Perceptions of the Pregnant Body: A Russian Study

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. Today’s post is contributed by Tatiana Novikova and Irina Filistovich of St Petersburg State Pediatric Medical University. 

The bodily changes that surround pregnancy have two meanings. The first one is cultural or socio-cultural: the body becomes an indicator of pregnancy. As the changes can be visualized and perceived, in a way, they create a new social context in which a pregnant woman should be involved. The second meaning relates to the pregnant woman herself: it creates a new understanding of self. In our psychological research we’ve paid attention to the second of these meanings and tried to answer the question:

how are the bodily changes surrounding pregnancy connected with the personhood of the pregnant woman and her system of social relations (especially with her partner)?

The psychodiagnostic research was undertaken with a group of pregnant women (with an average age of about 32). Twelve of them were in their trimester, eighteen were in their second trimester, and twenty of the women have never been pregnant. In the case of the first two groups, all of the women were pregnant for the first time.

All Rights Reserved  © Tatian Novikova

Credit: Tatiana Novikova

We’ve used different methods of psychological analyses but in this post we’d like to share some results that we’ve got through the answers on the special questionnaire. This questionnaire lets us clarify the specifics of women’s perceptions of their body and pregnancy, and it lets us determinate the level of self-acceptance and acceptance of personal appearance.

The questionnaire consists of 44 questions that are divided into following blocks: a) socio-demographic data; b) the specific of perceptions of body and body-acceptance; c) the perceptions of an ideal woman’s body; d) the specific of perceptions of pregnancy and perceptions of the pregnant body; and e) the subjective perception of relations with partners in the context of the pregnancy.

Pregnant women also had to answer questions about their emotions and feelings connected with bodily changes that they experienced through the pregnancy. In this post we’ll only mention some of the analyzed aspects.

Perceptions of the Personal and Ideal Body

All respondents answered that they feel very comfortable in their own bodies. 75% of the pregnant women indicated that their own body is close to the ideal body, because, to their mind, an ideal body is first and foremost a healthy and attractive one. The women who were not pregnant used the same criteria to determinate an ideal body, but to their mind, to reach this ideal is possible only in the case of consistent self-training and bodily exercise.

All of the women agreed that bodily appearance plays a role in the achievement of success. The mass-production and spreading of visual images of the “beautiful woman” contributes to the growth of bodily-improvement practices and contributes to “bodily anxiety”. This cultural “bodycentrism” is viewed in the answers of young women who connected a better self-feeling with the possession of an ideal body.

Perceptions of Pregnancy and the Pregnant Body

It is not surprising that perceptions of pregnancy and the pregnant body are different among pregnant and non-pregnant women. The absence of such experience as pregnancy doesn’t let non-pregnant women to characterize, for example, the beauty of pregnant body. But despite this fact, all women surveyed agreed that pregnancy makes a woman’s body more feminine and women become more beautiful during pregnancy.

Negative bodily changes surrounding pregnancy were also observed in the responses to the questionnaire. It is interesting that in both groups of respondents the same negative bodily changes were mentioned, although the percentage of them was varied between the groups. For example, 75% of the non-pregnant women more often mentioned the weight gain as a negative bodily characteristic of pregnancy, while only 25% of the pregnant sample set mentioned it. For the latter group, stretch marks on breasts and belly were of a greater concern (75 % of the cohort mentioned these issues). Such answers illustrate at one side the stereotypes of pregnancy, which exist in culture, and, at the other, the real reality of pregnant embodiment.

Perceptions of Femininity and the Image of “Real Women”

The perceptions and meanings of such notion as “real women” differ greatly among the group of pregnant and non-pregnant women. For pregnant women, a “real woman” is associated with such notions as “wife”, “mother”, “adviser”, and “lover”. At the same time non-pregnant women correlate a “real woman” with such qualities as activity and self-improvement. It is noteworthy that women from both groups think that they satisfy their own ideas of femininity and consider themselves to be “real women”.

Subjective Perceptions of Pregnancy

Our analysis of the subjective perceptions of pregnancy led us to conclude that, with the increase of pregnancy, women become surer that their pregnancy adds confidence, femininity and meaning to their lives. Women in their third trimester mention that bodily changes during the pregnancy give them a feeling of comfort and self-integrity. As a pregnant body is perceived as socially desirable, it increases a woman’s status in society and gives her the filling of self-confidence.

About the Authors:

Dr Tatiana Novikova is an associate professor at the department of clinical psychology, St Petersburg State Pediatric Medical University. She holds a PhD in philosophical anthropology. The theme of her dissertation was “The subject of death in the spiritual experience of child”. She is now working on her Habilitatus dissertation: “The metaphysical meaning of infancy and its social role in culture”. Her fields of interest are infancy and philosophy of childhood, parenting culture, pregnancy and motherhood, the body and society.

Irina Filistovich is a student at the department of clinical psychology, St Petersburg State Pediatric Medical University. She is interested in perinatal psychology and bodily-orientated psychology.



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