09 August 2008

'Sexy' pregnant mannequin too hot for North Yorkshire

A shopkeeper in North Yorkshire is being attacked by locals for displaying a pregnant mannequin (apparently named 'Emily') dressed in maternity lingerie at the front of her shop. The only store in the area to even sell maternity wear, Amanda Bere thought she was just merely showing off her wares to potential customers:

"It started with people looking in the window and making comments outside and they told me their points of view that they found it offensive. Other shop traders also told me that people were saying to them that it was offensive and that I should cover her up or move her. So I put a camisole on Emily and someone else made another comment, saying that they could still see the bump, so I put her in the corner of the shop away from the window."

I find this so interesting and it actually proves one of the points I've been trying to make in my work. Although it may seem as though pregnant celebrity nude portraits are published without fanfare or that we have all become so accustomed to seeing exposed pregnant bellies, a close examination of the reception of these images and of pregnant bodies in 'public' more generally, reveals that they are still controversial. In a similar example, in July 2007, New Zealand maternity lingerie company, Hot Milk, found itself at the centre of a controversy following the publication of their catalogue on the website of a retailer, Breastmates, featuring pregnant women wearing lacy bra and knickers sets.

I wrote about that here: http://babybumpproject.blogspot.com/2007/07/maternity-lingerie-is-apparently-soft.html

This was a fascinating ‘controversy’ and one that nicely illustrates the ambivalence about both the visibility and sexualisation of pregnant bodies.The fact that the catalogue images were associated with mainstream pornography suggests it was specifically pregnant bodies that were causing offense and not necessarily the marketing of the products or the products themselves. Whilst, catalogue images of non-pregnant women in lingerie are rarely deemed to be offensive or ‘soft porn’ because these images have been normalised in popular culture, pregnant women in ‘sexy’ lingerie were deemed offensive by virtue of the fact they were pregnant, ‘fat’, and ‘flaunting’ their sexuality. The same can be said about this pregnant mannequin.

Even Britney Spears’ Harpers Bazaar nude, pregnant photograph was censored, like Demi Moore’s portrait in 1991. When a giant poster of the singer was set to hang in one of Tokyo’s busiest railway stations, the ‘obscenity screening team’ decided the image would be ‘too stimulating’ for young viewers. Instead of banning the image altogether, Japanese metro authorities compromised by blackening out Spears’ belly. The magazine responded saying they were happy for the reversal in sentiment and that they were only trying to portray a ‘happy’ mother, not a sexually explicit image. Moreover, it was impossible to tell that Spears was pregnant; she just looked like a ‘chubby woman’.

So what does this all mean? As much as they hold the power to fascinate, pregnant bodies still hold the power to horrify, especially when they are ‘too sexy’ or ‘too fat’. In much of my work, I argue that the ambivalent reception of pregnant bodies has not necessarily changed in the 18 years since Demi Moore’s controversial magazine cover. Pregnant women have to invoke a number of strategies to present acceptable forms of maternal beauty if they want to ‘pass’ successfully in public. Quite often, visibly pregnant bodies, as with the case of 'Emily' the pregnant lingerie mannequin, are still highly problematic. They symbolise the ‘in-between’ areas that many cultures and enclaves of the world do not quite know how to manage.

Sources: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/north_yorkshire/7550134.stm


Cherryskin said...

People can't handle the awesome power associated with growing and birthing a baby. I wonder why.

prenatal yoga said...

This does seem pretty unusual - it is only a mannequin after all. It doesn't bother me in the slightest. Very strange!

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