Times are changing, and gone are the days when pregnancy was discussed only in hushed tones, if at all. Having a baby is cool — no doubt about it.
We’ve come a long way
Since every single one of us is the result of a pregnancy, you’d think it always would be considered a normal part of life. But no. In fact, just a generation ago and beyond, talk of pregnancy was taboo, particularly on TV, radio and the big screen.
“For the first half of the 20th century, the media were extremely nervous about even discussing, let alone portraying, pregnancy,” says Paul Levinson, PhD, professor of media studies at Fordham University in New York City. “In the 1940s, a woman could not be described in a movie as ‘pregnant.’ The preferred phrase was ‘in the family way.’”
Since then, perceptions about pregnancy have changed. The process began slowly at first. Once society at large realized that expecting moms were not second-class citizens, however, the media embraced the concept with a vengeance. Now, not only are depictions of pregnancy no longer forbidden, they’re downright fashionable.
For examples, look no further than the same tube that used to portray married parents sleeping in separate twin beds. In the spring of 2002, NBC’s Friends achieved its highest ratings in years when Rachel gave birth in prime time. Likewise, Miranda’s pregnancy on HBO’s Sex and the City was big news, and two of the cable network TLC’s biggest shows were the slice-of-life programs A Baby Story and Maternity Ward.
So in life as in art, pregnancy is no longer a “delicate condition” whispered about behind cupped hands. Women are more proud than ever to be building a family, and they are free to acknowledge that growing a baby is a phenomenal and special part of life. “Currently, pregnancy is regarded as such a positive, life-affirming activity — which, of course, it is — that media are pleased to tout it,” says Levinson. “And why not? It bespeaks optimism, confidence in the future. I expect this trend to continue. ”
Lisa Marie Coffey, PhD, a sociologist and author of Getting There With Grace: Simple Exercises for Experiencing Joy, agrees. She says the days of ambition and stock-savvy as the be-all and end-all are gone: stability and security are the new ideals. “Families are what it’s all about. Being married is in, having kids is in — and being pregnant is sexy!” says Coffey. “When beautiful Rachel’s baby-to-be on Friends was greeted with love, warmth and super-high ratings, that just sealed the deal. This is a definite trend that reflects the mood of the country.”
Bellies on parade
Coffey also notes a change in fashion. “For a while now, maternity fashions have been more form-fitting. Instead of ‘hiding’ a pregnancy, women are flaunting their full figures with pride!”
Rebecca Matthias, founder of Mother’s Work, the company behind the clothing designs at A Pea in a Pod, Mimi Maternity and Motherhood Maternity, agrees. “We love showing bellies!” she says. “Since we have so many cool body-hugging looks and underbelly styles, we like to use women who are six or seven months along, when their bellies are really showing and we can take fantastic photos of their new figures.”
Indeed, when Annie Leibovitz shot a photo of pregnant actress Demi Moore for the August 1991 cover of Vanity Fair, she didn’t pull any punches. Moore appeared nude, very pregnant, in profile… and gorgeous. The cover shocked America (“Pregnancy is sexy?!”), but the picture quickly became a cultural icon.
Not everyone’s a supermodel
Sometimes the trouble with cultural icons, though, is that the rest of us feel inadequate when we don’t live up the standards they set. Do you have to have Demi’s figure to shine? Nope. These days, the rest of us get some media representation, too.
Cristina Pieraccini, professor of communication studies at the State University of New York at Oswego, appreciates what Demi and Friends have done to boost pregnancy’s stock. “However,” she says, “more realistic was when Jane Pauley and Katie Couric got large like the rest of us. Now that was the breakthrough, as far as I am concerned. They gained weight everywhere, like real women.”
When it comes to being real, even the maternity fashion companies are trying to do their part. “We’re constantly updating our look with every photo shoot we have,” says Matthias. “Each of our customers needs to be able to relate to the women they see wearing our clothes, so ethnicity and body type definitely play a big role in the selection process.”
Attitudes still changing
Liza Elliot-Ramirez of New York’s Expecting Models talent agency is seeing a surge of requests for pregnant models, even for shows and ad campaigns not related to those nine months. “There’s been a shift in perception with advertisers, marketers and casting directors. Even men are embracing the idea [of hiring pregnant women],” she says. “They say, ‘You women are sexy!’”
“Overall, I think the depiction of pregnant women in media is a good thing,” Pieraccini says. “It takes away the myth that pregnancy must be hidden, that maternity clothes can’t be fashionable, et cetera.”
And as for the future: It’s all about us. The more we love our powerful pregnant selves, the more we — and the world — will see of expectant mamas. “The media pick up on this sentiment,” says Coffey. “It’s art imitating life.”
by Nancy J Price – PregnancyAndBaby.com
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