- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

NEW YORK

Like any expectant mother, Kai Walter, six months pregnant, has lots to get done before the big day. One of her most important errands: an upcoming trip to the West Coast, where she has an appointment to take off her clothes and be photographed.

Not for some magazine cover, a la Demi Moore, but for her own personal collection of pregnancy memories. The idea is to artistically capture her blossoming belly in all its glory, something an increasing number of women are doing. Another option is to make a plaster “belly cast” of their changing form or consult a “pregnancy stylist” to map out a cool, midriff-baring maternity wardrobe.

Pregnancy, in short, has become hipper, more glamorous — sexy even. It sure feels odd to think that way about something as basic as, well, the propagation of the human race. Yet, fueled by an ever-spiraling interest in the lives of celebrities (one word: Brangelina) and a consumer culture always coming up with new luxuries, the act of reproduction appears to have reinvented itself.

“It’s hip now to be pregnant,” says Jill Siefert, a fashion stylist in San Francisco who recently added pregnancy styling to her business. “Everybody’s doing it.”

Of course, everybody always has done it. It’s just that we’re hearing about it much more ? especially right now. Take the latest cover of People magazine. (Perhaps it should be renamed Parents.) Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, new parents of Suri, are flanked by Gwyneth Paltrow and newborn Moses, and Donald and Melania Trump with newborn Barron. Inside, Liv Tyler and Jon Stewart cavort with their respective offspring, Matt Damon awaits his, and Brooke Shields talks about hers.

And this is just April. The coming months promise the birth of the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie baby, still in utero but already presumed unprecedentedly gorgeous. “Not since Jesus has a baby been so eagerly anticipated,” New York magazine wrote.

The fascination seems to stem from the desire to see celebrities as people just like us — almost part of the family, says University of Mississippi magazine analyst Samir Husni. “All of a sudden, the whole country has become an aunt and uncle to these babies.”

Sandra Leong, 34 and pregnant with her second child, has been affected by the close-up view of celebrity pregnancies.

She remembers the then-controversial 1991 Vanity Fair cover on which Demi Moore posed nude when she was seven months’ pregnant. “She was the icon,” Mrs. Leong says. “People thought, if she can bare her breasts and belly to show her body changing, why can’t I?”

A year and a half ago, Mrs. Leong hired photographer Jennifer Loomis to document her first pregnancy. She recalls that a decade ago, when she told colleagues she wanted to make a business of such photo shoots, they laughed and said, “Nobody’s going to pay you to do that.”

Miss Loomis has photographed more than 1,000 pregnant women from her bases in Seattle, San Francisco and New York, beginning at $750 per session. Her business has quadrupled since 2002, she says — and bookings in San Francisco have doubled in just the past four months.

“There has been a huge psychological shift in the last few years,” Miss Loomis says. “People are saying, this is such a special time — we want to capture this moment.” A key factor, she says, is that women are having babies at an older age, meaning they often have more money to spend on their pregnancies and are more reflective about it.

A second-time client is Mrs. Walter, the New Yorker who’s planning a trek to Seattle in a few weeks. She loved the results of the photo shoot from her first pregnancy.

“Before I was pregnant, I thought, you just get large and you’re not as attractive,” says Mrs. Walter, 32, “but actually it was one of the best times of my life. I loved my pregnant body more than I could ever have imagined.”

Mrs. Walter says she’s grateful to celebrity moms for one thing: Much better maternity clothes are available, clothes that “make me feel like myself.” They include fitted tops and fashionable jeans, as opposed to the tentlike shifts or unflattering pants with big panels that made women want to hide for nine months.

Many credit designer Liz Lange for starting that trend. She says that when she introduced Liz Lange Maternity a decade ago, it took detective work to uncover which celebrities were pregnant. She would then court them aggressively to promote her designs. Now it’s a different story. “Their stylists are calling even before the results of the pregnancy tests are in,” she says with a laugh.

Of course, as with most things, there’s a downside to all this fascination with celebrity pregnancies, cautions Janet Chan, editor in chief of Parenting magazine.

Readers have told the magazine they’re not particularly thrilled to see how pampered celebrities manage to continue looking fit and fabulous even when pregnant.

“They’ve made moms-to-be feel guilty that their bodies don’t look like [the celebrities’ bodies] do — especially because they don’t have two nannies and a personal trainer,” she says.

It’s better when they can see a more challenged celebrity mom — perhaps such as Britney Spears, she suggests. “Then we can say to ourselves, ‘Hey — I know how to do this better.’”

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