Stop the presses, Beyoncé is pregnant.
For a brief moment last week, the headlines shifted from Trump to the “Queen Bey”, who dropped the news of her twin pregnancy on Instagram in a post garnering nearly 10 million “likes”.via Beyoncé on Instagram
Kneeling beside a wall of flowers and caressing her belly, Beyoncé stares straight at the camera wearing a maroon bra, pale blue panties, and a veil. Following her Instagram teaser, Beyoncé released a further 17 photographs featuring religious, royal, and maternal references on her website.
These pictures are no accident – they make a powerful statement on black motherhood in 2017.
But they’re very different from a photo series of ordinary women I captured in my study: The Tasmanian Pregnancy Pictures Project. Two key findings from this study include:
1) women’s self-produced pictures reflect changing cultural and bodily norms in pregnancy, and
2) celebrity pregnancy photos form an important backdrop for these changing norms.
The power of celebrity pregnancy photographs
The iconic 1991 image of Demi Moore in Vanity Fair was pivotal in making us believe that a mother’s body shouldn’t be hidden from view.
Moore’s pregnant pose has been replicated many times over the last 25 years, mainly by white celebrities.
Naked pregnant celebrity portraits embody the ethos of the sexy and slender “yummy mummy”, a woman who is empowered by her ability to look glamorous and skinny during pregnancy and then squeeze into size 8 jeans just a couple of weeks after giving birth.
I am a sociologist, and specialise in pregnant body image. These celebrity pregnancy photos had me wondering:
This led me to one of my recent studies in Tasmania.
Photos from ordinary Australian pregnancies
This study is based on the idea there is a gap between the ways pregnancy is represented in the media and the way everyday women experience pregnancy.
It was clear the emotional and physical experiences of fatigue, stress, anxiety, and isolation are almost never seen in the popular images of pregnancy. So how would women document their experiences of pregnancy if they were given a camera?
I gave 12 pregnant Tasmanian women digital cameras and asked them to photograph whatever they felt best captured their experiences, and I interviewed them about their photos over a one year period.
Some 2,000 photographs later, what did I learn?
The strongest message to come through women’s photos was their fear of gaining weight.
In the last 15 years, we have seen the emergence of a booming pregnancy weight loss industry. There are pregnancy fitness magazines, prenatal exercise classes, and t-shirts made especially for women who are petrified about being mistaken as fat instead of pregnant in those early weeks.
Thus until about 16 weeks gestation, most women had great difficulty in coming to terms with how their bodies looked or their body image.
“Lisa”, below, represented her fear of looking like she’d let herself go because her jeans would no longer zip up.
Authors: Meredith Nash, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Tasmania