On the ride home to Ciyunsi Qiao a few weeks ago, a pregnant young woman walked onto the 740 bus. She sat next to an old lady who took a lively interest in her belly. Their conversation went something like this.
- Old woman: "When are you due?"
- Young woman: "About two months from now.”
- Old woman (in a raised voice): "You’re already seven months pregnant? Your baby bump is too small!
The younger woman politely shrugged off the comment, but I cringed from my seat several rows away. The exchange reminded me of a conversation I’d had with a new mom. "I didn’t have much of a baby bump, even at nine months," she told me. "I didn’t worry about it too much because the baby was healthy, but you’d be surprised how many people care." She told me stories of complete strangers walking up to her and saying things like:
- Are you eating properly?
- Are you sick?
- Are you exercising too much?
- Have you spoken to your doctor?
- That means you’re going to have a small baby.
I was blown away. Do people really think it’s okay to lecture a total stranger about the size of her baby bump? Full disclaimer: I’ve never been pregnant, so I don’t know what it’s like to receive comments on my baby belly. But I am a woman, and I don’t appreciate any situation in which someone becomes the target of bodysnarking.
The term “bodysnarking” was coined by women’s blog Jezebel in 2008. It refers to any kind of catty nitpicking perpetrated by women against other women about body issues like age, weight, or appearance. A notorious example is our obsession with celebrity culture, as seen from splashy headlines like “45 Best and Worst Beach Bodies” and “Stars Lose Fight with Cellulite.
To be fair, the old lady on the bus probably had good intentions. As expats, we’re well aware that topics that might be considered off-limits in the West—weight, income, baldness, bad skin, baby bumps—are fair game in China. Still, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable at a woman being called out on her appearance during such a complex period of physical and emotional changes.
– “The Rise of Bodysnarking” by Hannah Seligson of the Wall Street Journal
– "This Year, Let’s Call It Quits on the Nasty Nit-Picking” by Anna Holmes, editor-in-chief of Jezebel
– Tell us what you think on the beijingkids discussion forum