04 November 2006

why my bump isn't vogue

This is a fantastic piece written in response to this Vogue cover with Brooke Shields in 2003:

Why my bump isn't in vogue By Zoe Heller
This month's issue of American Vogue has a picture of a pregnant Brooke Shields on its cover. She's posed in the familiar, Demi Moore-style three-quarter turn, with belly in defiant profile and face (bearing the statutory pregnant woman's expression of moony, I-am-with-child contemplation) staring directly at the camera. In the interests of sex appeal, she has had a bucket of water thrown over her, causing her sheer silk, mustard yellow Krizia halter neck to cling provocatively - but, you know, tastefully - to her curves.

I happen to be three months pregnant myself and when I came across this cover in the racks at my local supermarket, I had just returned from a visit to the obstetrician. In that slightly dotty, monomaniacal state of mind that pregnancy can sometimes induce, it seemed at the time imperative that I buy the magazine and find out how Brookie was handling her second trimester.

Back home, I paused only long enough to prepare my mid-morning "snack" (fried potato, eggs, bacon, buttered toast) before settling down for some celebrity scoop. I was about halfway through the article, when I came across the following passage:

"...now that she is pregnant, she is taking great pleasure in fostering her changing shape. She eats every few hours, very aware of the vitamins, minerals, and protein in her meals and snacks - like the soy shakes she has for breakfast and the pickled-ginger chicken salad we ate with chopsticks at the Zen tearoom after yoga." I stopped for a moment to glance at the hash browns trembling on my fork. Soy shakes? Zen tearoom? "Brooke decided early on that she wasn't going to hide under oversize maternity clothes," the text continued, "opting instead for Donna Karan in wool crêpe. `You'll never see me in a muumuu' [she says]."

At this point, I decided to take a rain check on Brooke's pregnancy journey and flick through the rest of the magazine. This, as it turned out, was the Shape issue - Vogue's much ballyhooed annual "celebration of physical diversity". Along with short, tall, curvy and skinny women, the Shape issue celebrates women who are having babies, and in addition to cover girl Brooke, there was a four-page photo spread of young, pregnant models wearing things like a "Christian Dior baby pink silk dress with crystal detailing" and a "heather and ecru horizontal striped sheath by Michael Kors".

Needless to say, none of them looked remotely pregnant. They all had long skinny thighs and Olive Oyl arms. Their breasts were the size of ice-cream scoops. They did have slightly protruding bellies. But if it hadn't been for the accompanying text, you might have assumed it was a feature about models suffering from mild wind. Or models who'd just eaten a big Christmas dinner. "Pregnant women's bodies are sexy," one of them was quoted as saying. "I wear tight T-shirts to show mine off." Oh, really, I murmured sarcastically, shovelling down my hash browns in an increasingly angry, wolfish manner.

"My pregnant and non-pregnant style is the same: rock romantic," another commented. (She, it was noted approvingly, was "keeping her weight gain to a minimum with yoga".) Oh sure, I muttered, spreading some extra butter on my toast.

To be fair to Vogue, it wasn't trying to depress me and make me feel inadequate. Au contraire, this sort of story offers itself as an emancipatory document. Vogue wants to help women embrace their fecund selves, to free them from the bad old days of pastel smocks and sensible shoes and third-trimester "confinement". It wants to let them know that pregnancy can be sexy and fabulous and a ton of fun!

Why is it, then, that most pregnant women read such stuff with tears of exasperation running down their chubby cheeks? Why is it that the cheerful advice about form-fitting clothes and weight-reducing yoga does not sound to them like the clarion calls of liberation, but the tolling bells of a new oppression?

This is perhaps because your standard-issue pregnant woman feels she has quite enough to cope with, without having to strive for sex appeal and glamour. If it were simply a matter of slinging something silken over her adorable "bump", that would be one thing. But her bump is more likely to be an unwieldy mountain, accompanied by a vast, quivering bum, a pair of enormous, marbled breasts, and a triple chin. No amount of Krizia dresses - or, for that matter, yoga sessions - are going to allay these grim developments. While the maternity sacks of yesteryear might have been dreary, at least they let a woman surrender to the inevitable in comfort.

Nowadays, not even child-bearing earns you a reprieve from the duty to keep your upper arms tight and your Manolos on. You've got to look like Sarah Jessica Parker - a snake who's swallowed an orange - or you're not doing it right.

In the seventh month of my last pregnancy, my Upper East Side doctor earnestly and repeatedly urged me to attend Weight Watchers meetings because I was 10lb (okay, maybe 20) over what he considered an optimum weight. "But I've spent my life watching what I eat," I pleaded. "Can't I let the weight thing go, just while I'm pregnant?" Absolutely not, he said. I might get gestational diabetes. And besides, my spouse would find me unattractive.

If I had any doubts about how repressive the era of "liberated" pregnancy has actually turned out to be, they were put to rest after the Oscars this year, when I encountered at least half a dozen people who crowed, with a mixture of horror and Schadenfreude, about how "fat" the nine-months-pregnant Catherine Zeta Jones had allowed herself to get. Even though the poor woman, who was minutes away from giving birth, had tricked herself up in Versace and heels, it wasn't enough. She had still not adequately camouflaged the fact that she was about to bear a child. Women of the world, the counter-revolution starts here. Dump your Manolos, break out the peanut butter. It's time to bring back the muumuu.


rachel h said...

This is a great bit of writing. I don't know why she put herself through the whole thing. I have really gone off the fashion thing since I've been pregnant. I've saved a fortune on magazines, and for that matter clothes. Perhap her reference to a muu muu could have been Mui Mui's?

Tsismosa said...

I really do not like the way the threat of gestational diabetes is offhandedly thrown aside in favor of "liberating" women from their cage of diet and exercise with excessive weight gain. Gestational diabetes is SERIOUS and not to be so lightly mentioned. I've seen it first hand in my family, as we are genetically susceptible to diabetes. Not good for baby or mommy.

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The Baby Bump Project by Meredith Nash is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.