Well Being

Australian TV Star Chrissie Swan (Shamefully) Shamed For Smoking While Pregnant

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2011 Logie Awards - Arrivals

Australian TV and radio personality Chrissie Swan is pregnant with her third child—and she was recently photographed smoking. Since then, there's been a bidding war for the pictures, with Swan herself desperate to keep them from being seen, and several Australian magazine editors rabidly eager to publish them.

Woman's Day, a popular women's magazine in Australia, ultimately paid $53,000 for the rights to publish the photos. The editor, Fiona Connolly, said:

Woman's Day will publish the photos of Chrissie Swan that are currently dividing the nation. Chrissie herself has admitted how grateful she is the photos were taken as they not only stopped her smoking but have sparked one of the most significant debates for women's health in years.

Swan herself (who has two other children) went on Australian Channel 10's The Project yesterday to talk about the situation, as well as the bidding war (she and her manager were outbid at the last minute). She burst out crying while trying to explain her actions and the uproar they've caused. She said:

I'm so deeply embarrassed and ashamed of this because being a mother has been the single most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. The whole time I was having the cigarettes, I couldn't believe that I was doing it. It defies logic. I would Google and try to work it out but very occasionally I would fall back into it. And actually I can't explain it, apart from that it must be addiction.

She continued:

It's a horrifying situation and people are rightly disgusted and critical, of course they are.

Do I think Swan should have been smoking while she was pregnant? Personally, no. The dangers of smoking while pregnant are well-documented. But do I think she should be publicly shamed for it? Absolutely not.

This situation is a perfect indication of society's current obsession with the policing of pregnant bodies. I've written about this multiple times (in regards to Jessica Simpson and Kim Kardashian and Kerri Walsh Jennings, even the mom who was fired for needing to pee too often while pregnant). Regardless of whether or not we, as individuals, agree with a woman's treatment of her body while pregnant, it is just that: her body. Her body, and her baby, and her behaviors. The outcry against Swan's actions (She's endangering her baby! She's a bad mother!), in my opinion, tiptoes dangerously close to the “fetus as person” rhetoric that anti-abortion activists use. And, as a feminist, I'm not ok with that.

Swan herself said that she is addicted to cigarette smoking. It's 2013: everyone knows that cigarette smoking is highly, highly addictive, not a behavior that is easy to break, regardless of what else might be going on in someone's body. So why the outcry to shame her by publishing pictures of her smoking? Why not an outcry to get her some help quitting cigarettes?

Again, I'm certainly not advocating that women engage in dangerous health risks, like smoking, while pregnant. On the contrary, in fact; I think that our culture, especially in the US, should be moving towards having even more emotional and mental support, as well as information about pregnancy (including physical changes, lifestyle changes, nutrition and more) available to pregnant women.  We should be creating an environment where women are supported to have the healthiest pregnancy that they can, based on their health and situation. But clearly that environment does not exist here in the US and evidently not in Australia, either.

As Meredith Nash at The Conversation says:

For Chrissie’s sake, the answer is not harsh moral judgement; pregnant women shouldn’t be shouldering the morality of the nation. The only way forward is to recognise pregnant women’s agency – including the choice to smoke when pregnant – as well as the much larger social and cultural forces that shape women’s decisions to smoke during pregnancy.

What I am advocating is that we move towards a place of autonomy for pregnant women. Pregnant women are the stewards of their own bodies. Let me say that again: pregnant women are the stewards of their own bodies. Having a baby in your uterus doesn't make you any dumber or less capable than you were before. It also doesn't make you superhuman, able to overcome all the struggles or vices you had before you were pregnant.

To all intents and purposes, it sounds like Chrissie Swan was going through some serious turmoil when she was photographed smoking. Her pregnancy was unplanned. She's a full-time working mother (with two radio shows, a TV program, and a newspaper column) with two other children and marriage to maintain. Her family was moving. None of this is an excuse to have a “sneaky cigarette,” as she put it, but it's also not a reason to vilify her. It's a reason to have a long, hard conversation at the myriad of circumstances that brought Swan to the point of smoking while pregnant—and work to change them.

I know this is a controversial position that many, many, people will disagree with. As I said, I don't think it's ok for women to smoke while they're pregnant. But I don't think the pictures of Chrissie Swan smoking should be published, either. I also don't think it's ok for all of Australian media to go on a virtual witch hunt for Chrissie Swan, essentially burning her at the stake for a mistake that she seems truly distraught over. It's judgmental misogyny, plain and simple.

Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images