Seeing images of Beyoncé flaunting her pregnancy raised many thoughts in my mind — thoughts about how things have changed and, along with them, our attitudes.
Let’s face it, it’s not as if things have always been that way. We have not always been accustomed to seeing pregnant tummies in the mass media.
Maybe I should take the safe route of not being presumptuous and generalising and speak for myself. That takes me back to my days growing up in dusty streets. We — or I — hardly ever saw a woman without her pregnancy covered in a maternity dress.
There is no doubt that maternity wear has never really been fashionable — and there are currently no recognisable maternity brands, according to The Guardian. The newspaper found that, “as well as a perceived lack of glamour, many brands are reluctant to give headspace to maternity ranges, knowing that most women won’t spend much on clothes they will only wear briefly”, even though their purpose is so important.
The Guardian further reports that Edwina Gieve, the founder of the British label Clary and Peg, said, when she was researching maternity fashion, her grandmother told her there was no such thing as maternity wear when she was pregnant in the 1930s and 1940s. Her grandmother just stayed at home in a house coat. “Women were hidden away and confined — that’s where we are coming from.”
But not any more. Beyoncé has broken ranks and defied what was. According to various reports, the superstar has challenged religious, sexual and cultural stereotypes. She portrayed the image of the Virgin Mary once again, this time doing so while revealing her pregnancy.
The Conversation reports that Beyoncé goes beyond creating “a powerful and iconic image of black femininity in her pregnancy announcement images”.
Contrary to the Virgin Mary’s attire, which “must suggest chastity, purity and (sexual and spiritual) virtue,” Beyoncé purposely “subverts this ideal by posing in mismatched lingerie, cradling her pregnant belly, and in doing so fuses elements of the ‘Jezebel’, one of the most prominent stereotypes of black women, with Virgin Mary imagery”.
By doing so, Beyoncé “boldly challenges concepts of ‘acceptable’ female sexuality and racialised stereotypes”, while responding “to the association between whiteness and purity that remains alive and kicking in Western culture”.
But I couldn’t help but wonder how did we get to where we are as a society. When did it become okay to flaunt your pregnant tummy? In my culture, a pregnant woman better not even share word of her pregnancy. This is not for any other purpose but to protect your unborn child and to respect the sacredness of pregnancy. To “hide” or “confine” your pregnancy is not about any kind of shame, and not even about maternity wear.
We all have our different ways, but pregnancy is a valued time in any woman’s life and supersedes anything else. This is the same as when a child is born — only the close family can see the child for the first 10 days and other people only after a month.
Times have changed and, although the social, religious and racial stereotypes have to be challenged, a new uncanny trend will worm its way into the culture of many young women who are yet to become mothers.
Palesa Lebitse is a writer, feminist and law student with an interest in human rights