- More and more women are having photos taken of their pregnant bodies
- But is this representative of the growing sexualisation of pregnant women?
- Or are these photos simply a new way of celebrating the female form?
The soft lighting bounces off the model’s bare limbs and an opulent fur blanket falls from her shoulders. The carefully placed fur covers the woman’s modesty, while also revealing the full splendour of her body. But this isn’t a glamour shot – it’s the latest way pregnant women are celebrating impending motherhood: ‘baby bump’ photography. The woman in front of the camera is not a model, but Sabrina Tait, a 36-year-old from Leeds who works in sales and is eight months pregnant. ‘I don’t usually like getting pictures taken, but I’d read an article about women who were having pictures taken of their baby bumps and I thought it was a lovely idea,’ says Sabrina.
‘I hadn’t heard of it during my first pregnancy with my son Benjamin, who’s now three, but I wish I had. ‘I’d been through a couple of miscarriages – one before my son and one before falling pregnant with Abigail, now four months old – and it makes you even more grateful that you’re lucky enough to get pregnant. ‘I knew that this pregnancy would be my last and I wanted a record of it.’ So at 37 weeks pregnant, when most women are putting their feet up, after months of battling with swollen joints and stretch marks, Sabrina made her way into a studio to bare all. But why was she doing this?
‘At first I wanted a picture taken with me wearing a white shirt with my tummy on show – I’m very lucky, I didn’t have any stretch marks – but then we started playing around with the brown fur. ‘I felt quite shy initially but then I relaxed. I put on black shorts and a black bra and wrapped myself in the fur so that it covered my modesty,’ says Sabrina, who is engaged to Steven, a fireman. ‘Actually you can’t really see anything and it’s amazing how flattering the pictures are. I think they’re beautiful – elegant, not sexy. My fiancé thinks so too,’ More and more women are having their pregnant bodies captured professionally on camera, as Sabrina has done.
Of course, we can blame the actress Demi Moore for all this. She started the trend in 1991, when she posed naked on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine while seven months pregnant. The photograph was credited with smashing taboos about the pregnant body, which had, until then, remained hidden under tent-style dresses. But now, it’s hard to open a magazine without seeing someone’s bare pregnant tummy – everyone from Cindy Crawford to Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian have exposed their bumps in the pages of various glossy magazines – and ordinary women are following suit.
One specialist photography company, Venture, says it’s seen a 60 per cent increase over the past year in women choosing to have their baby bumps professionally photographed at a cost of £150 for a photoshoot and up to £300 for an album of pictures. Wayne Kahn, one of Venture’s photographers, says many are prepared to bare everything. ‘Women can be shy at first, but the majority will show off their body as long as it’s done tastefully.’ But are these pictures tasteful? Not everybody thinks so. Some critics are concerned they are part of an alarming trend that sexualises pregnancy, putting women under pressure to look attractive and alluring at a time that can be exhausting, but should also be a time of reflection, introspection and preparation.
‘Some of these kinds of photographs do look sexualised – with sexy poses, make-up, lingerie,’ says Dr Meredith Nash, an expert in body image during pregnancy and author of Making Post- modern Mothers. ‘I find it depressing. Pregnancy used to be the only time in a woman’s life when she could put her feet up, eat what she wanted not worry about how she looked, but that’s not the case any more,’ says Dr Nash. ‘Now it’s all about tight-fitting tops, low-slung jeans and glamorous photoshoots. ‘I worry that we’re covering up the reality of being pregnant – the fatigue, the headaches, and the mixed emotions – with these glossy images. It sets the bar higher for women, implying it’s not OK to show how hard pregnancy is. Instead you have to look beautiful, slim and hot at all times.’
Indeed, photoshoots are just one part of the ‘sexy mummy’ industry: walk through Topshop or Primark and you’ll find rails of sexy, skin-tight maternity dresses and T-shirts with slogans like Red Hot Mamma on them. And there’s even a growing market for racy maternity lingerie – with companies such as provocatively named HOTmilk selling black mesh and embroidered nursing bras with sobriquets like ‘Tantalised’. It’s a far cry from when pregnancy was a time for loose clothes and flat shoes, a time to focus on what was happening inside your body rather than outside. And who are these women looking sexy for?
‘Some women want to look sexy for their husbands but most would say that it’s about feeling good about themselves and to feel empowered,’ says Dr Nash. ‘We live in a time that celebrates the “yummy mummy” who is youthful, energetic and sexy.’ Dr Laura Tropp agrees with Dr Nash’s concerns. She is the author of Womb With A View, which analyses the business behind modern pregnancy. She says: ‘Pregnancy used to be time of preparation and reflection but now it’s a time for clothing and trends and baby showers and pregnancy photography.
‘I’ve interviewed lots of pregnant women who expressed concern over the glamorisation of pregnancy, saying it doesn’t reflect what they are really feeling. ‘On the one hand, it’s good that women can show off their bellies and enjoy their pregnancy, but the expectations of trying to look good and show off every curve while pregnant can be hard. They feel pressure to have the perfect belly, the perfect bump. They look at celebrity pictures and feel bad they don’t look like that,’ she says. Natalie Duffell, 25, from Horsham, West Sussex, agrees. ‘I put on a lot of weight during my pregnancy,’ says Natalie, a part-time receptionist who lives with her partner, Andy Atkins, a police officer and their first child, Harry, eight months.
‘I had cravings for chocolate so I put on about four or five stone. There were days when I felt awful: I was heavy, tired, my ankles would swell up. ‘My partner would tell me every day how wonderful I looked, but I didn’t feel it. There’s so much pressure to look good during pregnancy and get back into shape after pregnancy. I felt like I was being judged when I left the house. ‘For the first 12 weeks, I felt really sick and nauseous and it was hard to get the energy to put on make-up and get dressed at times. People would openly say I looked really tired, which was really disheartening.
‘You see photographs of celebrities and think if they’re six months pregnant and looking that good, why can’t I? Then they lose the weight straight after and again you think, I need to lose the weight too.’ So if she felt so unsure of her pregnant body, why did Natalie have a naked portrait taken when she was 36 weeks pregnant? ‘I didn’t want to do it, to be honest,’ she says. ‘The last thing I wanted to do when I was eight months pregnant was strip off, but my other half had booked it as a treat, so I went along with it.’
To her surprise, Natalie found that once she’d had her hair and make-up done and was in front of the camera at local studio Mighty Aphrodite, she found the experience hugely rewarding. ‘I really got into it,’ she says. ‘We started with photographs of me with a shirt open so you could see my bump, then in my lingerie, then naked. After all, the pregnant body is the most natural thing on earth, so why cover it up?’ Psychologist Jane McCartney, specialises in body image and says that it’s not unusual for women to be proud of their bumps. ‘During pregnancy, women can feel in awe of their own bodies and what’s happening to them,’ she says. ‘It’s natural to feel immense pride and the desire to show off.
‘In some ways it can feel like your body’s not your own, so taking a picture like this isn’t narcissistic in the way that it might be considered to be normally. Instead, you are taking a record of a specific moment in time that may never be repeated.’ Jessica Klofta, 26, from Dukinfield, Greater Manchester, had pictures taken two weeks before the birth of her first child, Polly, now four months. She says she can’t wait to show her daughter the picture when she is a bit older. ‘My mum didn’t have anything like that. She says that when she was younger, you had to cover up your bump, if you showed it off it was considered rude. I think that’s sad – pregnancy is a really happy time,’ says Jessica.
But she admits that these kinds of pictures are not to everyone’s taste. ‘I got the idea after seeing a beautiful photograph of a pregnant woman in silhouette. I thought it looked classy and tasteful, but when it came to doing my own topless pictures I didn’t like them, I thought they looked a bit too rude. ‘I’m quite a private person and they weren’t what I was looking for. I was very keen I didn’t look tacky,’ says Jessica, who ended up posing for a picture in black maternity trousers with a scarf tied around her chest. But to a lot of people these pictures are tacky, which is why they are best kept private, says Jane McCartney.
‘I’m not suggesting we hide women’s pregnancies as they did in the dark ages, but it might be best not to parade these pictures – especially on sites like Facebook.’ Then there’s the subjective matter of taste, says Ms McCartney: ‘Ask yourself, would I photocopy naked pictures of myself and send them in the post to a 100 friends? ‘Or would I print them on a Christmas card? Then ask yourself what your baby is going to think of these pictures when he’s a strapping teenage son.’