The latest celebrity mama-to-be to bare all on the cover of a magazine is Jessica Simpson, who appears nude on the cover of the April issue of ELLE.* It’s a good photo of her, and tasteful, I guess. But something about the pregnant and naked photo phenomenon rubs me the wrong way. I wonder if these images don’t intensify the nouveau fetishization of ‘baby bumps’ and pregnancy we’ve been witnessing in pop culture for the past decade or so. And I also fear they set up an unrealistic expectations of what pregnant bodies should look like.
Not all women are as comfortable with their pregnant bodies as others. I’ve known some women not to blink an eye over pregnancy-related weight gain and body changes; others freak out. Accepting the body changes associated with pregnancy, even knowing they’re temporary, can be difficult.
And these changes vary greatly from pregnant woman to pregnant woman. Some women end up with perfect little round bellies and no evidence of weight gain elsewhere. Other women gain weight in their faces, their arms, their butts, their thighs. Most women’s boobs grow during pregnancy; some also end up with dark, enlarged nipples. Some women get stretch marks. Some women get pregnancy acne. Some women’s fingers and feet swell. There are any number of totally natural changes associated with pregnancy that can still, nonetheless, be a bit discomfiting at first.
Pregnancy is a time in a woman’s life when she should be more worried about taking care of her body (and the baby inside it) than what that body looks like, of course. And the proliferation of naked celebrity baby bodies on display doesn’t help. Isn’t their any life stage where women aren’t bombarded by idealized images of what we should look like?
Obviously, pregnancy is natural and healthy and beautiful in its own way. I’m not saying pregnant women can’t be sexy or beautiful. And I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with a pregnant woman posing nude.
But the photos of naked, pregnant celebrities like Simpson are an idealized version of pregnancy. Check out this Huffington Post gallery of pregnant celebs who’ve posted nude on magazine covers—Britney Spears, Demi Moore, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Christina Aguilera.
What we see in all of these photos is a flawlessly smooth-skinned, well-proportioned and tiny-armed woman with no real signs of pregnancy save for a perfect prego belly (if you’ve got pregnancy acne or a fuller face and a less-than-round tummy, you’re probably doing it wrong). It perpetrates the idea that This Is How A Pregnant Woman Should Look, this one way. That’s bad for husbands/boyfriends/partners, who are gonna develop some unrealistic expectations of what pregnant bodies look like. And it’s bad for us, setting up one more idealized image of womanhood that most of us will never live up to.
* In which she also reveals she’s having a girl and gives this noxious quote: “I swear, I will croak if she asks me for a pair of Nikes instead of Christian Louboutins! Eric is so athletic — we’re gonna have this athletic girl and I won’t even be able to take her shopping, ’cause all she’s gonna want is sports bras and Nikes!”