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Can Motherhood be Sexy?

November 29th, 2007     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments

You may have read the tabloid headline “Pregnant Christina Aguilera Bares Belly on Cover of Marie Claire.” Aguilera is not the first to pose nude or semi-nude while pregnant on the cover of a mainstream mag, but what I think is interesting is how the imagery and the reaction has changed over the years. When Demi Moore posed in a Annie Leibovitz shoot for the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991, reactions were extreme - retailers pulled the issue from newsstands while others sold it in a brown paper bag. “The frankness of Leibovitz’ portrayal of a pregnant sex symbol led to divided opinions, ranging from complaints of sexual objectification to celebrations of the photograph as a symbol of empowerment.”

In 2006 Britney Spears appeared nude and pregnant on the cover of Bazaar to a very different brand of criticism. Rather than being offended by the sexualization of motherhood (as was the case with Demi Moore,) the public outcry was more of a “I don’t want to have to see that.”

Earlier this year Czech supermodel Eva Herzigova also posed pregnant for Vanity Fair, the Italian version. The imagery of Herzigiva is decidedly more sexualized than the covers that came before - clad in thigh highs and a lace bra, the fact that the model is pregnant seems incidental to the shot.

And finally, there’s Christina. The imagery is decidedly different from previous covers - less about the glory of birth and more about an airbrushed pop star who happens to be 8 months pregnant. The “press” has already attacked her much in the same way they did Britney, using words like “strip,” “expose” and “flaunt” to describe the decision. I’ve also read the word “gross” when readers describe their personal reaction. How a pregnant woman can be “gross” is beyond me, but it appears a woman posing nude in any other fashion than sexual objectification for male pleasure is offensive? Because motherhood can’t ever be sexy?

Ofcourse there’s no real difference between any of these women posing nude and pregnant - the difference is how our culture views the female body, but perhaps more importantly, how our culture views a woman who makes the decision to pose nude and pregnant. While what Demi did was “empowering” what Christina did was “gross,” despite the fact that they’ve done exactly the same thing. It appears that my opinion that our current climate of hyper-sexualization and neo-conservativism is not so far off base. I shouldn’t really expect more from a culture that refers to a pregnancy as a “bump,” now should I?

I think Aguilera herself sums it up best in the Marie Claire interview:

“If you’re too sexual, you’re slutty. If you’re not sexual enough, you’re a prude. I have more than one side of me that likes to get out on a stage and sing,” Christina says “Sometimes I want to be aggressive; sometimes I want to feel empowered in my sexuality and my vulnerability. I want to put all that out there.”

Tags: media savvy

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