Last weekend I came across this article in the magazine of my Sunday-ly Observer on changes in the way pregnant women dress by ‘veteran magazine editor’ Emma Soames. Apparently, during the 80s and earlier, expecting women would wear big tent like contraptions to hide their bulging bellies, like so:
But now more people, and particularly celebrities, chose to show off their changing bodies through body con dresses and by posing naked. Like so:
Ms Soames (or should I call her Emma?) identifies as a reason for this the progress of equality at work. Because in the past, with no maternity leave, working women would have to resign when they had a baby, and chances were they would never go back afterwards. So they would want to hide their changing status as much as possible. And I suppose that does play a role, you do always hear of women working in city banks to hide the fact that they have families.
But in my mind, a much bigger factor is that having children is more of an extraordinary thing now than it used to be. A few decades ago, it was simply assumed that you had children in your early twenties. It was what you did. But now more and more women are chosing to stay childless, and the average age at birth is creeping ever higher (in Scotland it is anyway). People delay for all sorts of reasons: because it takes time to find the right partner, because they want to gain some life experience first, or because they want to advance their career to the point where they can provide for the kids in the way they expect.
So anyway, with people leaving having babies til later, through choice and circumstance, the likelihood of getting pregnant immediately after you start trying is smaller and smaller. Lots of couples I know have had real difficulties conceiving naturally. So when you do finally get pregnant after waiting for ages or having invasive IVF, who wouldn’t want to shout it from the rooftops? And that’s what dressing up your bump, or painting it and photographing it then tweeting it is, isn’t it, a big shout of ‘Hurray, I’m having a baby! Soon!’
But the weirdest thing about the article is that despite describing her own maternity wardrobe as ‘resembling a field at Glastonbury’ and coming from ‘depressing maternity shops that seemed to have no regard for the colours of the season or the trends coming down the catwalk’, Emma (I’m mixing it up, see?) is completely opposed to this idea that women may want to wear clothes that flaunt their bumps. Decorating the bumps with paint or such is held in particular disdain, while Victoria Beckham at the royal wedding is held up as a shining example of ‘conceal rather than reveal’.
She doesn’t ever explain what her problem is exactly, not even in a roundabout way, which of course makes it hard to discuss, but I’ve made a stab at some arguments that are alluded to in the vaguest possible way:
- Celebrities are just out for the publicity. Referring to ‘mothers who are expectant of publicity as well as child’ is the closest she gets to providing an explanation. But that’s just celebrities, not ordinary women. Celebrities whose livelihood depends on (or in some cases, whose livelihood is) sharing and selling photos and stories of their lives. If you’re that kind of person, why would you stop when you got pregnant? I don’t really see what the alternative is – should Natalie Portman not have gone to the Oscars that she won? Should she have worn a more sacklike dress? I think it’s rather sweet when celebrities get excited about impending parenthood.
- Naked bodies are private. Maybe there’s an element of generally not liking people posing naked. But again, does the pregnancy actually make a difference? If anything, pregnant bodies are less sexualised, which is probably why celebrities that wouldn’t otherwise do these kinds of shoots do them when they’re about to have a baby. While I’m sure there are people out there who have a thing for preggers women, in general it’s meant to only be the father of the child that finds the woman in question sexy. The naked picture of a woman with child is more of a celebration of health and life than an invitation to ogle. Which is nice, surely.
- It creates a division between mothers and childless women. There actually isn’t a trace of this in the article, but a reason why you might be opposed to the celebration of bellies is to not hurt the feelings of women who have ended up childless. I do find this whole cult of motherhood where people go ‘my life wasn’t compete until I had my baby’ a bit weird, and I don’t like the implication that non-parents are somehow less than whole. But even if I do at some point end up in a situation where I can’t conceive and I get upset at the sight of a pregnant person, I don’t suppose whether this person was wearing a muumuu or a bodycon dress would make much difference.
Overall, Emma Soames’ opinion seems to reflect a distaste for (post)modern celebrity culture and a desire to return to a mythical land of good taste and breeding (hence her hopes are pinned on Kate Middleton) rather than anything specifically to do with pregancy. Or possibly something more sinister going on here and she actually thinks pregnant bodies are disgusting what with being all leaky and stretchmarked. For information, Emma Soames was born in 1949 and is the editor or Saga magazine, which may explain some of the views put forward in the article.
Personally, when and if I get pregnant, I very much hope I’ll be taking the same approach to dressing I do now, i.e. feminine but bright and shouty and fun. I don’t make much of an attempt to hide me curves/giant bum now, so why would I want to hide my belly? I’m not ruling out the possibility that I’ll get into ‘tents’ for comfort reasons, but it sure as hell isn’t going to be because I want to hide the fact that I am pregnant! And certainly not because it offends the sensibilities of some media person or other. Women’s bodies are their own to dress and adorn as they please, pregnant or not.
What do you think?