I love to wear cleavage-baring dresses and I host burlesque shows, so it may seem like I’m very comfortable with my body. And I am — but only the top half. I come from a long line of what my mother euphemistically calls “big-boned women” (though I’m pretty sure bones aren’t supposed to jiggle so much). While I came to love my big breasts, try as I might, I have never been able to embrace my big thighs, butt, and belly. Even at my thinnest, I tried to conceal those body parts by avoiding pants (I currently don’t own one pair) and wearing floor-length skirts. And at my heaviest, as anti-feminist and self-hating as it may sound, those areas are even deader to me.
All that changed when I was pregnant. I realize many mothers-to-be hate the experience of their bodies effectively becoming incubators, completely transforming to serve the needs of their growing baby. But when I looked in the mirror, I actually liked what I saw. For the first time, I didn’t view my bigness as a chronic flaw; it had a purpose. As my stomach swelled, a beauty permeated my curves and assuaged my own self-judgment. Although I had posed for a few artsy, topless photo shoots in the past, I always refused to go completely nude. But I knew I wanted to capture my pregnant body in its entirety (albeit with a bit of strategic drapery). This was long after Demi Moore sparked the posing-nude-while-pregnant craze with her 1991 Vanity Fair cover, so it wasn’t exactly taboo-breaking. But, unlike Moore and her expecting celebrity imitators, I wasn’t starting with a “perfect” figure. And, interestingly, that actually made me a lot less self-conscious than usual.
“Like a lot of women, I always felt like my body was on display for either attention or criticism — whether that feeling was coming from me or from society at large,” Emily Schwartz, a mother of two from Houston, tells Yahoo Parenting. She posed nude for the first time when she was expecting her first child after a local photographer invited her to be part of a series he was shooting — something she never would have normally considered. “When I was pregnant, I felt like I suddenly stepped out of that realm of objectification,” she says. “I no longer worried about how big my thighs were. My body was just something really beautiful. It was sort of a revelation.”
Ivy, a New York City mother of one, also posed nude in a boudoir shoot when she was pregnant after suddenly feeling very sexy. “I wore heels and lingerie, which isn’t something you often see,” she says. “Usually it’s this idealization of the pregnant mother as the Madonna, but of course the way you get pregnant is not by being virginal! We have one of the pictures up in our bedroom and it’s one of my favorite photos of me. Sometimes visitors see it and say, ‘Is that you? Wow, that’s a really sexy picture. I have never thought of pregnant women as sexy before, but now I will!’”
In the age of smartphone cameras, it’s not surprising that many moms who pose nude while pregnant do so at home with their partners. But I opted for something more formal, enlisting a longtime friend who’s a professional photographer to shoot me in a studio. Initially I was apprehensive about taking it all off, so we warmed up with some clothed and topless shots. But as I became more exposed, my confidence rose. (It helped that the photographer appreciates full-figured females and vocalized his support.) He showed me a few of the images as we went along, and while I still saw that I was overweight, my focus was on how radiant and, more importantly, happy and comfortable I looked.
And yet I’m well aware that for women, body shaming is prevalent at all times, especially during pregnancy. That’s fueled in large part by Instagram, where women document their burgeoning bumps (often in the nude) and society weighs in about whether they’re too fat or too skinny. Then postpartum, there’s a cultural expectation that mom will bounce back to her pre-pregnancy weight within weeks.
However, for me, living as an overweight person for much of my life seemed to squash the insecurity many pregnant women feel when their body starts to balloon.
According to blogger Pamela Vireday, a plus-size pregnancy advocate and educator, heavyset women who are already body-positive may be better equipped to handle the pressure. “Like women of other sizes, plus-size women have a variety of responses when pregnant,but some women of size who are already at peace with their bodies adapt very well to the changes of pregnancy, and might deal with it a bit better than an average-size woman whose self-esteem is dependent on fitting society’s beauty standard. Some plus-size pregnant women find it empowering to embrace their curves and their bodies’ lushness. It brings a new sense of peace and acceptance about their bodies, a healing of sorts.”