk January afternoon, I approached the Alderwood Mall as if I were preparing to go into battle. Because shopping for clothing is challenging if you have a belly that protrudes, even in the slightest.

I have everything in my closet from a size medium to a XXXL. My dresses range from size 12 to size 20, and everything in between. Normally, I prefer to shop at thrift stores, as they tend to have a funkier selection and a wider range of sizes than traditional department stores. But this audition meant a lot to me, and so I wanted to purchase a brand-new dress for this special occasion.

I started at Nordstrom Rack. There were some cute and affordable dresses, but most of them only went up to a size 14 (and a VERY PETITE size 14 at that.) I was in the store for less than 15 minutes before I realized there wasn’t anything for me there.

I went to every major department store at the mall and I couldn’t find a damn dress. I must have tried on at least 50 dresses. Most stores had a variety of dresses, but the (for lack of a better word) “normal” dress sections stop at sizes 12-16. If none of the sizes in the “normal” department fit you, you are relegated to the plus sized section.

In most stores, it’s in a completely different area of the store. There was one major department store where the plus sizes were relegated to the basement. THE BASEMENT.

Dear department stores, let me tell you how this makes me, the consumer, feel:

It makes me feel like crap. It makes me feel like you think my body is inferior to the bodies that can fit into the “normal” dresses. It makes me feel that you think that people my size should only wear shapeless neon sacks with a plethora of ruffles.

What I WANT from you, dear department stores, is for you not have a separate plus sized section. I want the dresses to range from size 0 to size 24 and beyond and I don’t want a different style of dress. I want the same dresses as the “normal” sized women get, only in a bigger size.

I want to stop having interactions with smug saleswomen who dismiss me and say voice-fried condescending things like “Well, I think what you’re looking for is on our Encore section. It’s in the basement.”

Bottom line: I am sick of feeling that I shouldn’t or don’t exist for you as a customer. Because that’s how I feel, when I get to the end of the rack of dresses and realize that my size doesn’t exist in your store.

I do feel more comfortable shopping at Torrid or Lane Bryant. At these stores, everything is my size or bigger. The salespeople are often modeling the clothing themselves. They are kind. I feel more at ease. I enter the store with the confidence that I will leave with something that fits my body.

I have to say, though, I feel that stores like Torrid or Lane Bryant are more of a short-term solution than a lasting one. I sincerely hope that traditional retail stores can evolve to the point where any woman can walk in and find an outfit that makes her look and feel beautiful.

And while we’re at it, could we please expand our cultural opinion of what bodies are considered beautiful?!

As I mentioned before, I am an actor. I love to perform. I’ve been doing it since I was two years old. There is an old picture of me as a bald, awkward two year old in lavender overalls and a white turtleneck. I am dancing with so much vigor that my arms are blurry. This is what I love most to do in life: to perform.

Acting is not for the faint of heart. It involves a lot of rejection.

But what I wish it didn’t involve is costume designers making me feel fat.

Dear costume designers:

I was talented enough to be cast in a role in this production. My body is what you have to work with. It may not be the physical ideal you had envisioned for the role, but my body is the body you have to work with. I would so appreciate it if you took my measurements without comment. I would appreciate it if you didn’t say things to like “well, you’re a bigger girl” or “you’re going to be difficult to costume” or “I just don’t know how I’m going to find something that will fit you.”

IT IS YOUR JOB TO FIND SOMETHING THAT WILL FIT ME. THAT IS WHAT A COSTUME DESIGNER DOES: FINDS COSTUMES TO FIT ACTORS.

I gone into costume fittings feeling ashamed about my body before the measuring tape is ever unfurled from its holster. I have started conversations with costumers with “Of course, I’ll bring in some of my own clothes—I know I can be hard to costume.”

And I’m done doing that.

You can have all the opinions about my body and what you think it should look like. We’re all entitled to our opinions. But please refrain from the desire to express those opinions to me.

Also, dear costume designers, please ask yourself: would you make the same comments to a male actor?

My body is MY BODY. Sure, my weight goes up and down (as it does for most people.) But I love my body. I love my stomach. It is hungry, just like I am. It desires sustenance and new things to try. And I don’t care if you think it’s too big. I don’t care if you think I’m too big.

I just want to be a kind person, have good friends, eat tasty food, and make a lot of art. Those are my general life goals. Having a flat stomach is not on my list. If it’s on yours, more power to you. We all have different priorities and that’s one of the things that makes us unique as human beings.

So, to close:

No, I’m not pregnant. And what’s more, you probably don’t need to ask that question to me or any woman, for that matter.

Let me officially release you from the obligation of judging other people’s bodies.

Your opinions on bodies that are not your own are no longer needed.

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