I have always hated the fashion industry – as a woman, a radical and a feminist; but now as a mother, to be sold an image of beauty during pregnancy that tells us to be skinny, muscular, smooth-skinned and still have large breasts, makes me so furious I do not know where to begin.
With everything going on in the world from threats of intervention in Venezuela to police killings as a daily occurrence in the US, it may seem light to discuss such topics. And while not of the same scope or scale, the constant oppression and exploitation of women, our self-esteem and self-worth, and the non stop images that show we are not ever ‘enough’ — not beautiful enough, not smooth enough, not slim enough, not busty enough, not sexy enough, and of course, to object to this makes us not sweet enough – well, Enough is enough!
I am on an internet-based radical mothers’ discussion group. Last week an image circulated that was allegedly of a woman 8 and a half months pregnant. I did not think it was real, thus the “allegedly”, since the woman was so thin and muscular, so paid it little mind. It then appeared again and many of these political and powerful women mothers commented that they were jealous and it was so unfair, how did she have such a “great” and “hot” body while pregnant, and how could they look like her … so I did a little research.
Sarah Stage is a thirty-year-old lingerie model, who, like most fashion models, was incredibly skinny before becoming pregnant. Now at eight and a half months, she is still skinny, with a small belly that appears to be all muscle. One can see her ribs from the side angle images, and of course her entire body is totally smooth – cellulite, bump and wrinkle free. Sure, maybe all the photos are photo-shopped, since all fashion images are, but that is not the point. The point is that this is a horrible example for women in general and pregnant women in particular for so very many reasons, from health to confidence and personal relationships.
Pregnancy has been the one area that remained generally untouched by superficial beauty and fashion judgments. Sure, there are opinions about what a woman should look like, how big her belly can get without looking like too much, but for the most part, people have found pregnant women beautiful – round, shapely and full-faced beautiful. People come up to women all the time to rub their rounded bellies – some say this is good luck for the one doing the rubbing. It is a time when women who are always under social media pressure to look thin do not have to do so. It is a time when people joke about the ice cream and pickle cravings, and support them. Women are to embrace what they need and desire when pregnant, without worrying that they will get “fat”. After pregnancy is another story – the pressure comes back – but for those precious nine plus months we are free from most judgment, especially those who would say a woman is fat because she now has a belly, full breasts, a full bottom and thighs and rounded face.
Enter Sara Stage, with hundreds of photos of her skinny body, tiny tight belly, clad in silk lingerie and bikinis being published and distributed around the world. Seriously, to go to her Instagram site is to read comments in languages from German and Arabic to English and Spanish. And to top it off, to make it as offensive as possible, she has begun a new clothing line called, and I am serious here, “Look like me”; where she and her media team have designed a clothing line based on her (unusual) body. It reminds me of all the bras that are now sold for pre-teens. What once was an exciting adventure for a young woman, going to the store with your mother or friend to purchase your first bra, celebrating beginning to enter womanhood, with racks filled with small cotton bras similar to women’s sports bras. For the past decade or two this has turned into a market that tells girls they are not all right the way they are. Now what is sold are padded and push up bras, a la Victoria’s Secret. Sarah Stage and her team are sending the same message: You are not OK the way you are. There is a status for beauty and you just don’t cut it. For pregnant women this touches on more than beauty, it can affect the health and safety of the woman as dieting has done to young women and girls for decades, but also the growth and health of a fetus.
Disgusted as I was with this, I continued to search online, hoping to find other like-minded women sharing their rage.
Unfortunately, that is not what I have found. I have encountered a mix of things, mainly in the comments sections of articles purporting to show both sides, meaning that there is a critique that she is “slim” but also a defense that she just “works out a lot”, has from the beginning, and that the fetus is healthy and not too small. Well, the comments sections have affirmed my worst fears already. Many men praise how beautiful and sexy she is and criticize the women who are skeptical, as one Michael Smith commented: Me thinks the other woman are just jealous.
Then, a woman “Kim”, who expressed doubts that Sarah Stage is as far along with her pregnancy as she claims gets attacked by comments such as: Mathew Love – Haha Kim, I’m sorry you have an inferiority complex.
There are many more such comments, easily found, illustrating the far reaches of sexism and women’s oppression in our society. And then there are the programs that do not attempt balance, such as Nightline, which opened with: “Sarah Stage is not your average pregnant woman. She’s a lingerie model, which means that even a pregnancy hasn’t stopped her from staying in perfect shape. But this mom-to-be’s chiseled abs have caused quite a stir on social media. Is there such a thing as too fit for expecting mothers?” The response should have been “yes” there is a “too fit” standard for pregnant women – one that is “modeled” by the fashion industry and lingerie wear to boot.
If this crazy concept of pregnancy takes off, in addition to what this potentially does to a woman’s self-image and self-respect, and the very real risk to her fetus, it also can have a terrible affect on relationships between the pregnant woman and her partner. Pregnancy is an incredibly stressful time for so many reasons and puts a huge strain on any relationship. To add to the mix an expectation by the woman and/or her partner that she needs to look like a skinny fashion model with a tiny muscle bump, will have far reaching and profound affects. Women’s oppression always affects the people with whom a woman is intimate. And in the case of pregnancy, when hormones and all the other stresses come into play, an additional -unnecessary and unhealthful stressor- would make it volatile for all concerned.
Please – let’s not let the fashion industry dictate the health and well being of pregnant women. To Sarah Stage and the entire complex behind her – we say a collective “No! Enough is Enough! We will not look like you!”