[23 October 2002]
“As if there weren’t enough things to worry about when pregnant, suddenly everywhere you look there’s a celebrity mother-to-be going about it in perfect style and immaculate fashion. It’s all very well spending the best years of your life feeling inferior to the high-maintenance lifestyle laid out in glossy magazines, but I’d assumed that there was a hiatus during pregnancy. And then six months to recover. OK, call it a year and a half.”
—“Bumped off: Celebrity pregnancies give Janine Gibson the Hump”, The Guardian, 20 March 2002
“One sultry pregnant waif modelled a punk-inspired dress made out of unhemmed fishnet material, tarted up with stiletto heeled fuck-me boots . . . The pictures didn’t say ‘Look at me, the tender harbinger of new life’ so much as they cried ‘Hey, baby, you wanna party?’”
—Lisa Moricoli Latham, “Prepartum Tarts: Madonna/Whore Maternity”, Bitch)
Finally, at age 30, I find myself in the midst of a fashion trend! Most of my fashion-conscious life has been spent trying to catch up with the trends; getting to them just on the cusp, or missing them altogether. While this tactic has saved me money (by getting the discarded left-overs at sales), it has often left me feeling unfulfilled, and a bit dated. But not this season! According to the celebrity gossip magazines, this year’s must-have accessory is a bouncing bundle of joy. And I just happened to be four months pregnant!
Kate Moss, Sadie “Mrs. Jude Law” Frost, Victoria Beckham, and single mom Liz Hurley have already delivered their fashion statements over the past few months, but with famous names like Elle McPherson, Claudia Schiffer, JK Rowling, and Mrs. Jamie Oliver carrying the trend into next year, I am still in time to be fashion cool.
How do I know of these mums to be? No, my antenatal clinic is not run at the Priory. Like so many women in the UK, I get my information from the gossip pages.
Heat magazine, always covering events in celebrity lives, acknowledged this special trend in its 21 September issue with an “Everyone’s Talking About . . .” feature. One baby story or another has consistently graced Heat‘s cover consistently, lately. Competing gossip magazine Now has run features on specific births, like that of Romeo Beckham, as well as cover stories on how celebrities shed pregnancy pounds, and how they feel to be pregnant. (In case you missed these uninformative stories, let’s just say the ease with which the famous supposedly get on in parenthood is as unrealistic as their diet and exercise regimes we are sold regularly.)
This celebrity baby boom, as some are calling it, as well as the showing off of bumps by said celebs, has truly put a new glimmer on motherhood. Maternal ones are now expected to be sexy and stylish (see photos Sarah Jessica Parker anytime over the last four months). But while the print media is marvelling at the grace with which supermodels are dealing with their expanding tummies, where does all this glamour leave the rest of us?
The trend of glamorising and even sexualising pregnancy has disturbed some, like Janine Gibson, but it has seemingly empowered others. In the heated contest of the TV show PopStars: The Rivals, one pop hopeful auditioned while seven months pregnant. She had the talent to last and despite her due date coinciding with the first live TV performance, she was accepted into the final ten. Unfortunately, Pregnant Hazel, as we will always know her, was disqualified for being 10 days too old, before moving into the house. Very convenient for the producers, but disappointing for viewers as a screaming fatherless newborn in a house full of competing stage school girls would have made excellent television.
A dose of that kind of reality TV could have been useful to those who believed Pregnant Hazel could “do it” just like Posh and Scary Spice or Natasha from Atomic Kitten. These established pop stars worked through their pregnancies, making music videos and TV appearances, so why couldn’t a 24-year-old, unmarried girl from Dublin do the same? And if this seemingly talented and mature woman believed this crock o’ fantasy, how many teenage girls dreaming of fame are thinking less about birth control, now? Girl Power! Look where you’ve taken us!
Do you remember the controversy over Demi Moore’s naked bump on the cover of Vanity Fair? Some supermarket chains wrapped her in brown paper for fear of offending the families shopping in their stores. It baffled me then why anyone would be afraid of the full pregnant form of a woman. But now I wonder; has it gone too far in the other direction?
Aren’t the belly-baring maternity clothes worn by size two celebs today in fact a bit offensive? Is this display another manifestation of women’s liberation? It seems now that bumps aren’t supposed to change your fashion sense, you’re just supposed to let your clothes move around it. That works if you were a size two before the bump and your personal chef and trainer travel with you. Small t-shirts and combat trousers, a la the All Saints, who incidentally did not have to change their style to accommodate pregnant Mel, are maternity staples for the stars. Personally, I am grateful that peasant shirts are still sort of fashionable.
Overwhelmingly, the pressure to look good, even in the face of oedema, is increasing. And not just for readers comparing themselves to the glamorous. Poor Sharleen Spiteri, lead singer of Texas, was not shown in the most flattering light when she was caught out and about, looking tired and ready to burst. And there was once an unflattering shot of Liz Hurley, well into her third trimester, looking like a false idol in a gold sequined mini dress. The captions accompanying these shots were about as sympathetic to her condition as I am being now.
So the one time in a woman’s life when she was allowed to let nature take its course and perhaps relax about her image has now been high jacked by the papers. If I don’t look as cute as Posh did at five months, will I feel bad about my body and my baby? Will this encourage body dismorphia in pregnancy? Who knows? There is little point in getting angry or paranoid about the effects of the media. It is simply an extension of what women have been dealing with for generations.
We must remember that the media manipulates and it is within all of our minds to resist. Look at it for the entertainment value, but don’t take it to heart. The expansion of one’s waistline is not something many Western women get to enjoy outside of this precious and exciting time! So what if my bump is not as cute as Kate’s. When have I, or most others for that matter, ever successfully competed with Miss Moss in the body department?
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/hodges021023/