- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2001

One of the last bastions of modest femininity has been invaded by print and broadcast media: pregnancy. A big belly, bared or in skintight fabric, is now the shocking image du jour among those determined to convince America that childbearing doesn't count unless it is provocative.
"Want to create your own steamy vision of expectancy? Check out our sexiest swimsuit issue ever," wrote Peg Moline recently in Fit Pregnancy, a magazine for pregnant women that features a sexually inclined headline of some sort on almost every cover. The November offering: "Strong and Sexy."
Like other women's publications struggling to snag an audience, the magazine uses suggestive content to increase readership, much as Cosmopolitan does with its tradition of racy headlines. A current Fit Pregnancy fashion special advises women to "flaunt your figure accentuate all of your sexy new curves," "show your belly," and wear hip-hugger jeans and string bikinis.
A cover headline touts "Cindy Crawford's Stay-Sexy Secrets," which boiled down to the question, "What should a woman do to remind herself that she's sexy and beautiful during pregnancy?'
The answer was not especially arresting after all the buildup. The fashion model said she rubbed her belly with lotion because "there's something really intimate about that. It's like communing with the baby."
Between editorial and advertising, the magazine often features a dozen photographs of bare-bellied, bikini-clad or even naked pregnant women, protruding umbilicus and all. If there is a feminist message of liberation here either from the pregnant state or its sartorial demands it is lost. These images are just plain disquieting.
To its credit, Fit Pregnancy offers helpful beauty and medical stories. But it has bought into the hubbub created when actress Demi Moore appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair 10 years ago, eight-months pregnant and naked. "It was with a similar spirit of defiance and independence that we first launched Fit Pregnancy," an editorial states.
Defiance and independence notwithstanding, the magazine seems intent on judging the pregnant state with non-pregnant standards. All must be sexy and sleek, two qualities which even regular fashion magazines are criticized for peddling. They emphasize what concerned doctors call "unreal body image."
Needless to say, the idea is supported by several maternity clothing makers that market leopard-print thongs, black lace nursing bras and short shorts. Manufacturer A Pea in the Pod features a naked pregnant woman in its print ad. Naissance, where the motto is "stylish, sexy, pregnant," offers a "love goddess" collection complete with a white mesh wedding/maternity dress.
Celebrities in revealing maternity clothes are duly chronicled in People magazine, or on TV's "Entertainment Tonight." Earlier this year, a Land Rover TV ad featured a bikini-wearing, very pregnant sun-bather. "Always be yourself," the ad advised. "Come see what a Land Rover Discovery is made of."
But the trend is getting tacky. Last month, CBS featured a woman's garishly painted, pregnant abdomen on a promotion for a new reality series. And in a tasteless moment, the UPN show "Extreme" asked: "We think pregnant babes are hot. Now is that so wrong? Is it twisted?"
It could be, considering that pregnant women now appear in pornography.
UPN showed footage of a pregnant women's bikini bathing suit contest, sponsored by a Utah radio station. Radio stations in Ohio, Virginia and California have also featured similar contests, posting photos of the winners on their Web sites.
Meanwhile, not every celebrated mother-to-be has bought into the idea that pregnant equals sexy.
"Before I got pregnant, I thought I knew exactly how I would feel confident, blooming and sexy the way celebrities are expected to feel," writes actress Kate Winslet in a new book about childbirth.
"Not a bit of it! Pregnancy turned out to be one of the hardest things I've ever done, physically, mentally and emotionally," she said.

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