Pregnancy pageants a laboured idea

Last updated 12:28 10/09/2012
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If you're one of those people who thinks the third trimester of pregnancy is best spent binge-eating and hoarding onesies, then you may not be fully across the horror that is the eighth annual Pre-Labor Day Bikini Contest.

Held in Houston, Texas, last week, this event is a beauty pageant for the heavily pregnant, who, instead of settling into an easy-chair to savour their last moments of peace before the baby arrives, get trussed up in swimsuits and stilettos to parade their fecund near-nudity for all the world to see.

And boy do we see it. In one shot an expectant mother is doing the splits. In another, a pregnant woman shakes her red-bikinied bottom at the camera. It's just like a regular beauty pageant, except instead of outlining their plans for world peace, contestants compete in diaper-changing races and spend time hoping their waters are not about to break.

''Just because you happen to be seven months pregnant, it doesn't mean you can't look good in a two-piece!'' cries the Mail Online in its customary hysterical tone. True enough, but just because you happen to be seven months pregnant, it doesn't mean you can't, just this once, reject the pressure to look good in a two-piece.
And herein lies the problem with the pregnancy parade, which throws up a feministical dilemma of the most tortured kind.

On the one hand, we know we are supposed to celebrate the wonder of the female form in all its life-stages, and that pregnancy is natural and beautiful. We are all on board with the strong-woman program, and we love a sassy sister. But on the other hand, it feels a little wrong.

Part of the wrongness is probably a hangover from Victorian-era ickiness about the sexuality of pregnant women. An enormous baby-belly is the most prominent signal possible of female sexuality in all its power. That alone is a little scary to some.

Add to that the fact that the pregnant woman is on the cusp of a transition from a lithesome young sexual thing to the older woman and mother-figure, and the fact that culturally we find sexual mothers a little troublesome.
But why must pregnant women be sexualised at all? And why is it necessary for pregnant women to be sexy?

Ever since Demi Moore appeared pregnantly starkers on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991, it's become a thing.
Countless celebrities have followed in her footsteps and paparazzi bikini shots of preggers stars are de rigeur, along with creepy commentary on their ''glowing'' bodies.

Apparently it's no longer enough to create life, you also have to look desirable while you're doing it. British writer Eva Wiseman recently wrote an interesting piece for the Observer about female nudity on screen.

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She argues that naked women in TV and movies fall into two categories - those with ''perfect'' bodies who are objects of desire, or those with imperfect (ie average) bodies who are objects of derision or comedy.

Never is the nude female form neutral, just a body, the vessel that carries the character around. And now, it seems, the pregnant body can no longer neutral either. It has to be charged up with sex.

Pregnancy is surely the one time in a woman's life when there is so much happening inside the body, that it shouldn't matter so much what's happening on the outside. Or who is looking.

- Daily Life


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