Belly Laughs by Jenny McCarthy

Read: 4 March, 2011

I’m not a Jenny McCarthy fan. Most of my exposure to her has been through her anti-vaccination efforts, and I’m not really disposed to think favourably of someone who puts kids in danger like that – no matter how well-meaning they may be. But I had heard good things about her book, Belly Laughs. So when I saw it on the shelf at my midwife’s office, I decided to purge myself of all negative feelings towards McCarthy and give her book a fair shake.

The first thing I want to say is that I only had about an hour to read it. I read pretty fast and it’s a short book, but I definitely skimmed it – flipping ahead through chapters that interested me, etc. So anything I say is definitely going to be very “first impressions-y.” This is not supposed to be a well-thought-out critique!

The point of the book is to reveal the gross and ugly side of pregnancy, the weird changes that are often glossed over. As I’ve said before, I think there’s a lot of value to having this sort of discussion. Certainly for me, I found a lot of comfort in hearing about the really bad stuff because I felt like if I could wrap my head around that, nothing else will seem quite as bad.

As some Amazon reviews commented, Belly Laughs can get pretty crass. Again, this doesn’t really bother me. I actually appreciate the “girl talk” tone McCarthy adopts. That being said, it was perhaps a little too much like a “girl talk” conversation, sometimes feeling as though she had written the whole thing in an afternoon. I think the book would have had a lot more value if, for example, each chapter had started with her personal experiences, and then followed up with some information (why it’s happening, how to alleviate it, etc.). As it was, it might make pregnant women feel like they aren’t so alone, but it won’t do much more than that.

So I generally enjoyed the book. It was funny, it was rather interesting, but it had no real value. I would pity anyone who spent money on it, although a library check-out may be appropriate (actually, don’t bother. Just sit down and read it right in the library. It’s so short that you’ll probably get through it and won’t have to deal with the obligation of returning it on time!).

But there was one detail in the book that really bothered me – Jenny McCarthy apparently has a very negative body image. Worse, she seems to think that this is normal, or accurate. I suppose some of this may be due to where she lives and the type of career she’s in, or perhaps to the fact that I live under a rock and have very little exposure to mass media, but I found it rather disturbing.

In one chapter, she’s describing having sex with her then-husband, and how he couldn’t possibly be turned on by her disgusting body! Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so sexy as I have while pregnant (and D certainly seems to enjoy the “beach ball,” saying it’s like I have an extra butt on the front – try scrubbing that image of marital bliss from your brain!). McCarthy describes with horror the discovery that she can no longer wear thongs (although she does discover how wonderfully comfortable regular underwear can be), and she berates herself for not “giving” her husband blow-jobs while she wasn’t feeling up to having sex, as though sexual gratification were some kind of duty rather than a shared experience.

It made me sad to read – not just for McCarthy herself, but for the (perhaps correct) assumption that most of her readership will accept these sorts of things as perfectly normal.

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