Following on from my post on confinement, I have been thinking about the idea of showing off – or not – a pregnant bump and how our culture has changed in the last generation or so. In the eighties, my Mum wore voluminous peasant-style clothes and a lot of elasticated waists. She is quite petite and didn’t gain much weight with me. So at eight months pregnant, when she overheard a man at breakfast in their B&B comment that she’d had enough to eat, it just goes to show the result of unflattering maternity outfits. If they made her look fat, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Since the late eighties/early nineties, maternity style has morphed into something else entirely. I think there were two catalysts for this change in culture: Neneh Cherry’s appearance on Top of the Pops in 1988 when she was eight months pregnant, and Demi Moore’s 1991 naked Vanity Fair cover when she was seven months along.
Neneh Cherry performed her fabulous song Buffalo Stance with a tidy but obvious baby bump, leading the presenter Peter Powell to comment “I think she’s singing for two there!” Her appearance on the show while great with child was controversial at the time. As the NME commented last year, “in those pre- Spice and -All Saints days, pregnant pop stars were ushered out of the spotlight quicker than you could say ‘Mary Whitehouse is watching’.” There was somewhat of a negative public reaction: Neneh herself said last year that “I remember some doctor saying that what Neneh Cherry’s doing could cause her child harm, that sort of bollocks. But I feel really proud of having done that. I didn’t feel being pregnant took anything away from my sexuality, who I am, the woman. It felt like a positive thing to celebrate it.”
Neneh Cherry was effectively a pioneer for pregnant women carrying on doing what they do best, celebrating their circumstances and being just as womanly and feminine as they always have been. These days, pop stars and celebrities in general are not held back at all by pregnancy. Take the rapper M.I.A., for example (who interestingly has a lot of similarities to Neneh Cherry), who takes maternity chic to a whole different level. The Huffington Post provides an entire slideshow of her maternity wear, such as this daring outfit she wore to the 2009 Grammy Awards:
The Demi Moore Vanity Fair cover, photographed by Annie Leibowitz, is an iconic image that is still discussed, copied and parodied to this day. A retrospective into the magazine’s classic covers describes this one as “an instant culture buster—and damn the expected primal screams of those constipated critics, cranky subscribers, and fidgety newsstand buyers, who the editors and publishers surely knew would regard a pregnant female body as ‘grotesque and obscene.'” Some magazine sellers indeed refused to stock the magazine, or sold it only with a modesty cover (a la adult publications). Despite the controversy, the cultural impact of the photograph was huge. Rather than something shameful that should be hidden away and disguised, pregnancy began to be much more celebrated and even flaunted. Instead of being seen as pornographic, a pregnant woman’s body can be viewed as beautiful, feminine and something to be incredibly proud of. This seemed to be the natural next step down the path already started by Neneh Cherry.
Now of course, over twenty years later, naked and revealing pregnant celebrity photos are ten-a-penny! And in terms of fashion, most of the clothes I have bought in the last six months shamelessly show off my shape, which has one major advantage: my condition is unmistakeable. Even in the earlier days when my bump was just starting to show, the style and cut of the outfits emphasised what belly I already had – the kind of empire line or extra roomy tops and dresses that I would usually have rejected as “making me look pregnant”!
Although these days a lot of my maternity clothes are feeling rather too well-fitting (i.e. tight)… may have to start doing a Demi Moore!