Here's Lookin' at You, Baby
Demi Moore didn't invent the beautiful pregnant woman. Yet the image of her famously naked and ballooning body on a 1991 "Vanity Fair" cover was a watershed moment.
The message to women everywhere was that it's OK to be conspicuously pregnant. "We're out, we're proud and we're round," the rallying cry might go. Although a woman's body becomes a curiously protean thing when she's expecting, she isn't merely a vessel to whom pregnancy happens.
The matrix from which the confident, pregnant woman emerges is one of choice and control, education and empowerment. For at least 30 years now, we've been moving beyond myths and misapprehensions and feeling better about ourselves during pregnancy -- even if we're not Demi or Jada or Cindy.
Big Changes in a Short Time
Witness the greater visibility of the pregnant woman -- at the gym, in the office, at the park. They're exercising more and not hiding under baggy clothes, and they're definitely not in "confinement." Experts agree that for the woman, the baby and our culture, a positive body image during pregnancy is healthy.
But they also recognize that the power of pregnancy coupled with the complexities of female body image creates an intricate mix.
"What's difficult about pregnancy is that your body is changing extremely quickly," says Ann Kearney-Cooke, PhD, director of the Cincinnati Psychotherapy Institute and a scholar at Columbia University's Partnership for Women's Health, who specializes in body image, eating disorders and self-esteem. "You probably haven't had that kind of change since puberty. It's hard to have a stable body image when it's changing so quickly, especially in the second and third trimesters."
But if you do maintain a positive image, asserts Kearney-Cooke, "You're going to enjoy the pregnancy more. You're going to see this as more of a focus on how your body functions and what it can do. This is a unique thing. Only women can do this ... so far."
Body Image Trouble Signs
A pregnant woman might need help if she shows some of the signs listed here.
Lucy Living in Sin?
Even at the beginning of the 21st century, developing a good body image involves shedding Victorian Era modesties and strictures.
"From around the 1870s until the 1940s, a woman wasn't supposed to show 'her condition,' " relates Lana Thompson, author of "The Wandering Womb: A Cultural History of Outrageous Beliefs about Women." "That's why they called it confinement. She didn't go out in public because that brought to mind the act that caused the pregnancy, and that was the sinful part. There was this whole cult of pure womanhood -- they had pure thoughts and they would elevate a man. You didn't want to cause anyone to think any impure thoughts, so pregnancy was concealed."
Think Lucy Ricardo. This was not a woman having relations with her handsome Cuban husband. How could she? They had separate beds. And so the "pregnant" Lucy hid the forming Little Ricky behind shapeless tent dresses.
Also contributing to pregnant women's confusion about their changing bodies were, paradoxically, medical breakthroughs and advances in prenatal care. The whole process acquired a medicinal smell. Again, consider Lucy. When Little Ricky was born, it wasn't in an episode called "The Birth" or "Here Comes Little Ricky." It was called "Lucy Goes to the Hospital."
Kelli Way, publication director for the Doulas of North America and a teacher at Birth Classes with Answers, has observed that firsthand. "I think most pregnant women still very much fall into the paradigm of thinking of themselves as patients, their conditions as diseased, and birth as a disaster waiting to occur."
Even so, women now have more options around pregnancy and birth. "There was a time when OB-Gyn was a male-dominated profession," says Barbara Haber, curator of books at Radcliffe/Harvard University's Schlesinger Library. "More women are in that field now, and I think that humanizes the experience more, as do the midwives and birth coaches. Before, there was a mystique, and only doctors knew, and women would be knocked out when their babies were delivered. I hate using the word empowerment, but you have the right to have control over your pregnancy. That's what's changed over the last 30 years."
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