February 6, 2005
HOT MAMA. The words stamped across the chest of Jennifer McCarthy’s designer tank top sum up the attitude of pregnant women today.
"I wear my regular clothes, all my pants are low riders and I wear Juicy Couture," says McCarthy of Scottsdale. "I wanted to retain my sense of fashion (through my pregnancy)."
From behind, the 6-foot-1-inch blonde, who still wears heels, doesn’t look like a woman days away from giving birth to a boy. When McCarthy turns around, she looks as if she belongs on the cover of Pregnancy magazine. Her arms and legs are tanned and toned thanks to yoga, light weightlifting, daily walks and a healthy diet. On her body, the belly, or bump, is the ultimate accessory, making her the epitome of pregnancy chic.
But when you ask McCarthy if sexy and chic are adjectives she uses to describe pregnancy, she laughs.
"Your body goes through these weird changes," she says. "You don’t feel sexy. No one talks about how constipated you are or how your boobs lose their shape."
In the past year pregnancy has gone mainstream. Expectant mothers are working practically until their water breaks and trying to look fabulous while doing it. Form-fitting maternity clothes and a spate of celebrity pregnancies have raised the bar.
There’s a new standard of beauty for pregnant women. Today pregnancy is chic and sexy — at least on the pages of magazines.
Most women, however, aren’t buying into the new standard of beauty that has evolved in the past decade.
Lucille Ball was pregnant with daughter Lucie Arnaz when she shot the pilot of "I Love Lucy." The comedian had to hide her condition under a bathrobe. Her second pregnancy (son Desi Arnaz Jr.) was written into the show. But the network refused to let the word "pregnant" into any of the scripts, opting instead for the benign "expecting."
In ensuing years, pregnant women were were caricatured on television and in films as klutzes and waddling bundles of hormones who would awaken their husbands at the wee hours to satiate a craving for the oddest food combinations, such as pickles and ice cream.
Even as women entered the work force in record numbers they continued to hide their pregnancies beneath bulky maternity clothes. American culture wasn’t ready for any association between pregnancy and sexuality.
That all changed with a Vanity Fair magazine cover in August 1991.
"Thank Demi Moore," says Dr. Christine Brass-Jones, an OB-GYN with the Center for True Harmony in Mesa. "That was a watershed moment."
The actress was in the advanced stages of her second pregnancy when she posed nude for the magazine’s cover, which was photographed by Annie Leibovitz. Publication of the picture garnered a flawless-looking Moore more news coverage than the two movies she did that year and pushed pregnancy to the forefront.
"Pregnancy is more out in the open," says Brass-Jones, who gave birth to a boy 19 months ago. "Women aren’t afraid to show their pregnancies."
The next trailblazing moment came when the fashion industry recognized the viability of the long-ignored maternity niche.
"Women were desperate for a change," says designer Liz Lange. "When it came it was almost like a dam had been broken."
Lange began dressing women such as Cindy Crawford in form-fitting maternity wear. Suddenly women could be pregnant and glamorous. Remember Sarah Jessica Parker walking the red carpet in Manolo Blahnik heels and couture maternity wear? Parker, Debra Messing, Reese Witherspoon, Courteney Cox Arquette and Denise Richards are just a few of the actresses who have pulled off looking pregnant and glamorous.
These days women are fitting in workouts, yoga, pedicures and pregnancy massages in an effort to achieve pregnancy chic. Some are even waxing their bellies. But is this new standard of beauty, depicted on the cover of magazines such as Pregnancy and Fit Pregnancy, affecting body image?
"Is seeing all these beautiful models and actresses pregnant and having babies hard on some of my patients who don’t have the body or selfesteem?" Brass-Jones asks. "Yes." Women do worry about weight, but Brass-Jones says they should put the weight in perspective with their baby’s growth.
"I just think it’s sad that you would put yourself before the health of your baby," says Valery Lodato, 36, who is six months pregnant with her second child. "(The weight) is one of those things that’s out of your control. I’d go crazy if I thought about it all the time. I know women who feel guilty if they miss a prenatal vitamin."
"I think (celebrities are) maintaining their standard of beauty," says Melissa Carpenter of Gilbert. "They have an advantage over ordinary women. They have all these personal trainers to keep their bodies fit and still be safe in their pregnancies."
Carrie Reiser, a maternity photographer, agreed.
"Not everybody is a movie star and not everybody has a personal trainer. Sometimes pregnant women are more forgiving of themselves. It’s the one time in life when it’s OK that your stomach isn’t flat."
Reiser, who has created a niche for herself taking pregnancy pictures, notes that the standard of beauty on the covers of Fit Pregnancy and Pregnancy isn’t what she sees in the studio.
"You don’t see a woman on the cover of Fit Pregnancy who has gained 75 pounds, but can a woman who’s gained 75 pounds be beautiful? Absolutely," Reiser says.
Brass-Jones isn’t concerned that pregnant women will endanger the health of their babies to achieve this new standard of beauty. "Have you seen the movie ‘Kill Bill Vol. II’?" asks Brass-Jones. "There’s this moment in the film when Uma Thurman realizes she’s pregnant. She decides to give up her whole life (as an assassin). She went into total protection mode. No matter what you look like, whatever your race, shape or size, having a baby is a beautiful thing and the most powerful experience a woman can go through."
The prettiest McCarthy ever felt during her pregnancy had nothing to do with fashion or compliments from strangers.
"When I could start feeling him move, all those feelings of ‘Oh my God, I’m getting fat,’ went away," McCarthy says. "I realized what it was all about."