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The Flowy Shirt Phenomenon: Responding to “Are you pregnant?” When You’re Not

I was about 25 years old and working as a college admission counselor. This meant spending lots of time in high schools. Late in the fall, I spent a whole day in a single southwestern Ohio high school classroom. I thought I looked sharp in some black slacks, a flowy royal blue top, and a black cardigan as I gave college presentations for period after period of students.

Presentations are scary. Even scarier? Presenting in front of a bunch of teenagers. Little did I know that morning that the students would be the least of my problems that day.

It was getting close to lunch time and the teacher had offered to go pick up subs. One of the students was telling me I should get some meatball sub and the teacher looked at him in front of the whole class and said, “She can’t eat that. She’s pregnant!”. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t pregnant. I was years away from even thinking about getting pregnant. I was just wearing a flowy shirt!

The lunch came and we sat to eat it. Lunch conversation revolved around my (non)pregnancy. How far along was I? When was I due? I just responded with vague answers; what else could I do?

This wasn’t my only experience with being asked if I was pregnant while not over the years. No one since has been so bold as to announce my non-pregnancy in front of a room full of teenagers.

I’ve found that there’s a formula to predict how often you might be asked this most intrusive question. I call it, “The Flowy Shirt Phenomenon”:

An equation that says age plus outfit times relationship status equals "Are you pregnant?".

The sweet spot (or maybe sour spot) for being asked this question seems to be 25-35 years old. Your chances increase if you dare wear an outfit that isn’t form fitting. If you can describe your clothing as “flowy”, you can almost be certain you’ll be asked. Finally, if you are in a serious relationship (especially if you’re married), your chances of being asked “Are you pregnant?” increase exponentially.

Let’s all agree that no one should ever assume it’s okay to ask a woman if she’s pregnant. If a woman hasn’t freely offered up that information, there’s a reason.

  • She may not be pregnant.
  • She may be having issues with fertility.
  • She may have lost a pregnancy.
  • She may be pregnant, but is not yet telling people for a variety of reasons.
  • It’s simply none of your business what’s happening inside her body.
Mirror shot of the contributor at about 6 months pregnant.

MAYBE at this point you can think about asking if I’m pregnant.

It’s a societal expectation a that a woman will get pregnant. Because of this, it’s very likely that one day someone will ask if you’re pregnant. You have many options when responding.

Be polite. You can just be quiet and smile like I did in that high school classroom. I was working, I didn’t have much choice.

Make a joke. Usually these are of the self-deprecating variety. Something like, “Yep! With a food baby!”, can lighten the mood.

Be direct. Almost ten years after that embarrassing moment, this is probably my favorite approach. Let the person know that it’s never okay to ask this and move on without bothering to answer their question.

Get personal. If you are dealing with fertility issues or loss, tell the person. They’ll understand why it can be such a painful question and are unlikely to ever ask it again.

Let it slide. They most likely don’t mean you any harm. Even if they do, you look great in that flowy top!

In the end, context dictates how we can respond. How have you responded to this question?


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